Album review: ‘King’s Disease III’

Nas and Hit-Boy save the best for last

Nas is going on 30 years in the rap game. 
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On King’s Disease III, Nas and Hit-Boy once again reign supreme. 

Nas originally burst onto the scene with Illmatic in 1994, a record universally accepted as one of rap’s defining masterpieces. It has stood the test of time as a raw and honest lyrical portrait of life as an inner-city teenager in 1990s New York. 

In 1996, Nas released his sophomore album It Was Written. While this record didn’t quite reach the high points of his previous album, it was still another creative statement—who else could possibly write an indictment of gang violence from the POV of a gun

While Nas continued to drop quality albums into the early 2000s, he and many of his other 90s rap contemporaries took a backseat to emerging superstars Eminem and Kanye West as they pioneered a more commercial-friendly sound. 

He faded further out of the limelight as the likes of Drake, Travis Scott, and Migos conquered mainstream music in the 2010s. Many understandably wrote Nas off as a relic of the past—then he and Hit-Boy decided to make a trilogy. 

Unlike most franchises that falter in their third act, King’s Disease III is an energized and determined reminder to doubters everyone: the king is alive and well. 

The album opens on an incredible run beginning with “Ghetto Reporter.” Over a funky bassline and shimmering keys, Nas, never straying too far from the streets, positions himself as the person who will “break the news you won’t see on screen.” 

On “Legit,” Nas re-tells his classic rags-to-riches story, questioning how he found artistic legitimacy despite his unlawful roots. The beat is once again a standout, with a groovy piano line harkening back to a time before 808 drums. 

However, blending his storytelling prowess with modern sensibilities is how Nas has re-established himself on the King’s Disease series. 

“Michael & Quincy” is an excellent example. Hit-Boy’s beat during Nas’s first verse is a classic boom-bap that pulsates into a bright chorus. Yet, the song’s true highlight is its final minute, where a beat switch adds much heavier drums and a saxophone to the instrumental. 

A modern star like J Cole wouldn’t sound out of place on the triumphant “30,” a track where Nas celebrates “going on thirty summers” in the rap game. It’s an incredible accomplishment, especially when considering how many rappers have come and gone over the last three decades. 

King’s Disease III is not all self-celebration—Nas has a lot to say, as always. 

“Hood2Hood” sees Nas questioning Black-on-Black violence, juxtaposing his people to the amicability and loyalty he sees in Jewish and Latin communities. He ends the song with a plea: “Stop messin’ around, put the pistols down/ Or we all will soon be done, dead.”

On “Beef,” Nas personifies a disagreement and explores how ‘he’ is responsible for dead rappers, broken relationships, and culture wars. It’s clever, timely, and expertly written—quintessential Nas by every definition. 

Throughout he and Hit-Boy’s trilogy, Nas has framed the so-called ‘King’s Disease’ as the complacency brought on by prolonged success. On closer, “Don’t Shoot,” he reframes it as the anger felt by struggling young ‘kings’ who may kill for personal gain.  

Nas raps: “You got a big life ahead do you / You are your own cure for your King’s Disease / You gotta look inside to cure that / You got all the answers.”

By all metrics—lyrics, beat selection, performances—King’s Disease III is the cure to any questions of whether Nas still has it at 49. It takes extreme talent to modernize old-school hip-hop for a new audience, but he and Hit-Boy have done it for a third time. 

Nasty Nas never left. Long live the king. 

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