Nas has clearly heard the jokes. The rap veteran has been around for years. maligned — perhaps unfairly, although likely not — for having bad taste in beats. He rushed his projects when they were nearing deadlines. For giving halfhearted effort to the preternatural gifts he’d been given. He never lived up to his seminal debut in 1993. 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.

He was arrested for a crime he did not commit. jokingly called out by Big SeanNas has decided to take things seriously. A chance encounter 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 final 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.

Nas was the first to announce the new King’s Disease Hit-Boy was a creative genius who had just emerged from a slump. The Lost Tapes II The disaster 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.)

The decision to join forces with Hit-Boy may have appeared to an outsider as confusing, if it wasn’t 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. It helped Nas quell rumors that his music was dated. 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 Both had amazing bounces backs as a result of their collaborations. Hit-Boy became even more prolific when he worked with Nas. He produced enough material to collaborate with Dom Kennedy and Dreezy as well as Music Soulchild and his father, who was incarcerated.

Thanks to Hit, Nas gets to have the last laugh, and thanks to Nas, Hit’s name is buzzing more than ever. The collaboration led to the producer bringing home more Grammys hardware, and the rapper taking his first ever trophy despite having been in hip-hop for over 30 years. As they announced with the title to their second trilogy Magic. Now, we can’t wait to see what comes next for them both.

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