I don’t believe in soulmates. But every now and then, someone comes along and I am forced to reconsider.
The most I’ve been convinced about the existence of soulmates is in music. Look at the magic Don Jazzy and D’Banj made. Look at what 9ice and ID Cabasa did with Gongo Aso. Even Jay-Z said it, when promoting Magna Carta Holy Grail, “There are rare times when everything aligns and that’s just that magic moment.”
In 2020, Nas won a Grammy for Best Rap Album, for the album King’s Disease, a 13-tracker produced entirely by Hit Boy. It would seem the only person unexcited about this win was Nas, refusing to comment on it on his social media or anywhere else. The closest he came to commenting on the win is a throw-away line on ‘ 40 Side’, “They finally gave Nas the Grammy/just for me to go/That wasn’t the goal/.”
Nothing illustrates his mind-state better than that.
Nas has always been held to a higher standard than his peers; when you release what many consider the hip-hop bible at age 21, that tends to happen. The consequence is everything you do subsequently is compared to that first effort, which unfortunately places you in a box. Over the past few years, Nas has taken steps to shrug this off, posting in 2020 that he was done with celebrating and re-releasing Illmatic.
“It’s time to move on,” he said on a video. And it appears as though having that monkey off his back has refocused Nas in a way he hasn’t been in a long time. King’s Disease established chemistry that was powerful enough to earn Nas his first Grammy after 27 years. While that album was engaging, lyrical and honest on many levels, King’s Disease II is the album that reminds a lot of people of what Nas is capable of when he hits his stride.
The album opens with “Pressure”, in which Nas raps, “The pressure weighs a ton/it’s getting too heavy/Had to inspire them again/Like I didn’t already/.”
That’s not a brag just anybody can make.
Next up is “Death Row East”, a story in which he talks about his relationship with Tupac, and how he flew to Vegas to shoot the ‘Street Dreams’ (single from It Was Written) video and tried to squash the East Coast/West Coast beef. The song ends with a live announcement of Pac’s passing at a Nas show. Sobering moment.
“EPMD”, a single from the soundtrack to Judas and the Black Messiah gets a part 2, featuring EPMD (the group comprising Erick Sermon and Parish Smith) and a blistering verse from Eminem. Lines like “EPMD/We back in business/Living in cramped conditions/will give you ammunition/I stock those shelves/I got those shells like Taco Bell/And I’m not gon’ fail/I got No ‘Ls’ (Noels)/Like Christmas/” remind listeners how Marshall Mathers managed to engrave his name high up in rap’s hierarchy.
Another guest spot that had the internet freaking out is Lauryn Hill on the song “Nobody”. After years of being away from the limelight, Ms. Hill returns with a verse that tells us how many steps she’s lost: none.
“All my time has been focused on my freedom now/Why would I join them when I know I can beat them now/They put their words on me and they can eat them now/It’s probably why they keep on telling me I’m needed now/.”
She goes on with the fire, and no one is safe:
“Now let me give it to you balanced and with clarity/I don’t need to turn myself into a parody/I don’t, I don’t do the shit you do for popularity/They clearly didn’t understand when I said/I Get Out apparently/My awareness like Keanu in The Matrix/I’m saving souls and y’all complaining about my lateness/Now it’s illegal for someone to walk in greatness/They want the same shh, but they don’t take risks/.”
For one constantly criticized for not having an ear for beats, Nas has found a seamless groove with HitBoy, a 34-year-old who found his stride and came to fame by producing ‘Nigg*s In Paris’ on Watch The Throne for Jay-Z and Kanye West. Hit-Boy is undoubtedly a sonic genius, building the perfect soundscape for the visual and resounding nature of Nas’ lyrics. The result is a 15-tracker that keeps the energy steady and consistent for 51 minutes, with huge replay value and no skippable moments.
I still don’t believe in soulmates. But when magic like King’s Disease II happens, I can’t help but wonder whether it is time to reconsider.