I really enjoyed 2021’s “Magic”; a short, sharp mixtape in all but name that wore its throwback production sensibilities proudly. Effectively a stopgap between the well-received “King’s Disease II” and “KDIII”, a record that ultimately elevated Nas’ beyond even G.O.A.T. status. It’s well-documented that we here at RapReviews.com are long-time admirers of the Nasty One, with a whopping ten albums receiving Recommendations (f/k/a The Nines). “Magic” was the first since 2012’s “Life Is Good”, and it remains a strong example of Nas embracing and championing his elder statesman position, without falling into the trap of dated dad rap that is obsessed with former glories. The first “Magic” was a welcome complementary piece to the more progressive approach Nas and Hit-Boy were building on their King’s Disease albums. As Nas states on “Ugly” (from “Magic”), it was designed to keep the buzz going between albums, so “Magic 2” is presumably designed to do the same for the gap between “KD3” and the inevitable “KD4”. 

Nas kicks this project off by claiming he’s been “feeling a lot of hate from his recent work with Hit”, which seems at odds with the consensus that Nas has had an acclaimed return to form with his last few albums. Something must have struck a nerve, as we hear about published lists not being up to snuff – very Eminem. “Abracadabra” isn’t the greatest of starts; the tongue-twisting approach on a weak beat drenched in bass, attacks critics with various examples of how he deserves better. If people are hating on Nas, then I have to question why. They should be hating on 50 Cent if anyone, because despite being one of the best tracks, “Office Hours” is let down by the former G-Unit frontman. He provides half a verse before ranting intermittently before the hook comes back in. It must have been crossed wires or something like he only sent an 8-bar for a 16-bar assignment. Despite this, “Office Hours”. is precisely why Nas and Hit continue to pump out music together – the chemistry is strong, the beat is fire, and most importantly, Nas is on form.

There’s plenty to unpick on “Magic 2”, to the point where it may be his most fan-focused release. He’s mentioning the Illuminati, dismissing ‘Fredos’ like he’s just binged the first two Godfather movies, and its littered with shout-outs to legends. I love the idea that Nas is poking fun at Jay-Z once again with the cryptic “y’all movin’ brainless, anything to be famous” line. My favorite Nas trademark is the inclusion of concepts we know and love. “Motion” reminds me of 1992’s “Halftime”, both in its primitive kicks that thump in your chest, and in the continued obsession with time and movement. “Rewind”, “Locomotion”, “Carry On Tradition”, “Where Are They Now”, “Memory Lane”, “First Time” – the list is endless. This fascination with time and place represents both Nas and hip-hop as a whole, constantly reflective and celebratory to the point where he’s the definitive rapper. Of course, he’s the same age as hip-hop. When he reminds us of this, and that both are getting iller is clearly a convenient coincidence. I’m not sure I agree with the latter, but he’s not exactly going to admit that they both peaked in the mid-1990s.

Or did they? As Nas admits that he’s in his THIRD prime on “What This All Really Means”, it’s hard to see who else has had multiple primes at such a prolific level. We revisit the time concept again on “Slow It Down”, as Queens’ finest fires off lines that make the listener think, as he uses the hook to let the listener process the rhymes. It’s not exactly Chino XL, but then he’s a bit warmer with his attitude, even saying “If you gotta slow it down, I won’t laugh at you”.

What’s overlooked by many is how Nas has updated his flow – “Black Magic” sounds nothing like you’d expect a Nas song to. More accurately, it feels more like a “King’s Disease” number, than something we heard previously on”Magic”, and the same can be said for the drumless “Bokeem Woodbine”. This isn’t a bad thing, but it means that it sounds more conventional as a mainstream 2023 release, but at times, a less conventional Nas record. It’s a matter of taste, at this point, because some of the quicker flows Nas pulls out are impressive, but are less rewarding on the ear. Nas has one of the best voices – he shouldn’t be doing “acrobatics with the alphabet” rapidly firing through words – I want to hear it.

The 21 Savage track “One Mic, One Gun” never really sat well with me, but it’s a testament to how Nas has changed. He’s moved with the times, and his recent run has not only confirmed his ability to remain relevant but to remain an artist. Artists grow and challenge themselves. For those that weren’t aware, 21 Savage said that Nas was not relevant back in November 2022. Shortly after, this track was released to a lukewarm reception. This says a lot, not just in the different eras they represent, but 21 wasn’t that wrong when he said ‘Nas is not relevant’ – what he meant to say was that he’s less relevant to the younger generation in the United States. 45% of all streaming is done by 18-24-year-olds and with hip-hop being the dominant genre, relevance is distorted by this pocket of consumers. 21 Savage’s relevance has also been heavily enhanced by dropping an album with Drake, the most popular rapper in the world. It’s also worth noting that, 21 Savage has found phenomenal success in the United States, but his albums have not had anywhere near the same level of success outside of North America. Relevance varies by definition, but it just seemed like a strange statement, but it’s not the first time 21 Savage has retracted his opinion.

Call me sentimental, but it may just be Nas confirming he’s too mature for conflict – I was anticipating Nasty Nas to be unleashed, even if it was just a line here or there (like he aimed at Pete Rock). Truth be told, you can hear various subliminals throughout “Magic 2” aimed at younger rappers, of which 21 Savage is the poster child for. “When you’re a legend, there’s no such thing as relevance” is 21’s way of back peddling his statement, as Nas retorts “It’s cool to be mainstream, I’d rather be timeless”. I don’t know, it’s all very handshakes and hugs, and the song that came about from this ended up being largely forgettable.

Overall then, “Magic 2” is good if not great, but struggles to find an identity of its own outside of sounding like leftovers from “King’s Disease 3”. Considering that was their best album together, it’s not a bad thing but does explain why it may take a while to reveal its excellence. The two have great chemistry, clearly, but five projects in three years have meant that “Magic 2” is the first time this combination has started to sound a bit familiar. It doesn’t really possess an identity like the first “Magic” did, which seemed to go down well with fans less keen on the trap-style instrumentals. Those fans have a point, as they are the weaker moments on “Magic 2”, but the biggest problem with this record is probably the timing. Songs like “Slow It Down”, “Motion” and “Office Hours” are all dope, I just wonder if some of the magic is starting to lose its impact. We have been spoilt by Nas and Hit, and “Magic 2” is more of that good s***. Sure, there are a few things that could be improved (that golden scrotum line for one – not even Roc Marciano could pull that one off), but I can’t imagine many Nas fans are upset with more of the same, when both Nas and Hit-Boy are on such a hot streak.

Nas :: Magic 2
8Overall Score