Nas, Foxy Brown & Cormega
Here's a "touchy" topic I'm gonna take a chance with. I expect some flack for it too, but remember, this is solely my opinion. In all fairness, I know that I'm not the only one that shares this opinion, although those of us who do are in a minority. Some of you may yell "Blasphemy!" Fine. Let me reiterate: this is solely my personal opinion. The topic? My overall love and admiration for It Was Written over Illmatic.
Now let me set something straight before I explain my reasoning behind this. Illmatic is a favorite of mine. I also share some of the same sentiments as my peers who agree with me on the subject: Illmatic is and will be
one of the greatest debut Hip-Hop album. Ever. That goes without saying. To attempt to recreate an album with producers of high caliber that appeared on Illmatic is nearly impossible. Chocolate Boy Wonder, L.E.S., Premo, Q-Tip and Large Pro were all at their peak when Illmatic was released. Perhaps that's one reason why I'd choose It Was Written over Illmatic. The contrasting sounds from various different producers almost made it seem more of a mixtape than an actual album; add to the fact the brief time stamp: 11 10 tracks deep. Whereas with It Was Written, it just seemed a little more cohesive. With Trackmasters handling the bulk of the production (who I thought were at the top of their game at the time), it had a unique bond and sound. Cinematic, almost.
If you take a look back at the majority of my posts, it may be apparent that I'm a huge mafioso-rap connoisseur. I'm a sucker for G Rap, Mobb Deep, AZ and Baba Shallah (The Chef). It Was Written gave birth to Nas' "Don" nom de plume: Escobar. With It Was Written, I could get into the more poetic, story telling zone that Nas Escobar penned. Yes, IWW did slightly help Nas drift toward the mainstream, but take away If I Ruled the World (which is still not a bad song at all) and Nas Is Coming (which has one of the worst hooks, ever), and add in Deja Vu (big shout out to DJ Mike Nice!) and IWW would be a near perfect street album, deserving of at least 4.5 mics versus the original 4. Ironically though, with the hypothetical absence of those two songs, IWW would have been just as short and concise as Illmatic.
On the production tip, I was always drawn in to the outstanding flip of 80s samples, without them sounding corny at all. Poke & Tone mastered this on IWW, utilizing late 70s, early 80s hits like Whodini's Friends, Starlight by Stephanie Mills, Sting, Linda Clifford and even a Billboard number one hit by The Eurythmics.
On the penmanship tip, heady jewels like Black Girl Lost knocked heavily and opened up the door to the third eye, sympathizing with the dire straits that Black women face in the hood, while the poignant first-
person object narrative of I Gave You Power painted an intense image of the casualties of the "tools" that were the foundation of inner-city wars. And of course, how can anyone forget the pre-Nature The Firm? If it wasn't for Affirmative Action, the world wouldn't have ever known of Cormega, except those diehard heads who knew about the older MC Cor and some of the joints he did with Blaq Poet & DJ Hot Day. IWW was just, in my opinion, a well thought out, well executed anthology that read like a Mario Puzo script, save for the two "misses." Then again, even Mr. Puzo had a miss with the third installment of the Godfather trilogy.
I'd like an honest opinion from the dopehouse on your thoughts on this subject, and as nice as it would be to have a civil build about this, tell me how you really feel.