Nas’ Magic Review: Great But Not Special

Benny Ross, Contributing Writer

Rating: 3.5/5 Falcons

Many elder statesmen of hip-hop have retired well before reaching their middle age. Nas, however, shows no signs of departing from the music industry. With Magic, the Queensbridge rapper’s 15th album and third collaboration with respected producer Hit-Boy, he has shown that even if some of the lyrical prowess of his youth is gone, he can still put together a pretty solid album. 

With only nine tracks and at 30 minutes long, Magic is extremely concise with no time wasted on intros, outros, or skits. There are many great parts of this album from the chopped soul beat of “Hollywood Gangsta” to the top notch lyricism of “Ugly,” on which Nas spits lines like “One hundred and five Fahrenheit, thunderous skies / the clouds shape a clown face above where you reside.” The true highlights of the album are “Wave Gods” featuring A$AP Rocky and DJ Premier, and the final track of the album, “Dedication.” On “Wave Gods,” Hit-Boy does his best impression of DJ Premier’s signature boom bap style, with Preemo himself doing the scratches. A$AP Rocky and Nas trade verses about their lives, with chopped vocal samples of New York legends like Raekwon and CL Smooth scratched in between. On “Dedication,” Nas raps two verses about everything from robberies to financial literacy, over a chill jazzier beat before rapping the final verse of the album about how he’s still the illest, over a much darker beat.

For the average emcee, this is a great album, but for one of the greatest to ever to do it, it’s nothing special.”

Overall, Magic is a fun listen and a great addition to an era where lyrical rap is somewhat hard to come by. Technically, it is well executed—with good beats and flows—but the subject matter is where it starts to fall apart. Listening to this album, it feels like Nas is somewhat lost. He doesn’t want to be defined by his past and yet he references it in almost every song. He wants to be conscious, talking about absent fathers on “Hollywood Gangsta,” but one track later, he shows that his views on dating and relationships are questionable to say the least: “One girl for the rest of your life, is that realistic? / Some had told me they like when you call ’em all type of b****s.” It’s also worth noting that while Magic is much less misogynistic than a lot of new rap, there are definitely instances where disrespectful language is used, including the above quote.

Nas is at his best when he concentrates on painting a picture or telling a story (e.g. “One Love”), and aside from “Ugly,” he only really makes passing references. You might think I’m being harsh, but you have to remember that this is the same guy who once released a full song about his own birth (“Fetus”) and arguably one of hip-hop’s greatest albums at age 20 (Illmatic). For the average emcee, this is a great album, but for one of the greatest to ever to do it, it’s nothing special. That being said, it’s definitely worth a listen, especially for prior fans of Nas.