The partnership between legendary rapper Nas and producer Hit-Boy just keeps on giving. Now with their fourth collaborative project since dropping the original, Grammy-winning instalment of King’s Disease back in August 2020, Nas’ career resurgence has been astonishing to behold as he firmly cements his legacy as one of the all-time greats. Still, after King’s Disease II and Magic saw him at the height of his powers, even though his latest is still excellent, and it’s impressive that it took this long, the formulae are starting to become all the more evident on King’s Disease III. Dropping so much music in such a short time can do that. Without a single feature on board (which might have helped with its memorability factor at this point), Nas delivers another solid 16 tracks of taking beats and making them his own – it’s fantastic to just sit back and listen to someone this good go off for a while, but for the first time since his return to the scene, there aren’t any single tracks that are really jumping out.
Who knows when this run will be coming to an end, but Nas tells us to cherish it as highly as graduations and marriages on opening track “Ghetto Reporter” – the fans know it’s usually feast or famine when it comes to his releases. Nas is regarded primarily as a storyteller, but it feels like he sets out to prove that his technicality is underrated too at points – there’s some insane slant rhymes on this one, Nas continuing to exhibit all aspects of his toolkit over a funky backdrop and a soul sample from the Commodores. A seamless transition leads into “Legit,” which uses similar instrumental techniques. Hit-Boy extending a classic, gritty soul belt in the back is something new, but this one stands out because of the syncopated piano riff mixed to perfection. It’s fun that Nas can still keep us engaged in what is essentially a come-up, rags to riches story at this point in his career. Speaking of which, his storytelling comes out in a big way for the first time on “Thun,” an ode to his old Queens neighbourhood full of vivid imagery of the good and the bad with some specificity and slang of the area. The orchestral beat gets a little repetitive, which starts to reveal the minor issue with Nas dropping so much – a lot of his beats are in the old-school mentality of just looping, and his tracks are long because he has a lot to say. “Michael & Quincy” falls into a similar trap with its minimal first half, before a trap beat flip really livens things up with one of the hardest-hitting segments on the whole album and some great Michael Jackson references – Nas even does a “shamone” as an ad-lib.
The original King’s Disease had a brief, standout track called “27 Summers,” and Nas continues to update his legacy on another track that makes the most of its runtime titled “30.” A truly regal sounding track with some dramatic choral samples, Nas looks back on 30 years in the game while trying out some new flows. He doesn’t sound any more like a king grappling with his disease than on the track “Recession Proof,” though. Making an allusion to JFK, Nas uses the more low-key track to talk about how even someone at his stature has to stay vigilant for anything and anyone trying to knock him off the pedestal. He doesn’t do anything dazzling with his lyrics or flows here, but he absolutely takes over the track with his presence. “Hood2Hood” sees Hit-Boy experimenting with a cavalcade of synths, but it doesn’t make for a great place for Nas’ mob-boss vocals, making the chorus of listing neighbourhoods feel a little stilted, while “Reminisce” doesn’t pick up too much either until another beat switch brings the fire out of him – it’s appropriate that on a track about living in the present and not spending too much time reminiscing, Nas flips into the world of drill music, the genre taking over his city.
While it’s unclear why it’s termed an interlude, “Serious Interlude” is just a fun storytelling diversion, Nas going into detail about attracting a rich man’s partner back when he still had nothing with some classic triple entendres. When he brings things back to the present with “I’m On Fire,” he mentions that he’s still getting better in the first couple of lines. Another shorter one where Nas comes in with a good idea, drops a great verse and gets out, this one’s elevated by the DJ scratches breaking up a borderline Disney-sounding orchestral beat and a fun, truthful hook jubilantly repeating the title. “WTF SMH” is yet another track here with a beat switch where Nas opts to spend more time on the weaker of the two segments, as a cold, glitchy one smooths out to a more soulful zone before long, while “Once a Man, Twice a Child” finds the near-50-year-old Nas still embracing his youth while he’s got it, making the most of things before his second childhood as a dependent elderly man.
Nas always comes through with some oddly wholesome tracks, something he does again on “First Time” as he gets endearingly nerdy about the first time that he heard some of his favourite rappers, hoping that he had the same effect on others. “Get Light” provides a smooth transition to some of the ending tracks with an upbeat party staple, but “Beef” is where things get serious. A highly creative song as Nas personifies beef as a centuries-old menace speaking about all the reasons it comes around and the destruction it wreaks. Though he extends it as far as global wars, Nas gives the track a personal touch by the end by spinning the violence of the era he came from as a cautionary tale. It transitions well into “Don’t Shoot,” a final stamp that sees Nas condemning gun violence.
Looking forward is a bit of an awkward exercise with Nas’ pace as of late – making King’s Disease a trilogy is a great way to step away from it for a little bit, but at Nas’ age and with his usual career patterns, that might be a long wait. Still, can you imagine if Nas is still outperforming most of his contemporaries if he came back with a project at age 60?
Favourite Tracks: Legit, Ghetto Reporter, Thun, Recession Proof, Beef
Least Favourite Track: Hood2Hood