Credit: Shannon Brown
by Paul Attard Music What Would Meek Do?

Nas | King’s Disease II

October 11, 2021

While better than the first King’s Disease album, Nas’s follow-up isn’t much more than an exercise in oldhead legacy maintenance.

Is Nas in “rare form,” as he claims on King’s Disease II, or just a tad moldy? This question was already resoundingly answered on the previous installment — which was most definitely the latter — but either he still has gout, which, if so, should get that checked by a medical professional instead of releasing another mediocre album, or he still feels like he has something more substantive to contribute to the contemporary hip hop landscape. This is why, naturally, most of the lyrical content here deals with reminiscing about the past: like when he’s rapping like he’s a Scooby-Doo villain on “Death Row East,” lowering his voice while he contemplates just Who Killed Hip-Hop once again. There’s “Moments,” where the thick sentimentality mostly works, recalling the many firsts of life one can never recreate (learning to swim, losing your virginity, watching your children grow up, and, ugh, buying your first Nas album) — all up until he shouts out Sister Soulja and insists she’s gonna wanna meet him afterward, since “she[‘s] alive so she’ll hear this.” Right, totally; that’s exactly how that scenario is going to play out, Nas. On “YKTV,” he brags about how awkward a collaboration between Lil Uzi Vert and DJ Premiere would be, but naively tries to spin it back on him (“Imagine N-A-S on a Migo beat”) before being washed on his own track by two rappers half his age. “Store Run” has him scolding listeners that you should “mention me with Mick Jagger and Bono like you’re ‘posed to,” as opposed to anyone else who’s been remotely relevant in the past decade or so. When not acting like being an oldhead is some noble virtue, he continues to botch things: the most embarrassing moment comes when he claims that, because of the emergence of Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, Tiger Woods should be happy because “both his parents’ lives matter now.”

Still, this album does reflect one of the exceedingly “rare” instances where the sequel is better than the original, due in large part to how reliable a collaborator Hit-Boy has become for the Queensbridge legend. The production is forward-thinking, building off of and paying respect to golden-age boom-bap fundamentals, while also modernizing that archaic style for a younger generation; there’s a sense of urgency to the beats here that was lacking on the first King’s Disease, and a sense that Nas is willing to evolve his sound without compromising or coming off as desperately try-hard (besides, his lyrics themselves are already doing that heavy lifting). The guests, this time as well, fit far more naturally: Lauryn Hill is the clear stand-out, delivering an introspective and lowkey feature on the mental trappings of fame and the desire for creative autonomy. Even on a song like “EPMD 2,” where EPMD kind  of phones it in and Eminem is unsurprisingly unlistenable for most of his airtime (he’s “eatin’ you B-I-T-C-H’s like tortilla chips,” super scary threat, Marshall!), it’s carried by an undeniable nostalgic swagger, with the four in total cornball mode and embracing every second of it. It’s the type of jovial camaraderie that feels like second fiddle to Nas bragging about his real estate dealings — he’s apparently teaching a masterclass simply titled “Escobar,” fully leaning into his brand ambassador status once again this year — and regurgitating past successes for the millionth time. Which makes King’s Disease II less a tired throwback or a lazy retread of past ideals, and more an out-of-date excursion in legacy maintenance by a man who should seriously start drinking some tart cherry juice. That, or simply cut out the red meat and tuna.

Published as part one Album Roundup — August 2021 | Part 2.