Back in the day, when this place was crawling with forums and chats about random acts of music, we used to poll ourselves to see which release by an artist not only set them atop of the industry but stapled them in as musical gods.
Beginning with his classic debut, Illmatic (1994), Nas stood tall for years as one of New York City’s leading rap voices, outspokenly expressing a righteous, self-empowered swagger that endeared him to critics and hip-hop purists. Whether proclaiming himself “Nasty Nas” or “Nas Escobar” or “Nastradamus” or “God’s Son,” the self-appointed King of New York battled numerous adversaries for his position atop the epicenter of East Coast rap, none more challenging than Jay-Z, who vied with Nas for the vacated throne left in the wake of the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 assassination. Such headline-worthy drama informed Nas’ provocative rhymes, which he delivered with both a masterful flow and a wise perspective over beats by a range of producers: legends like DJ Premier, Large Professor, and Pete Rock; hitmakers like Trackmasters, Timbaland, and will.i.am; street favorites like Swizz Beatz, Megahertz, and the Alchemist; and personal favorites of his own like L.E.S., Salaam Remi, and Chucky Thompson. Nas likewise collaborated with some of the industry’s leading video directors, including Hype Williams and Chris Robinson, presenting singles like “Hate Me Now,” “One Mic,” and “I Can” with dramatic flair. Throughout all the ups (the acclaim, popularity, and success) and downs (the expectations, adversaries, and over-reaching), Nas continually matured as an artist, evolving from a young street disciple to a vain all-knowing sage to a humbled godly teacher. Such growth made every album release an event and prolonged his increasingly storied career to epic proportions.
In a surprising turn of events later in 2005, Nas made a surprise appearance at Jay-Z’s much-hyped I Declare War concert in October. Together the two rivals performed “Dead Presidents,” Jay-Z’s 1996 debut single; the classic song, produced by Ski Beatz and featured on Reasonable Doubt (1996), features a prominent sample of “The World Is Yours,” a 1994 classic by Nas. The reconciliation of Jay-Z and Nas opened the door to a deal with Def Jam. The record label, overseen by Jay-Z as president at the time, signed Nas and, in turn, released Hip Hop Is Dead (2006). The album didn’t sell especially well, but it did inspire a lot of commentary about the state of hip-hop and included a much-anticipated collaboration with Jay-Z, “Black Republican.” A politically charged self-titled album, at one point considered to be titled N*gger, materialized in 2008, and not without some controversy of its own. Following his divorce from Kelis, Nas released Distant Relatives, an album-length collaboration with Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, in 2010. Two years later, his divorce would be addressed on the venomous Life Is Good, an album that featured Nas holding Kelis’ wedding dress on the cover. It was the #1 record, selling over 140,000 copies during its first week.
A Tribe Called Quest
The Mars Volta
TV on the Radio