Nas album done.
Those three, fateful words — spoken on a 2016 DJ Khaled single of the same name — set the Queens, New York rap icon on a collision course with fan expectation. That expectation soured and eventually curdled into apathy as days, then weeks, then months went by with no sign of the promised musical collection. It had already been four years since his prior effort, Life Is Good, became a critical success, a “grown-up” rap album that proved hip-hop could age gracefully.
Naturally, Nas’ fans were excited at the possibility that the follow-up could bring even more hard-won insights from the other side of 40. After all, rappers’ careers don’t often complete the journey with their physical bodies into middle age; the Rakims, the KRS-Ones, the Big Daddy Kanes… they’re all still out there, somewhere, doing cruise boats and nostalgia showcases, but for all intents and purposes, their days of rap stardom are behind them. For years, Nas’ career threatened to join them in hip-hop’s dusty attic, as release after release was met with enthusiastic anticipation, then received a great, collective “meh” from the listening audience as the elaborately wrapped, heavily-anticipated Christmas present turned out to be just another itchy, grandpa sweater.
Granted, there were gems on those albums. Life Is Good, Hip-Hop Is Dead, God’s Son, and even Street’s Disciple had at least a few heat rocks each, even as they were released to diminishing returns sales-wise. Ironically, as Nas began to turn in more and more impressive first-week numbers, the overall sales tallies of each successive project fell. While that could be chalked up to the unfortunate evolution of the music business in past years, it can’t be discounted: Lonzo Ball may have been right — nobody listens to Nas anymore.