What more can be said about Nas? Plenty. The legendary rapper released a new album just in time for Christmas and ended 2021 on a note higher than Mariah Carey smoking with Redman. Magic, Nasir’s second release this year, was a shock to Hip-Hop’s respiratory system. More importantly, the album adds to the legendary discography that the 48-year old Queens negative already has. The 9-song album, again produced by Hit-Boy, has Nas rapping as if he is a young, hungry lion, not a near-billionaire pushing 50.
Perhaps that is where purpose enters the chat.
To quote the fictional god of mischief Loki, Nas is likely “burdened with glorious purpose” and his ferocity is proof. The rapper mogul also released King’s Disease II in August and the opus made him an instant contender for 2021 Album of the Year. Also, the Queens legend finally won his first Grammy for Best Rap Album for King’s Disease, released on his Mass Appeal Records imprint. He had been nominated 13 times before the 2021 ceremony.
Let’s talk about Nas as the quintessential rapper’s rapper.
Nas made his debut 30 years ago this year on an Earth-shaking song called “Live At The BBQ,” a posse cut by Main Source. Rapping over Large Professor’s legendary beat, Nas made one of the most seismic impacts ever seen with a single verse. As we see Nas today, with a fresh, infectious energy coupled with riches literally untold, he’s the epitome of evolution. An OG with a fresh face. Youthful vigor with the skills of a master. Sleeps on satin sheets, but still gets up to work out.
Nas is representative of a bigger picture, something that may escape the layperson, the voyeur, the neophyte, or even the OG that wallows in the memory of hearing a 16-year Queensbridge emcee old brag about snuffin’ Jesus. Hip-Hop is youth-driven, wrought with ageism. Nas is getting better like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight with Hit-Boy has his metaphoric Robin in a Dystopian world full of mass shootings, Civil War, and a raging pandemic. And still a pure spitter rises.
Nas’s crown is not coming off his head anytime soon, but keep watching. How can someone with nothing left to prove, 30 years in the game, rhyme like he still has everything to prove? One day, we’ll ask.
THE RUNNERS UP
J. Cole, the human Halley’s Comet, did not come to play in 2021. The Off-Season did exactly what it was supposed to do: restore order. Also affirmed that in this era of disposable music, quality still matters. He lightened up a bit, pullng 21 Savage, Lil Baby, Cam’Ron and others into the fold. Rooted in honestly and sincerity, he managed to stay so true to himself that he briefly played pro basketball in Africa. Also, as an emcee, it never hurt to be annointed by Nas, who recently rapped “Me, Jay-Z, and Frank White (Biggie) is like Cole, Drizzy (Drake), and Kenny (Kendrick Lamar).” Nuff said.
Mozzy a monster. Period. He might be the King of Cali right now, but he is probably too humble to admit it. The Sac Town native kicked off 2021 by releasing the single “Bompton to Oak Park” and it finally materialized into the joint album Kommunity Service in the spring. They he dropped Untreated Trauma, his highest charting album to date. Mozzy demonstrated tremendous growth, introspection and rock-solid hood credentials to lock him in as one of 2021’s finest.
Tyler The Creator
Tyler The Creator wanted to be unabashedly Tyler, but also get the attention of the die-hard Hip-Hop fan. So, he mushed both into one work of art, Call Me If You Get Lost. The album is fashioned as a mixtape, putting his lyrical talents on full blast, but also cementing it in the streets with co-pilot DJ Drama. A notable performance at the BET Hip-Hop Awards reinforced Tyler’s versatility and creativity as an emcee.
D-Smoke took the lemons of 2021 and dipped them in gold. The Inglewood rapper popped off the year with a PPV event, “The Black Habits Experience.” It was a result of his inablilty to tour in support of his critially acclaimed, Grammy nominated album Black Habits, which dropped in 2020. After setting the tone, he put the breadth of his talents and musicianship on full display. Then, he dropped the magical War & Wonders, a jazz-infused, thoughtful, and, at times, braggadocious. Regardless, D-Smoke found his square, stood on it and has yet to be moved.
The AllHipHop Staff contributed to the compliation of this illustrious list.