New York City hip hop icon Nas recently announced plans to release a new album that will be executively produced by Hit-Boy, the mind behind hit tracks like Kanye West and Jay Z’s “N****s in Paris,” Drake’s “Trophies,” and Roddy Ricch and Nipsey Hussel’s “Racks in the Middle.” The upcoming project, which has yet to be named, is set to be released next Friday, August 21.
Nas’ partnership with Hit-Boy is certainly an interesting pairing; the rapper is known primarily for his top tier lyricism and masterful insight, but not as much for hit hit-making ability, especially in the second half of his career. However, given Hit-Boy’s record to produce some of rap’s biggest hits in the past decade, perhaps his collaboration with Nas may yield some renewed commercial success, and even propel him back into current relevance, rather than historical relevance.
Although Nas has already solidified himself as one of the hip hop greats, he still seeks to be recognized among younger crowds as a force on the mic that is still capable of delivering. In October of last year, Nas stated that he is “tired of celebrating” his classic Illmatic, noting that “to celebrate one album when I’ve made over 10, all the things I’ve worked on — and I’ve been working for so long — to celebrate one album over all else is corny to me.”
This explains his desire to work with a producer like Hit-Boy, as Nas hopes to not just be known as a classic 90’s icon, but an artist who has adapted with the times. We’ve seen other hip hop veterans successfully shift their music over time, as rappers like Jay-Z and Pusha T, both into their forty’s, are still capable of cranking out hits that appeal to audiences young and old. But is Nas still capable of achieving mainstream success?
From a lyrical perspective, the answer should be a resounding yes. Nas is one of the greatest lyricists of all time, and even if his more recent projects haven’t provided the same commercial success as his earlier works, there is no denying his abilities as a rapper. His wordplay, flow and unique perspective still allow the content of his raps to shine through, even if less people are listening.
Nas’ music has suffered commercially largely due to the lack of stellar production behind his bars. While Nas has been able to adapt lyrically and shift his insights and perspective over time, the beats behind Nas have largely remained stagnant, and have left a lot to be desired. No Nas project in the last decade, perhaps longer, has pushed the limits from a production standpoint, so while Nas has still been able to shine lyrically, the production has held him back from continuing to top the charts.
Thus, the marriage between Nas and Hit-Boy could be a match made in heaven. If Nas is able to succeed in making music for audiences young and old and once again top the charts, it would be historic. Nas hasn’t released an album that has gone platinum since 2004, but perhaps with Hit-Boy at the helm, he could once again accomplish that feat. Doing so wouldn’t do much for his legacy, as Nas has already cemented himself among the Mount Rushmore of the hip hop greats, but it would prove that he is more than just an old icon who is no longer in touch with young audiences.
Only time will tell if Nas will achieve commercial and chart topping success on his upcoming project. The album may or may not live up to the high standards that comes with greatness, but regardless of its popularity, it will undoubtedly be chock full of bars, on bars, on bars.