Legendary Artists: Nas

Nasir Jones. One of the most profilic MCs of all time and regarded by many as the greatest ever, Nas has earned his spot as a certified legend with consistency, lyrical ability and continuous talent and genius. His brilliance is key. From Illmatic to It Was Written to Stillmatic to The Lost Tapes to Life Is Good, he has a list of classic albums and one of the better catalogs in hip hop history. His legacy has been solidified without a doubt, so today we gathered the team up to discuss the legend and what makes him so special. Let's get into it.

Nas is simply iconic in his own right. It’s understood that people have different tastes, but personally, he stands as a hip hop giant. He has eight platinum albums under his belt and remains one of my favorite lyricists. His 1994 debut Illmatic oozed of the east coast hip hop sound. With production from heavyweights DJ Premier, Q-Tip, and Pete Rock, the album was a solidified classic. Nas has been named one of the greatest MCs on numerous occasions. Five of his albums claimed the number one spot on the Billboard 200 charts. He’s consistent and it’s hard to deny the gift in him.

What makes him amazing to me is the way he tells a story that people can relate to without being elementary in his delivery. He isn’t afraid to utilize his vast vocabulary over magnetic beats while describing a life many are familiar with. By his second album, the powers that be wanted Nas to cover more of the commercial topics that everybody else was discussing.

The thing I love is the fact that his shift was a subtle one. He showed how wide his style is. One of my favorite tracks featured Lauryn Hill, entitled “If I Ruled the World.” Nas did just enough to maintain his original fan base as well as extend it to new listeners.

His video “Hate Me Now” with Puff Daddy ruffled a few feathers with its controversy. It showed me that he wasn’t afraid to push the envelope. As an artist, it’s important to step outside of the box and establish your own style. As successful as he had been, even in the film Belly, he didn’t necessarily strike gold with the album Nastradamus. A key point in Nas’s career was his feud with New York rapper Jay-Z. The two jabbed at each other subliminally until it finally spilled over. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard “Ether” and I’ll never forget it. The battle, coupled with Stillmatic, propelled Nas back to his initial spot.

Nas has made his mark as a storyteller in Hip Hop. One example is how he eloquently told the story of his divorce from singer Kelis on the song “Bye Baby” on his last album Life Is Good. Developing artists follow his template and veterans give credit to his accomplishments. Nas has kept a freshness about his career and is a staple in the Hip Hop community.

Nas has been one of, if not the most consistent lyricist the hip hop genre has to offer. Throughout his career, which spans almost 25 years, he continues to make great albums and drop crazy verses. Some claim he can never outdo his debut Illmatic, but I feel that he has the best discography of any rapper in the game.
Nas' discography should be the focus of conversation when speaking about his illustrious career. Of course the beef with Jay-Z which spawned the classic "Ether" track would be what many call his peak, but I'd like to have a conversation about Nas that doesn't speak too much on his former rival. Aside from 1 or 2 lackluster albums, all of his projects have been great. I also feel some of his collaborative works like The Firm, QB's finest and Distant Relatives should be highlighted as they are often underrated. True already made a perfect review of his albums, so I'm just gonna hope we get another one from Nasty Nas soon!

Lyricist. Poet. Actor. Entrepreneur. I think several rappers meet this criteria, but let's add "impressive flawless storyteller" to that and we've narrowed it down to none other than Nas. When you have a talented and multifaceted person, it's hard to pick one aspect of their career, so in an attempt to do Nas justice, let's do a quick run down of all his undertakings.

Nas has always excelled as a rapper. His catalogue is equipped with a widely recognized classic and a contender for the greatest all time hip hop album in Illmatic and for those, who don't agree with that, he graced us with It Was Written and he didn't stop there. In 1999, he gave us 2 albums, almost back to back, and still went on to create another 8 albums thereafter. In 1994, when Nas dropped Illmatic, he secured and cemented his place as one of the best storytellers of all time. He kept his listeners engaged by recounting experiences, whether it was something he saw, was directly involved with, or just by simply sharing his thoughts and views about life on a track. "The Message", "If I Ruled The World", "Affirmative Action", "New York State Of Mind", "One Mic", Life Is What You Make It" and more are all reflective of this and that's just to name a very small fraction.

His intricate lyrics and conceptual depth gave listeners something that would resonate. Even if you never experienced it yourself, you connected with it. You felt the sadness, understood the struggle and fed off the motivation and drive. With impeccable flow and his incorporation of various genres of music like jazz, soul and funk, his tracks would go on to win him accolades and gain him immense recognition in the Hip hop industry.

1998 was the year we saw no album releases from Nas, but with good reason. That was the same year "Belly" came out and fans were thrilled to see Nas not only on the big screen, but also teamed with Hype Williams for a full length feature that would gross 9.2 million at the box office. There are definitely mixed reviews on this movie, but I think it was well received in the Hip Hop community. Nas definitely showcased his abilities as an actor and although he won't ever be a sought after Hollywood actor, in my opinion he played the role well. His laid back, calm demeanor was perfect for the project.

It didn't end there. Nas' growing popularity in Hip Hop would permeate the corporate world as well. 2015 proved to be a busy year for him as his partnerships took flight. First with interest in Landr Audio based out of Montreal, Canada, Nas finally had a hand in a software which allows artists the ability to "master and finish their tracks professionally at a very affordable rate", and then with Sprite in the "Obey Your Verse" campaign which featured limited edition cans with his lyrics written across the side. The feedback on both of these ventures are definitely noteworthy as they were received well globally. This would yet again demonstrate and showcase his range of influence. His involvement in the audio software industry would result in a $2.2M increase in funding. Also in 2015, Nas would have another stab at film with his role as executive producer as well as cast member in "Fresh Dressed", a New York Times documentary. This would feature Nas (as well as others) in the history and legacy of Hip Hop fashion. Already nominated for awards at international film festivals this would be another success to add to the list.

I think Nas is synonymous with "Hip Hop", "talent", "success" and "brilliance". He truly does it all. I always knew and recognized Nas as one of the greatest of all time, but every time I reflect on his work across all platforms, I gain a deeper appreciation for him. Whatever your definition of success is, whether it's the dictionary definition or one created based off self reflection, Nas is the embodiment of it. Truly a living legend.

Nas is the one of the greatest rappers of all time with a fantastic career and a couple of classics in his discography. It all started with a performance on "Live At The BBQ" in 1991. At the time, he went by the name Nasty Nas. 3 years later he would drop what I think is the greatest album of all time, Illmatic. This would not be very successful when it first released, but it put him in the conversation of top rappers in 1994. "N.Y State Of Mind" "It Ain't Hard To Tell" & "The World Is Yours" are some of the most popular songs in the album. 2 years later he would release another classic, It Was Written. Every single track on the album was a classic, with "If I Ruled The World" & "I Gave You Power" standing out. This is where his first taste of real success began. It went double platinum instantly and ended up selling over 3 million copies overall. A year later, a group he formed called "The Firm" dropped an album that went platinum. "Phone Tap" stood out as the clear best song on the album. Then, we get into 1999. This is the year people started thinking he was washed up. First, he dropped I Am... which in my opinion was a good album. It went double platinum, and was praised by some, but also criticized. It disappointed a lot of people. "Hate Me Now" & "Undying Love" seemed to be the top songs. And to top 1999 off, he dropped the worst album of his career, Nastradamus. "Nastradamus" was probably the only song everyone liked at the time, or maybe still do. It was pretty horrific, and that hurts because Nas is my favorite rapper of all time. It still however went platinum, but he started to get criticized a lot more. Then, in 2001, he dropped classic #3, Stillmatic. This album has the famous diss track "Ether", and the rest of the album speaks for itself. This put him back on the map, with every song being a classic. It seemed as if Nas was resurrecting his career, and in a way, he did. A year later in 2002, he released God's Son, which some people call his best work of the 2000's decade. "Made You Look", "Pussy Killz" & "Heaven" are some of the recognizable songs off the album. People were starting to appreciate him again, as the album went platinum. 2 years later, in 2004, Street's Disciple was released. It was a double disc album and it went platinum, adding another platinum plaque to his career (and would be his last). "Nazareth Savage" was my personal favorite song off the album. The first line instantly got me hooked. "I had bad chicks that blow cum bubbles like bubble gum" It was kind of corny but dope. Where the hell does he find girls that can do that?

Anyways, over the next 8 years, he would release Hip Hop Is Dead, Untitled, and Life Is Good. All were great albums, Life Is Good standing out the most. A lot of classic tracks on these albums. So for Nas, 8 platinum albums (over 25 million sold) 4-5 classic albums, greatest lyricist of all time, he is solidified. Unfortunate that he never got a grammy, though he should have won every single one he's been nominated for, which I think is about 13 nominations. Oh, and his compilation album, The Lost Tapes, was absolutely some of his best work. Every song was a classic. All of them. "U Gotta Love It" is my personal favorite. Nas is a legend.

I must say that when I'm asked who I think the greatest hip-hop artist of all time is, I always say Nas. Out of the many who could take that spot, I choose Nas. He made what I consider the finest hip-hop album of all time in Illmatic, and his lyrical ability is in my top 3. While his later albums may not have generated the same hype as the earlier projects, there's no doubt in my mind that he is one of the most consistent artists I've ever heard. Therefore in terms of his best albums, after Illmatic and It Was Written in first and second place, ranking his albums is a hard decision for me to make. Yes, his one issue has been SOME weak production leading to one or two weak projects, but God's Son, Untitled and Street's Disciple are favorite albums of mine that he released after 2000 which stop me from saying he fell off. One track I want to highlight is Hip-Hop, which he did with Scarface for one of DJ Khaled's albums. This track really sums up, to me, why I consider Nas the GOAT.

From recording NY State of Mind in one take to acting in a classic role in Belly to THE beef with Jay-Z, Nasty Nas is a legend in so many ways. People say Rakim and Kool G Rap are the reason for his style, lyrical content and persona, and of course, that's true and dues must be paid, but there is only one Nas. He will go as one of hip-hop's kings, even if it's with no crew to hold his crown or throne.

Nas is always my all time favorite rapper. There are very few artists who I truly have been influenced by and marvel at their genius. Nas is the embodiment of greatness with his lyrical imagery, wordplay, and expansive vocabulary expressed through storytelling. For me, Nas set himself apart from his "competition" from the start. Admittedly, I don't hold Illmatic as the greatest Nas album or the greatest album of all time. Illmatic is a classic without a doubt, and I've always considered it a lesson in hip hop 101. It's the essence of hip hop and what it has been rooted in being presented to the highest power. Boom bap production, reflective lyricism, anthems for the corners and those trying to further their lives in the midst of these conditions. Nas eloquently weaved between street life tales and the genius within his mind, crafting a true hip hop masterpiece that the average fan wouldn't think he could outdo. However, he did just that.

To me, the greatest hip hop album of all time is It Was Written. The album is special special in so many ways, and it felt as if people hated it or were indifferent towards it when it first came out. It Was Written features some of the strongest lyrical performances in Nas' career, along with some of his most creative and iconic songs. Where Illmatic mastered what is the essence of hip hop, It Was Written attempted to expand and further the essence. The production and verses on songs such as "Watch Dem Niggas", "I Gave You Power", "Take It In Blood", and the essential gem "Black Girl Lost", which I love. There's a personal connection to that song, as it sums up a lot of what I've seen and witnessed from some women in the past and present actually. That album is beyond a masterpiece and is Nas' greatest work.

I Am.... was slept on, as was his 2002 album God's Son and my personal favorite double disc album Street's Disciple, which I believe is Nas' most slept on album period. It is one of his best creations, right after all his classics, and it has been widely criticized because it was ahead of its time. With some of his most creative attempts at music featured on the double album, Nas definitely was in a zone. Lyrically on songs like "Nazareth Savage", "War", "Remember The Times", "Disciple", and "Reasons", he is at his most intricate. Reflect on this album now and you'll see how mature and advanced this project was. It signaled a new era for Nas in his career and his life essentially, which led us down an interesting yet controversial path for his next two albums.

I'm not a big fan of Hip Hop Is Dead, but it served a purpose to create cash and controversy, however, the Untitled album was definitely risky. It took a safer route than I wanted him to, but when you're on Def Jam, I expect them to make adjustments. The freedom Nas had on Columbia Records wasn't as prevalent it seemed via Def Jam, but he still managed to release a new age classic in Life Is Good in 2012. That album is one I'll likely discuss on the site in the future in great length, but it is a superb listen from start to finish. Nas managed to create something that will stand as timeless, as he usually does.

Now, there was a span of 10 months where Nas ranked as the no. 1 rapper in the game as far as mainstream was concerned in some way. He was never the most visible artist, but after his victory in the beef with Jay, his Stillmatic album went double platinum and Nas was back on his throne after 1999 and 2000 proved to not be so great. After Stillmatic, he would captivate the audience with yet another classic in The Lost Tapes. Nas has maintained a level of greatness through his career that few could ever duplicate. Reflect on this legend and what he has done. Appreciate one of the all time legends in hip hop and in my opinion, the GOAT.



Popular Posts