Nas Polishes His Crown With Triumphant Homecoming Concert at Madison Square Garden
“My photo the Jordan logo of this rap s—,” raps Nas on 2021’s “YKTV” (shortened to say “You Know the Vibes”), from his Grammy-nominated King’s Disease sequel. Of course, that “photo” is none other than his bunker-buster debut Illmatic, which propelled hip-hop into the future upon its arrival in 1994. Off sheer impact alone, that album certainly makes a strong case for being the definitive emblem for the genre. But for now, on a blustery cold Friday night (Feb. 24) in New York City, the vibes were unquestionably certain for another pivotal occasion: Nas’ first headlining show at Madison Square Garden.
Never mind how long of a journey it’s been to get to this point — the timing for this night was perfect. Nas is hot off the heels of releasing King’s Disease III, the threequel to his Grammy-winning series with super producer Hit-Boy, the quarterback to his wide receiver, all as hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary. That said, Friday’s show was as much a victory for Nas as it was for hip-hop. It was a proud occasion for the sea of generations-spanning fans, from those who remember the first time they heard “Live at the Barbecue” to those who recently tapped in with his recent work. Overall, the Garden couldn’t have been a more perfect venue to host this celebration.
“Live in Madison Square now, we on fire,” a visibly elated Nas hailed, while fire bolted around him during his fiery performance of “I’m on Fire.”
And on fire he was, launching into standout-after-standout throughout his 34-song set. Sticking to the night’s “King’s Disease Trilogy” bill, the Queens rap icon pulled out gems across the trinity-spanning gem, from storytelling favorites like “Blue Benz” and “Car 85” to party-flavored cuts like “Spicy” and “Get Light.” By the time the latter blared through the arena, MSG had practically turned into a park jam as fans throughout the sold-out arena swayed, bopped, and two-stepped from row to row. Like his output over the last two years suggests, Esco refused to let up on the momentum throughout the night. Between the King’s Disease cuts, he also made room for a few records off his 2021 project, Magic, sprinkling in cult favorites like “Speechless” and “Wave Gods” to much fanfare.
The fact that Nas was performing these relatively fresh cuts to a fully-invested audience inside a sold-out Madison Square Garden was truly a moment to behold — something, even he, at times, seemed to be amazed by, sometimes even taking a brief moment to relish the vibe. At one point, he stopped to recollect and then turned the spotlight onto the other half of his winning formula: Hit-Boy.
“I love this brother for bringing the art out of me again,” Nas acclaimed before tapping the producer to join him onstage for the floor-quaking “Michael & Quincy.” Not a soul remained seated, especially as more surprises trickled in.
After performing “Reminisce,” a song that samples a certain Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Nas brought out — you guessed it — Mary J. Blige, who sent the excitement levels through the roof as she performed “You Remind Me.” After running through King’s Disease, he hopped through hits from the rest of his catalog, including Illmatic. You always have to return to Illmatic. This time dressed in an all-orange jumpsuit with a matching skully, wheat construction Timberland boots, and his signature diamond-covered “QB” chain, he dispatched “N.Y. State of Mind.” Subsequently after, he brought out AZ for “Life’s a Bitch,” and one of “my motherf—ing heroes,” Slick Rick, for “Hey Young World.” Embracing the magnitude and momentous occasion of the night, he kept his foot on the gas, running through a medley of tracks — “The Message,” Street Dreams,” “If I Ruled The World,” “Hate Me Now,” “Made You Look” and “One Mic.”
One of the crowning moments occurred while performing “Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park).” He did away with the instrumental for the second verse and delivered a masterclass in mic control, performing the tongue-twisting verse a capella with absolute clarity and supreme breath control. As he took a bow while being showered in the crowd’s adulation, one thing was crystal clear: Nas is still that good.
For the encore, preceded by Nas admitting, “I don’t want to leave yet,” he shifted the energy back to the party spirit that hung high throughout the night. As hands waved and cheers clamored from all corners of the arena, he spun through more hits, including “Hot Boyz (Remix),” “Oochie Wally” and “Owe Me,” before sealing the night with an emotional reminder: “We did it!”