Nas is arguably hip-hop’s greatest lyricist of all time.
The rap legend was born on 14 September 1973 to jazz musician Olu Dara and postal service worker Fannie Jones. Raised in New York City, Nas grew up in the Queensbridge Housing Projects. Both his parents were jazz musicians from the South, and at the age of 4, Nas started playing the trumpet and by the age of 9, he began writing lyrics after his neighbour Willy “Ill Will” Graham introduced him to hip-hop.
Although he left school in the eighth grade, and became involved in the street life, Nas continued to study independently and develop his rhymes. Before settling with Nas, he began rapping under the name Kid Wave, and also adopted the ‘Nasty Nas’ alter ego,
In 1991 a young Nasty Nas featured on Main Source’s “Live At The Barbeque” – the classic posse cut, which is best known as introducing Nas to hip-hop fans. His guest appearance is often dubbed the best guest verse of all time. The following year, his debut single ‘Halftime’ received critical acclaim, and was also featured on the soundtrack for the film Zebrahead. As Nas attracted a lot of attention from the hip-hop community, he secured a deal with Columbia Records with the help of MC Serch, who later became his manager.
In 1994 Nas released his debut album ‘Illmatic’, a landmark album in East Coast hip-hop that received universal acclaim despite it’s low sales, and has gone on to influence so many rappers such. Nas’ second album ‘It Was Written’ took a more mainstream approach as it included the radio-friendly hit singles “Street Dreams” and “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” – at first the album received mixed reviews due to it’s commercial appeal, but in recent years it has been well received and is Nas’ best selling album to date.
As Nas became popular, he teamed up with Foxy Brown, AZ and Cormega (later replaced by Nature) to form the hip-hop supergroup The Firm. The group released their debut album The Firm: The Album under Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment label. Although the album debuted #1 in the US and later certified Platinum by the RIAA, the album received mixed to negative reviews and the group eventually disbanded.
Nas then released both ‘I Am…‘ and ‘Nastradamus’ in 1999, the latter is often regarded as Nas’ weakest album. During this period Nas was looking after his mother as she battled cancer. Most fans and critics thought Nas’ career was declining as his last 2 albums were inconsistent and his record sales were low. Jay Z started targetting Nas with subliminal disses as he felt he had surpassed Nas in commercial success – he released the diss track “Takeover” in 2001. It took Nas nearly 3 months to reply with the scorching hot diss track “Ether”, New York hip-hop fans voted on who had the best diss track, and Nas won the votes with 58% and Jay Z had 42%.
Nas was back to his best when he released his following album ‘Stillmatic’, which was critically acclaimed and regarded as his best work since Illmatic. The album was a departure from Nas’ street orientated, mafioso and gangsta rap themes on previous albums. Overall Stillmatic is a socially conscious album and contains diverse themes such as politics, philosphy and street tales. Nas continued his growth as a man and a rapper on his following album ‘God’s Son’. The album contains the hit singles “Made You Look” and “I Can” – both Stillmatic and God’s Son went on to be certified Platinum by the RIAA.
Nas went on to release another critically acclaimed album that also received rave review from one time enemy Jay Z, his seventh studio album ‘Street’s Disciple’. The two rappers sorted their differences out as Jay invited Nas to his ‘I Declare War’ concert, the crowd were shocked but excited to see the former rivals stand on stage together. Nas went on to sign with Jay Z’s Def Jam Recordings, and released the controversial albums ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’, ‘Untitled’ and his most recent album ‘Life Is Good’ under the label. All 3 albums were met with positive reviews from both fans and critics, and have all been certified Gold by the RIAA.
Nas may not pick the best beats to rap on, he may not be as flashy as most rappers out there but it’s his consistent lyrical ability, charisma, his internal rhymes and a plainspoken flow that has helped him rise and remain one of the best rappers in hip-hop, 20 years later. He is the street dude with morals who managed to reclaim his status atop the rap game when he “fell off”.Nas has also crossed over into other genres, such as his collaborative studio album with reggae star Damian Marley on ‘Distant Relatives’ and the impressive collaboration with nu metal band KoRn on “Play Me” off their sixth studio album ‘Take A Look In The Mirror’ (which probably influenced Jay Z to work with Linkin Park a year later).
Recently, Harvard University has established and honoured Nas with the Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship, which will help fund scholars and upcoming artists who not only show potential but also creativity in the arts in connection to hip-hop.
Nas has also become a genuine business man in the past few months, he invested an undisclosed sum into Mass Appeal Magazine, he will open a sneaker store in Las Vegas called 12AM RUN (pronounced Midnight Run) and he recently invested in a technology startup company called Proven. He recently signed up to be an executive producer, and will also make new music for a break dancing film entitled ‘Shake The Dust’. There is also a possibility of another Nas album to be released in 2014, which will be his final album on Def Jam Recordings.
5 Interesting Nas Facts
- He became the first rapper to have a verified personal account on Rap Genius.
- Before his mother died, she asked him to record a motivational song for children, and he did this with “I Can”.
- He ghostwrote most of the songs on Will Smith’s debut album Big Willie Style, including Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It and Men In Black.
- He was once suspended from school for stabbing a fellow student with his pencil.
- Although he has released many successful singles, none of them have ever been certified Platinum in the US.