Nas review, King’s Disease 2: Class is in session with yet another testament to the famed rapper’s legacy

 (Run Music)
(Run Music)

For Nas acolytes, the rapper’s story is practically scripture. His journey from baby-faced teenager growing up in the Queensbridge projects to prodigious MC is well-known. While most of today’s prominent rappers were not yet born when a 20-year-old Nasir Jones was coming up in New York City, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t cite his 1994 benchmark debut Illmatic as an inspiration. A wordsmith, revered elder statesmen, teacher, storyteller: the legend around Nas is all-encompassing – and with King’s Disease 2, continues to be well-deserved.

On his latest album, Nas revels in his role as an educator. His music has long been driven by a desire to teach stories you won’t find on school curriculums. He deals out history lessons on “Death Row East” – in which he claims the shooting of Tupac in an attempted robbery in 1994 wasn’t organised by Queens rapper Stretch (who was killed himself in a shooting the following year) – as had been rumoured. The song closes on a powerful note – Nas’s address abruptly gives way to a 1996 recording of American rapper Ed Lover interrupting one of Nas’s New York performances to announce the sudden death of Tupac, requesting a moment of silence for “one of the greatest rappers that will ever live”.

Elsewhere on the album, his lessons are living and breathing. On “My Bible”, he laments the way the world is set up to fail working-class black people: “I pray for the day when they lay down their Ks / Make their way up out the maze.” These sentiments are nothing new for the Queensbridge rapper. On his seminal 1994 track “NY State of Mind”, Nas rapped about how “each block is like a maze/ full of black rats trapped”.

The album is produced with Southern California native Hit-Boy, who made his mark with “N****s in Paris” and has been riding a 10-year high since, supplying beats to everyone from Drake to Beyoncé. Last year, he produced Nas’s 13th studio album King’s Disease. The Grammy-winning record was a welcome return to form for the rapper, and in the eyes of his fans righted the wrongs of his previous Kanye West-produced Nasir. This latest release is a strong argument for their continued collaboration.

Carefully selected features only ever add to King’s Disease 2. A long-awaited Nas-Eminem collaboration is souped up further with an appearance from EPMD on “EPMD 2” – a joint effort that makes for some of the album’s most impressive and emphatic bars. Ms Lauryn Hill reunites with Nas for the first time in 25 years on “Nobody”. The beloved MC enters midway through with a stark reminder of both her greatness and her prerogative to deny us of it (“All my time is spent focused on my freedom now/ Why would I join them when I know that I can beat them now?”). The features lend themselves well to a record that captures nostalgia without devolving into anachronism or retrograde – a fine line that Nas is well-versed in toeing.

As ever, Nas is his own lynchpin. Tracks including “Store Run” and “Moments” demonstrate the rapper’s gift as a lucid narrator of his own experience. Reflection has been common practice in his music (2012’s Life is Good) but it’s the interrogation of his youth that saves such tracks from being a mere trip down memory lane. Take “Store Run”, in which Nas reminisces about looking at the New York skyline, “shootouts with my guys, pouring this white wine”. Elsewhere in the song, he asks: “What happens when dealers reduce to addicts?/ What happens when kings don’t see their potential status?/ What’s your exit plan?”

King’s Disease 2 finds Nas where he has always been – comfortable in himself and at ease with confronting his past. As he puts it: “Face to face with my omens, I never ran.”

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