Nas drops the Hit-Boy produced ‘Magic 3‘ on his birthday as he rounds out his collaborative experiences with the popular beat maker. In what is almost certain to be the focus of a huge debate (around the album itself, the state of hip hop overall and everything inbetween) this album is nothing if not discussion worthy. Nas has redefined hip hop over the course of generations. From a brash, 16 year old street poet, to a refined, mature and mellow 50 year old emcee – Nasir Jones is somewhat of a common denominator when it comes to talking about the hip hop landscape. ‘Magic 3‘ is the third installment of the Magic series, which has been delivered in parallel to the Kings Disease trilogy, and while we won’t say it’s the best yet, there is no denying Nas’ ability on the mic and to make music.
Nas haters will mention that he sounds uninspired, pedestrian and that ‘you will cosign anything that has Nas’ name on it’. Those who enjoy the rebirth of Nas, will say it blows everything out of the water and he must now be declared the GOAT as he has continued his excellence with an inspired six album run over the latter few years. The truth for me, is that it falls in and out of both narratives throughout the 45 minute musical journey. Hit-boy is another polarising figure in hip hop, with his expertise in delivering audio canvases either revered or deemed overrated. Again, ‘Magic 3‘ will allow whichever camp you have your foot in, to defend your position as vehemently as Nas spits his modern style street prose.
Before diving into the album itself and delivering a track-by-track recap of my listening experience, I want to take two seconds to try and determine why Lil Wayne is the only feature on the album. Without discussing whether it fits, how good the verse is or if Wayne is worthy of riding shotgun with Mr. Jones, it’s a really interesting sub-narrative that was evident the moment the track listing dropped. IF anyone has insight into this – get at me! Also, this is a full length album – not some 7-song 15 minute ‘project’ but a complete 15 song, 45 minute listening investment – and it captures your ears and mind for the duration. So, let’s get stuck in and digest what Nas and Hit-Boy have concocted this time around!
‘Fever‘ starts things off, and the bar is set high with a really dope track. The head is nodding, Nas is spitting, there is a really dope energy and the throwback ‘represent, represent’ chant is nothing short of iconic. Next up, ‘TSK‘ starts out with a really moody, sonic undertone and Nas is far more deliberate with the wordplay, until the beat switches up a few times – each time changing the energy of the song and Nas matches it with his agile flow. Hit-Boy smashes the production on ‘Superhero Status‘! This track has such a crazy energy and sits delightfully out of the boom bap, soul, funk pocket and Nas flows all over this track like a lyrical legend.
Change of pace now as the soulful sample of ‘I Love This Feeling‘ brings a whole different vibe to the project. Husky-flow Nas is when he’s at his story-telling best, and he tucks right into this track in a somewhat energetic spoken-word style to start, until Hit-Boy hits us in the headphones with some delightfully dusty drumwork. Speaking of drums, we are transported to the front of the drumline, centrefield on ‘No Tears‘. It’s crisp and punchy, but there is something menacing that sits just under the audio-surface which Nas accesses when spitting his bars. Now, we get to the Lil Wayne feature on ‘Never Die‘ and from the jump, the track itself is fire. There is a boastful energy to the bars and the production is robust and punchy. Wayne suits the joint, and he flows in a manner that really works with Nas and the production without being ‘too much’ which has has a habit of doing. It’s not basic, but it’s not elite level emceeing either. Interesting choice for a feature, but certainly not a blemish on the album at all.
Warbling, synth / horns bring a different, edgy funk to ‘Pretty Young Girl‘ before it gets to that modern, boom bap, head nodding medicine. It’s fresh, and Nas is tuned in when delivering his street narrative. More horns on ‘Based On True Events‘, but they are more of a traditional sounding set up with the boom bap drums punching underneath. The beat feels a ‘little’ empty, but Nas is also really on point with his story-telling vibe which tends to allow us to hear more of what he is saying in the sparsity of the snare. ‘Based On True Events, Pt. 2‘ is more a traditional Nas, street-narrative, concrete poetry kind of deal. Simply due to following a more subdued production, this one really feels next-level in all aspects and I am digging this joint.
‘Sitting With My Thoughts‘ sounds like the kind of introspective, intricate, narrative that I would really dig, and lyrically it is. Nas is on point, sounds quite impassioned and focused, but I just can’t really sink my teeth into the production. I keep waiting for something ‘more’ which Hit-Boy has done previously on this album, bringing more robust drums in later – but not this time. Slick Rick! The Ruler (well, snippets from a live concert) kick off ‘Blue Bently‘ and just by introducing the track with an audio-byte like that, it sets the scene for something – I’m just not quite sure that it really brings the vibe / energy that it could have when starting off with such an energetic soundclip.
It’s more hypnotic, soul-infused boom bap on ‘Jodeci Member‘ and there is a crisp, freshness to Nas’ flow on this one. It’s actually quite a fun joint and cleanses the palate after some more serious, introspective, street-narratives. ‘Speechless, Pt. 2‘ is super dope! It’s Queens, meets middle-east, meets 70’s lounge…. Flutes, synth, snares… and Nas really jumps into this one and bends his vocals around an understated sample. ‘Japanese Soul Bar‘ is a musical gumbo, Hit-Boy bringing a range of elements to keep this track progressing musically, and Nas takes care of the verbals with his flow. This is entertaining for a range of reasons, but Hit-Boy has to take a lot of credit for such diverse production interwoven throughout, and Nas is on point as always.
The finale is ‘1-800-Nas&Hit‘ and it’s definitely situated to be the last track as the curtains close on what has been an incredibly interesting and engaging album, but also partnership over the last few years. Nas still spits over the sample-based production. It’s that wind-down, easy-listening number that you need after a big night out – and a great way to finish up. Not a track you’d go back and revisit a lot though.
Bangers: Superhero Status, Based On True Events Pt. 2, Fever, I Love This Feeling.
Score: 9 / 10. It’s another hit for the Nas / Hit-Boy collaborative partnership. Nas is still at the top of his game, delivering high quality story-telling rhymes and clever wordplay. He’s not the same, brash, Nasty Nas that we knew and loved, but at 50 we wouldn’t expect him to be. He is poised, creative and there is still a passion to emcee at a high level that shines through each track. My advice, enjoy the album and enjoy the music. We’ve been blessed to have a resurgence from Nas, and we know it can’t last forever, so rather than debate it, let’s appreciate it. From one of the greatest.