Nas crafted a sublime stake for hip-hop's throne with 2020 full-length ‘King’s Disease’. Excising awkward elements of his past to craft an instant quasi-classic record, it leans on the towering peaks of his catalogue to create a nigh-on perfect merger of then and now. Hit-Boy’s producing bound the songs in an effective sonic landscape, one that placed recognisably Golden Age tropes within a modern context.
The follow up to his Grammy-winning effort, ‘King’s Disease II’ is a conscious attempt to sever itself from the past, asking what hip-hop should sound like in 2021. The production is markedly more future-facing, less tethered to (an admittedly creative form of) nostalgia; Nas, too, seems to demand more of himself, and the smattering of guests placed around him.
As a result, you get Eminem’s most emphatic bars for years on ‘EPMD 2’, a song that also makes way for the titular vintage rap force. A Boogie wit da Hoodie guests on ‘YKTV’, while Ms Lauryn Hill’s internet-shattering ‘Nobody’ guest spot is an effective pairing of two all-out music legends.
The star, though, is definitely Nas. Mid-album highlight ‘Moments’ admits that he always steered away from features, and this becomes a calling card of the record; ‘Death Row East’ is a punchy look back on his roots, while ‘Store Run’ and ‘Count Me In’ are bolstered by the weight of experience.
Indeed, that’s perhaps the central contradiction of ‘King’s Disease II’. While sonically looking to depart from a Nas-matic sound, his lyrics are often framed by the past, evoking a harsher form of reminiscence. There’s nothing wrong with that – ‘Composure’ for instance, is an incredibly balanced workout – but it does mean that the sequel lacks the neatly framed identity of the original.
Ending with the double-shot of ‘My Bible’ – “I walk through the valley…” – and the braggadocio of ‘Nas Is Good’, the Queens rapper seems to acknowledge some of the contradictions within his work, and the album itself. The answers aren’t as easily obtained as on its Grammy-winning forebear, but ‘King’s Disease II’ dares to ask questions of its maker, and its audience.
Words: Robin Murray
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