The 13th studio album from legendary Queens rapper Nas was released on August 21 through Mass Appeal Records. Composed of twelve tracks and one bonus record, the project was produced solely by California native Hit-Boy, a well-known producer who has made a name for himself for producing records with artists the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, Drake, Big Sean and more.
Following the lackluster reception to his previous body of work, Nasir, King’s Disease had fans skeptical, wondering what the fabled emcee had left. Would the album feel as uninspired as its predecessor or, would it be as acclaimed as 2012’s Life is Good? Other concerns arose when the track list was revealed, as Anderson .Paak, Lil Durk, Fivio Foreign and A$ap Ferg held the guest spots, which led the public to assume that Nas would try to conform and abandon his timeless style for a more modern trend of music.
These doubts were surely put to rest after the intro track and realized that Nas wasn’t conforming but taking his style and meshing it with more modern sounding beats and production. He effortlessly got into his pockets and felt comfortable from start-to-finish.
The album cover goes consists of Cupid-like babies. Some are black, others white, with wings of angels but colored red as if they were demons holding up a plaque that is covered by dirt. Nas’ name appears on the plaque, while one of the babies holds a crown. There is a rusty bloody machete on the table with fruit, gold, a skeleton head, the head of a hog, a serpent and flowers from a garden.
Throughout his last couple of projects Nas has been made his spiritual beliefs apparent and this album cover reflects that. King’s disease is defined as a disease where affluent people eat poorly, invest poorly and have bad relationships, which leads to one’s downfall. Nas touches on business and health throughout the project but the theme he harkens on the most is love and relationships. On multiple songs he tells stories of failed romantic relationships, or how relationships work poorly within the black community. Nas also touches on the struggles of the black community as a whole throughout.
Hit-Boy did a masterful job with the beats. The album has a classical sound to it, with a couple of instruments being played in the background on the majority of the tracks, combined with the heavy bass that is preferred in today’s rap music.
The story-telling is a highlight of the album. He didn’t do it too often but, when he did, they were amazing. On the record, “Car #85,” we get Nas at his descriptive best as he tells tales of his close run-ins with the law, his trips to hang out with friends, as well as his attempts of keeping a romantic relationship alive. All precipitated by this car service that he would use exclusively.
The length of the album was a plus – short and succinct, thus making it an easy listen, although several records felt short. Nas is known to rap multiple verses yet, on this project, it seemed like he would give one or two concise verses so as to not prolong the records.
And while many of the features were surprising, he did a great job of staying true to himself while letting other artists shine in their own lanes. He didn’t try to step on their toes and in return, they didn’t step on his. If there can be a complaint, it’s that the contrasting sounds made for songs sounding entirely different when a new act was introduced. For example, in the Lil Durk-assisted “Til The War is Won.” Nas raps for two verses and basically hands the record off to Lil Durk for the last minute or so. This also happened with his song with Anderson .Paak “All Bad,” which sounds like an Anderson .Paak song featuring Nas.
While having a great theme, Nas fails to focus on it for the entirety of the album. And at times, it feels like he was running down bullet points instead of detailed explanations. Nas is knowledgeable, but at times he doesn’t explain his knowledge – he just puts the knowledge out there for fans to either get it or not. This was a problem from his last release Nasir, where fans reduced many of lines to him being a conspiracy theorist.
“10 Points” is a record which embodies where Nas is in life. The song consists of him kicking game to the youth, explaining, “Take it from a street dude, you don’t need to be a street dude. Get a lawyer, read your contract, and eat food.” The way he delivers his rhymes in a smooth cool manner is what separates Nas from a lot of emcees, still.
He also addressed the longstanding rumors of him copying the late Tupac Shakur’s ‘Thug Life’ tattoo, rapping, “Pac saw the chain, got his medallion, I want it. Insinuate imitation cause I copied his stomach. Kings honor kings, straight from my pops to my son’s sh*t.” This was his way of laying to rest how his ‘Godson’ tattoo mirrored Tupac and a ‘Thug Life’ tattoo both being placed across their stomachs. The beat switch on this track was flawless and was the highlight of Hit-Boy’s production.
Nas also gave shootouts to legendary NBA player Kobe Bryant and rap legend Nipsey Hussle, rhyming, “Rest in Peace Kobe and Nip that’s off the rip.” People forget that Nas once ripped Kobe on his Street Disciple album on the track “These are our Hero’s” where he went at the then troubled NBA star for his alleged rape case allegations in 2003. It was refreshing to hear Nas ignore old wounds and pay respects to Bryant, although the two had reconciled long before his death.
Other great records include “Blue Benz,” “Car #85,” “27 Summers,” and “The Definition.” The beats for “Blue Benz” and “27 Summers” stand out.
Nas and Hit-Boy complimented each other well. Hit-Boy showcased his range as a producer while showing Nas’ ability to adapt to the new climate of music. Nas works best on more simplistic beats, with some drum patterns and instruments in the background to boost his message and it was cool that he was allowed to still find his pocket.
Nas meshed with many of the features on the album and it was great to see the return of his group, The Firm, on the song “Full Circle.” King’s Disease is a good album, and while it isn’t Nas’ best work, it wasn’t expected to be. It’s just good to hear one of the genre’s all-time greats still delivering quality music.The album is a solid 7.5 out of 10 and we look forward to what more Nas has to offer.
With contributions from Alain Clerine