Stevie G: Nas shows he still has the Magic

Reflecting on the career of Nas, it has been remarkable, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Stevie G: Nas shows he still has the Magic

Nas, despite being nearly 50 years of age, shows no signs of slowing down.

The career of Nas has been truly remarkable. Heralded as the most promising rapper of his generation before he even released an album, he went on to produce one of the best albums in music history with his debut “illmatic” in 1994.

Commercial success soon followed but like many rappers in the jiggy era, he went a bit too cheesy at times, until a huge beef with Jay Z restored his hunger and drive, and he came back better than ever.

That should easily have been enough for Nas, but nearly two decades on, as he approaches 50 years of age, he is bringing out albums at a remarkable quality and pace. His latest instalment of his Kings Disease series is his third in as many years, and he also managed to squeeze in another album called Magic in this time.

Kings Disease III is again executively produced by Hit-Boy, and like the previous volumes, it benefits greatly from having a gimmick free unified approach. However, unlike the previous chapters, it’s pretty much all Nas on the mic and it’s amazing that even in 2022 that Nas remains one of the best MCs on the globe.

He is releasing albums at the rate that young trap artists are managing and when you factor in the acclaimed lyricism that Nas has also managed to keep as sharp as ever, it’s a remarkable feat really. This is unchartered territory for hip-hop. It’s still a comparatively new genre when you compare it to others. I was listening to Bruce Springsteen chatting about his own youth the other day and he was making the point that every gig he went to when he was a kid was performed by other teens. Rock ‘n’ roll was still new and there weren’t any 30 or 40 or 50 years olds playing it, unlike now.

In hip-hop we are still coming to terms with the fact that over 30s are doing it, not to mention those much older. We’ve had many of these rap veterans in Cork over the years. Rakim, acclaimed by many as the greatest, was around 40 when he played here while Wu Tang’s Gza was older at his recent show in Cyprus Avenue. But none of these greats were performing much new material. Nas has remained at the cutting edge of underground rap and his new material is attracting youngsters too, so he is far from a heritage act.

This is very admirable because even those other great MCs mentioned will find it hard to maintain these energy levels as time progresses. Gza and Rakim still had their perfect voices, but dropping whole albums year in year out takes extraordinary effort.

I doubt he is finished here either. It’s hardly been a perfect career. “illmatic” remains the perfect hip-hop album, but it sometimes felt like a bit of a noose around his neck as the years went by. Nas and all his contemporaries went down the more accessible route in those mid 90s years when hip-hop became a truly commercial juggernaut. Biggie, Jay Z, Tupac and Nas himself were not afraid to use big hooks and big budget videos in an era where not all of the results were great. “Hate me now” remains one of the many duds in that era, but when the dust cleared Nas was ready to take back his New York crown.

Pac, Biggie, Big L and more were gone by the time Jay Z and Nas went at it full tilt, and the Queensbridge rapper probably came out on top of their beef bar for bar, though Jay ascended to even higher heights as a commercial force both in and out of rap since. Hunger is everything in rap and Nas continued to involved himself in terrific projects, such as the collab album with Damian Marley, and most of his modern day albums are very solid. Old school rap fans will certainly approve, but Nas can deliver over more modern beats too, though the Kings Disease series wisely sticks to his more favoured boom-bap era sounds.

It’s been a traumatic few years for the hip-hop world. The untimely deaths of so many talented young rappers (Takeoff, Juice, Nipsey, Pop Smoke, PnB Rock) are bringing to mind those dark days when Biggie and Tupac were murdered.

Rap is growing up without many of its best young MCs but Nas is one veteran who is still delivering top class rhymes and albums in 2022.

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