Last updated: 07/08/2014 04:30:33 AM
Despite his flair for dramatic overreaching, or perhaps because of it, Nas became New York's favorite rapper in the mid-'90s and remained near the top for over a decade. Rivals and time challenged his stay at the top of the New York rap scene — one of the more notable challenges being his bout with Jay-Z in the early 2000s — yet Nas soldiered on, continually changing his style and stepping up his game. Over the years, Nas went from being a young street hustler (Nasty Nas) to a boastful gangsta (Nas Escobar) to a self-proclaimed poet/prophet (Nastradamus) to a re-born encapsulation of himself (the "Stillmatic" Nas). In addition, he worked with countless legendary producers — DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, Trackmasters, Timbaland — and put Queensbridge back on the map. Keep in mind, however, that Nas attracted a sizable share of critics as well, many of whom called him out for bluffing. After all, Nas often showcased a flair for dramatic overreaching, his ego knowing no limits. For better or worse, Nas was more his own rhetorical construction than a reality, precisely the reason why he was as criticized by his rivals as he was celebrated by his following. Born Nasir Jones, son of jazz musician Olu Dara, Nas dropped out of school in the eighth grade, trading classrooms for the streets of the rough Queensbridge projects, where he learned "street mathematics" and began emulating rappers like Big Daddy Kane, , and Kool G Rap. When he wasn't hustling to survive, he was reading books on African culture, Western civilization, lessons from the Five Percent Nation, scriptures from the Qu'ran, and chapters from the Bible. He eventually hooked up with Main Source in 1991 and laid down a verse on the group's song "Live at the Barbeque." The song became a New York favorite thanks to Nas' blazing rhymes and soon everyone began wondering who he was. A year later, MC Serch of 3rd Bass approached him about contributing a track to the Zebrahead soundtrack. Serch was the soundtrack's executive producer and, like much of New York, had been impressed by "Live at the Barbeque." Nas submitted "Halftime" and the song proved so stunning that Serch made it the soundtrack's lead-off track. Suddenly, everyone began talking about Nas.
Columbia signed him to a major-label contract and all of New York's finest producers wanted to work with him. For the next two years, everyone waited as rumors began to swell. When word hit the street that he was working with DJ Premier, Large Professor, and Pete Rock— New York's top producers in the early '90s — anticipation grew exponentially. Finally, Illmatic hit the streets in April 1994 and didn't disappoint. With only ten tracks, the album wasn't overly long and had virtually no lackluster moments — a flawless album. Nas handled nearly every rhyme and never seemed short on lyrics. Years later, Illmatic is still seen as featuring some of the best lyrics hip-hop ever produced. To call Nas a street poet wasn't an overstatement, but rather a matter of fact. Even if the album didn't storm up the Billboard charts, it garnered the respect of every hip-hop devotee in New York and that was quite an accomplishment, particularly for someone just having reached his twenties. Following up Illmatic wouldn't be an easy task and rather than try and top that album, Nas expanded his approach for It Was Written. Released two years later in 1996, it no doubt had become one of the most anticipated hip-hop albums ever. Here, Nas once again delivered an album illed to the brim with street knowledge, but this time opted to go with different producers — Havoc, Trackmasters, Dr. Dre, L.E.S.— and some radio-friendly pop hooks. The calculated moments worked: "If I Ruled the World" and "Street Dreams" became national hits and expanded Nas' reach outside of New York. With It Was Written, he retained the hip-hop devotees who had championed Illmatic and had won a mass audience at the same time, a rare feat that he would struggle to duplicate in the future. The first sign of Nas' critical downfall came when he joined forces with Dr. Dre to create the Firm , an ambitious supergroup that looked invincible on paper; behind the production boards were Dre and the Trackmasters with Nas, Foxy Brown, Nature, and AZ on the mic.
Surprisingly, the much-heralded album flopped. Listening to the album, it's fairly apparent why. Not only is it an incredibly conceited and brash album, it's also horribly calculated. Following the first setback of his career, Nas took some much-needed time off before returning in 1999 with two albums released only months apart: I Am...The Autobiography and Nastradamus . With these two similar albums, Nas moved further away from the heartfelt and lyrically driven approach of Illmatic in favor of the pop hooks that had made "If I Ruled the World" and "Street Dreams" crossover hits. The second single, "Hate Me Now," bitterly addressed his growing legion of critics. More troubling though, the song featured Puff Daddy, symbolic of the pop-rap style Nas had aligned himself with.
Neither I Am nor Nastradamus proved successful for Nas. Both albums sold
well and produced some impressive hit singles, but these singles — "Hate Me Now," "You Owe Me," "Nas Is Like," and "Nastradamus" — were blatantly targeted at the mass market with their pop-rap tendencies and further alienated Nas' more loyal fan base. Suddenly, Nas was no longer viewed as the prodigy he had been five years earlier and was now seen as a rather generic New York MC. This became perhaps most apparent when he resurfaced in 2001 with the QB Finest album, which sold few copies and generated only one substantial hit, the X-rated club track "Oochie Wally." Even so, Nas had begun to take his career in a new direction with QB Finest, establishing both his own label, Ill Will, and his new posse, Bravehearts. Moreover, he was no longer collaborating with the likes of Timbaland and Puff Daddy; he had returned to the streets to Queensbridge, where he began. One event accelerated Nas' new direction: a cutting dis by Jay-Z on the song "Takeover," which became the most talked about song in New York seemingly overnight. Jay-Z called out Nas for not having put out a "hot" album since Illmatic and also made comments about having sex with Nas' woman. And it didn't help that Jay-Z had indeed claimed the title of New York's favorite MC at the time, giving him ample justification to call out Nas, who had admittedly been slacking since the mid-'90s. Several months after the dis, in December 2001, Nas released the album Stillmatic, the title a reference to his one undeniable masterpiece, Illmatic, which had been released nearly a decade earlier. Stillmatic opened with the song "Ether," a very direct shot at Jay-Z (featuring the chants "f*** Jay-Z "and "I will not lose"), followed by
Nas' most aggressive single ever, "Get Ur Self A..." (produced by ewcomer
Megahertz,one of New York's hottest producers at the time). Both "Ether" and "Get Ur Self A...." re-established Nas' pride among the stickle hip-hop crowd and drove Stillmatic up the Billboard album chart to number five, where it hovered for weeks. In addition, Nas furthered his highly publicized return with dramatic videos for "Get Ur Self A...." and "One Mic" — both of which juxtaposed with "cash, money, hoes" videos of the time, featuring a church rather than a club, for instance — and toured the States, first a headlining tour and then an opening tour for pop-rapper Usher. During summer 2002, Nas infiltrated the pop market, dueting with Brandy and Jennifer Lopez. Ironically, while Nas reclaimed his popularity in 2002, Jay-Z s popularity waned in the wake of the much-discussed bout (though partly because Jay-Z flooded the market with low-quality product). To only further fuel the much-publicized bout between the two rivals, unreleased comebacks circulated as MP3s via file-sharing networks such as Audio Galaxy during 2002: a Nas track called "H to the Omo," which had him questioning Jay-Z s sexuality; and a Jay-Z track called "Super Ugly," which had Jay-Z rapping over the track to "Get Ur Self A..." for the first verse, Dr. Dre's "Bad Intentions" for the second, and also had Jay-Z singing the hook "I got myself a gun."
God's Son, rated a 4 mic album by "The Source", has established that Nas is on the streets for good! Critics went as far enough to say that it picked up where Illmatic left off. God's Son shows the painful side of Nas through song's like, "Dance" and "Heaven", dedicated to his deceased mother, Ann Jones. He takes it further to the streets with "Made You Look" the album's lead single, produced by Salaam Remi. Agressive and new yet with an old school vibe it makes the perfect lead single. He also has something for the kids! Instead of having a gangsta or playa cliche type song for the second single, the much inspiring, I Can, teaches kids, adolcents, and adults lessons on how to live a succesful life. Nas also declares his relationship with, Pop/R&B artist, Kelis in songs like "Hey Nas" and "Mastermind". All around God's Son is a commercial classic! Though it lacks the street grime of Illmatic it is an exqusite follow up album to Stillmatic! - Leo Batista Mulattieri
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