Music

Ms. Lauryn Hill Makes a Rare Return to Rap, With Power and Perspective, on Nas' 'Nobody'

On King’s Disease II, Nas enlists a respectable collection of guests from across generations, including Gap Band legend Charlie Wilson, early-2000s rap sensation Eminem, laid-back golden-agers EPMD, and hip-hop newcomer Blxst. The highlight, though, is his reunion with Ms. Lauryn Hill, his co-star on 1996’s classic “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That).” Together, on the mid-album cut “Nobody,” she and Nas take their place as elders offering advice and perspective from above the game, not within it.

Nas ends the song assuring listeners that he and Ms. Hill are here to stay, but he spends much of his time fantasizing about escaping tedious mundanities like untouchable Instagram honeys, the greater pressure of real romance, and the real danger of bigoted police. He settles in his ability to whisk himself away from life’s stressors: “If Chappelle moved to Ghana to find his peace, then I’m rollin’/Where the service always roamin’/I’m packin’ my bags and goin’.” 

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Ms. Lauryn Hill has been enjoying just such an escape, but here she makes a return to rap with a subdued vengeance. “They sent a lot against me, thinking I’d just stand back/I got my legs beneath me, I got my hands back,” she says ominously.

In January, Hill told Rolling Stone that she retreated from public life about 20 years ago because she found that the ways she defied convention left her treated like a troublemaker instead of an innovator. After the huge success of her 1998 solo debut, she felt unsupported and pressured to create in ways that weren’t natural to her. “I sacrificed the quality of my life to help people experience something that had been unreachable before then,” she said. “When I saw people struggle to appreciate what that took, I had to pull back and make sure I and my family were safe and good. I’m still doing that.”

Hill manages an impossible balance of fierce memory and unbotheredness on “Nobody.” She was a sage voice in music from the beginning, but with Nas she absolutely levitates above the rap game, offering the learned vantage point of someone who has reached its mountaintop after a treacherous hike up. “Now let me give it to you balanced and with clarity,” she offers early on. “I don’t need to turn myself into a parody/I don’t do the shit you do for popularity.”

Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.

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