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Review: Magic by Nas

Andrew Martone | January 11, 2022

Since 2020, Nas has forged a winning partnership with producer Hit-Boy, and unleashed two stellar albums, Kings Disease (which earned Nas his first-ever Grammy Award) and Kings Disease II. “KDIII on the way, this just to feed the buzz,” Nas reassuringly declares in the middle of “Ugly,” track 3 of his Christmas Eve surprise EP Magic. This 9-track EP continues their successful collaboration, and serves as a delectable palette cleanser that adds to the anticipation for the now-confirmed Kings Disease III

There are just three tracks that pre-date the union between Nas and Hit-Boy, and the only one worth listening to is “Dedicated,” an album cut from Mariah Carey’s 2014 Me, I Am… Mariah. The Elusive Chanteuse. Something must have been in the water when the pair reconnected in late 2019 to create an EP for Valentine’s Day. The energy shifted during the recording process and Kings Disease was born. Kings Disease II followed less than a year later. With each album being announced less than 2 weeks prior to its release, it helped create an explosive buzz, especially after Kings Disease was so well received. To up the ante, Nas announced Magic barely 12 hours before it hit digital outlets and streaming services.

The two foundational elements that create the conditions for this duo’s perfect storm of a collaboration are Nas’ lyrical dexterity and Hit-Boy’s broad sonic profile. They seem to feed off of each other, with Hit developing tracks made just for Nas and Nas tailoring his flow to compliment the nuances of Hit’s beats. The production has an underlying maturity to it with just the right dash of nostalgia, accentuating the place Nas finds himself in at this stage of his life while honoring his legacy as one of New York’s finest MC’s.

This is an EP about progression, and song after song that progression is evident. “I’m 21 years passed the 27 Club,” he opens with on the EP’s first cut “Speechless.” He merges one of his most common topics, introspection of/on his adolescence, with advice for the young rappers in the game today. He encourages them to “stop plottin’ on each other,” and instead to “plot on millions.” While he discourages plotting on one another, he encourages defending yourself.

On “Meet Joe Black,” he rolls up his sleeves to fire blow after blow. He mockingly questions, “Your top 3, I’m not number1, how could you post that?” on the hook, separates himself and his work ethic from the rest of the pack by boasting “your most hungry place, I was past that at 28,” and calls himself the rap Sugar Ray Robinson while others are “ too out of shape to box with me.” The target or targets are unknown, making this a far cry from the “Fuck Jay Z”’s that echoed through 2001’s “Ether,” but the shots feel just as lethal. It’s a stark reminder that though Nas is refined, he’s still got all the grit he possessed two decades ago. 

“Ugly” demonstrates a similar progression, but in this case it’s Nas ruminating on the “distorted faces, solemn features” that result from murder. He paints a picture of the envy and conflicts that result in gun violence (“grown men jealous outside, grown ass women that’ll have you set up to die”), while name checking victims of gun violence from Marvin Gaye to Young Dolph. Again, it’s a stark contrast from 2001’s “Got Ur Self A…” with it’s Sopranos-sampling, gun-encouraging chorus.  

“Wu Is For The Children” is full of nuggets, first and foremost He dismisses the “Nas enthusiasts thinkin’ they know what’s best” for him more than he knows himself and sheds some light on the perspective of the veteran rapper watching sideline cats and young artists begrudging those who have found success. “Stop putin’ your faults on him,” he urges, before delivering one of the best bars of the EP, “the man in him is bringing the kid in you out.” 

Nas also makes his sole misstep of this set on “Wu.” He aligns J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake to himself, Jay-Z, and Biggie back in the day. But there’s a glaring contrast in that comparison: there were an abundance of other names that could accompany Nas, Jay, and Biggie in that trio. The three of them happen to all hail from ONE city, New York. The contemporary trio lacks a single New York rapper, serving as a reminder that this generation’s New York rappers don’t have the same hold on rap that those 25 years ago did.

In a nod to Illmatic, guests only join him and Hit-Boy on one track, where they connect with A$AP Rocky and DJ Premier. Hit-Boy’s arsenal of nostalgic samples drive “Wave Gods,” which are accentuated by Premier’s scratching. Listening to Nas’ verse, he sounds like a veteran hitting his stride as he glides over the production and effortlessly subjugates yet another of Hit-Boy’s pristine productions. 

With projects like this, it’s hard to deny that Nas is in a renaissance era. Magic proves that there’s still more success for him to find with Hit-Boy. If Magic is any indication, that’s bound to continue with the impending release of Kings Disease III. Needless to say, Nas feeds the buzz like a Michelin-star restaurant.

90/97

Stream Nas’ Magic

Written by Andrew Martone

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