Nas And Hit-Boy’s ‘Magic 3’ Crowns A Magnificent Four-Year Run

todaySeptember 15, 2023

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Nas clearly heard all the jokes. For years, the rap veteran has been maligned — perhaps unfairly, although likely not — for having bad taste in beats. For rushing his projects as they neared deadlines. For giving halfhearted effort to the preternatural gifts he’d been given. For never truly living up to the bar set by his seminal 1993 debut, Illmatic. And sometime during the music industry shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, he decided he’d had enough of the critiques.

That was when, after he was jokingly called out by Big Sean, Nas decided to get serious. A chance meeting with Fontana producer Hit-Boy spawned not only the greatest creative chemistry he’s shared with a producer since that groundbreaking debut but also an astonishing six full-length albums comprising two separate trilogies in the next four years. The finale of this collaborative project, Magic 3 , dropped on Thursday, Nas’ 50th birthday.

Now, I’m not here to break down the new project or review it; if you’ve heard the five albums prior, you know what to expect. You either like it or it’s not for you. But I have to say I don’t think we have really talked enough about how incredible this whole moment has been — what it represents for both artists’ careers, for hip-hop music, or the culture at large. So, let’s talk about it. Nas and Hit-Boy’s four-year run should go down in hip-hop history as the best of what this genre can be; it should be an instruction manual for artists to follow for years to come.

At the time Nas announced the first King’s Disease album produced by Hit-Boy, he was coming off of yet another creative slump that saw his legacy reeling from the dreary The Lost Tapes II and the disastrous Nasir. Not to mention, he’d been accused of some rather nasty behavior by ex-wife Kelis; he had some work to do to get back into the public’s good graces. For an artist who’d once been lyrically derided by Jay-Z for his fitful work ethic, no one could have expected the burst of output to come.

(“Four albums in ten years, n***?” isn’t actually that bad when you think about it, but compared to his prolific rival, looked pretty bad, especially considering the reception of those albums.)

On its face, the decision to link up with Hit-Boy could have seemed to an outsider to be confusing at best, if not downright cynical. Here you had two artists who were opposites in almost every way you could think of: East Coast/West Coast, old-school staple/new-school hitmaker, one recovering from back-to-back duds, the other, still celebrating his most recent beat placement winning a Grammy for one of LA’s most-revered late rap titans, Nipsey Hussle. Nothing about it made sense; maybe that’s why it worked.

For Nas, Hit-Boy’s production was a jolt of both fresh air and much-needed consistency, providing a diverse array of complementary soundbeds for Nas’ complex, time-tested flow. He also plugged the weathered veteran into a whole new world of contemporary collaborators, allowing him shake off the mantle of disgruntled old head and instead play the role of the sage mentor, the voice of experience guiding his successors’ generation with a steady hand and just enough burst to keep up with the kids.

No doubt, artists like A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Anderson .Paak, ASAPs Ferg and Rocky, Big Sean, Blxst, Don Toliver, Fivio Foreign, Lil Durk, and 21 Savage had grown up revering Nas’ contributions to hip-hop music. But Nas’ generation has proven … less than generous in issuing accolades, advice, or acknowledgment to their successors. Instead, there has been a slew of gruff admonitions, gatekeeping, and laments about the “state of hip-hop.” Nas himself had been accused of the same when he released Hip-Hop Is Dead in 2006.

So, for him to make that effort to bridge the generation gap — aided by Hit-Boy, who provided the connective glue to make such tricky collaborations stick — is meaningful to both his career and the fabric of rap as a whole. Yes, it helped Nas to quell speculation that his music is no longer relevant — some of which even came from one of his future collaborators, 21 Savage — but it also provided a Golden Era parallel to what Gucci Mane’s been doing in Atlanta as a godfather of trap rap.

It showed that hip-hop doesn’t HAVE to be just a “young man’s game” (if anything, I wish he’d included more women’s voices to prove it’s not only a man’s game, either). It showed that the vets don’t have to dismiss the kids in their own twilight; in fact, by embracing subsequent generations, the older artists get to hang on to their golden years just that much longer. And it showed that the best approach for anyone isn’t just to chase trends or follow the market, but to find the spark that comes from doing what you love out of inspiration, not obligation.

And it’s wild to think that we have Hit-Boy to thank for lighting this fire under Nas; aside from both being cast aside by a certain superproducer who couldn’t be bothered to dedicate his time, resources, and appreciation to them for their collaborations with him, both had incredible bounces back as a result. Hit-Boy got even more prolific while working with Nas, churning out enough material for collaborative projects with Dom Kennedy, Dreezy, Music Soulchild, and even his own formerly incarcerated father.

Thanks to Hit, Nas gets to have the last laugh, and thanks to Nas, Hit’s name is buzzing more than ever. Their collaboration resulted in the producer taking home even more Grammys hardware and the rapper bringing in his first-ever trophy despite his 30-plus years of hip-hop prominence. It was, as they declared with the title of their second trilogy, Magic. Now, we can’t wait to see what comes next for them both.

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