Nas – ‘Magic 2’ Album Review

Photo Credit: Obidigbo Nzeribe

The agreement that Nas’ Illmatic – which will turn 30 next year – is a classic unites almost all hip-hop fans. To so many, it represents the pinnacle of ’90s rap music – a heartfelt, intelligent, and conscious boom-bap record that crowned a 20-year-old an instant legend of his genre. But opinions on what to make of the New Yorker’s successive output differ widely. To some, LPs ranging from 1996’s It Was Written to last year’s King Disease III prove him to be one of rap’s most consistent stars. But to others, everything post-Illmatic has proved disappointing and far less essential than his singular debut. 

Which side of this debate you fall on is unlikely to be changed by Nas’s newest album, Magic 2; his latest collaboration with Hit-Boy. It’s a victory lap that primarily showcases all the things we already knew Nas could do and the ease with which he can do them. This prevailing mood is aided by the polished soundscape provided by Hit-Boy, which suggests Magic 2 may be Nas’s most immediately accessible LP. Even given the infectious melodies of Illmatic standouts like “Life’s A B*tch” and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” that album still requires countless listens to fully digest and appreciate. But in contrast, the appeal of the slick, shiny, and braggadocious “Abracadabra” is entirely immediate. 

For fans of Nas’ later works, Magic 2 will likely satiate their appetite. Even when Nas detours into an odd and extended verse about Dumb and Dumber on “Office Hours” it’s hard not to be awestruck by the technical precision of his flow. But, it’s hard to shake the feeling that, as a whole, Magic 2 does not play to Nas’ strengths. It was grit and a scrappy underdog attitude that made Illmatic a masterpiece – but the polish of his latest effort deprives the music of the tension that would make it more captivating. A song like “Abracadabra” is enjoyable in the moment, but once it’s gone, it leaves little lasting impression. 

Lyrically, Magic 2 is also more hit-and-miss than its predecessor, King’s Disease III. The cocky-chest pumping seen in lines like, “No way to describe me, no other word, other than godly,” may be deserved given Nas’ ample career achievements. Still, when such sentiments are extended across the entire album’s runtime, they become tiresome and blase. Elsewhere, attempts to incorporate slang (“You n*ggas cap”) and current cultural references (“Breaking Bad like Bryan Cranston”) are reliably ham-fisted. 

It’s a shame because there are hints of a more substantial album in declarations like, “Shout to the ones that hold and gave passes // Could’ve been a lot of grave full of caskets.” “What This All Really Means” stands out compared to the rest of Magic 2 for its heart. The song is a compelling chronicle of Nas’ earlier career – from his days as a scrappy up-and-comer to the aftermath of Illmatic’s success. Vulnerability runs through even simple declarations like “They bootlegged I Am, an album I put my heart in.” It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more moments like this on Magic 2 – an album that is always competent, but often sterile. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Written by: Tom Williams

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