CNN Calls Nas “The Greatest Lyricist of All Time”

blame it on Miss_Peas January 6, 2013

In a time where rap lyrics among hip hop listeners are rarely heralded, CNN recently announced that they feel Queensbridge legend Nas is the greatest “lyricist of all time” and they provide some pretty good arguments behind their claim. Thoughts? Opinions? Bueller?

Let’s begin with a disclaimer: Nas doesn’t endorse the following sentence. But he’s the greatest lyricist of all time. Those words were carefully chosen: “lyricist” over “rapper” or “hip-hop artist;” “greatest” instead of “most successful;” “all time” rather than “today.”

With “Life is Good,” Nas dropped his ninth No. 1 hip-hop album since 1994. Seven of those have gone platinum, which places him second among rappers only to Jay-Z with 11. (We’re not counting compilations or collaborations here, only original solo efforts, and yes, Tupac Shakur had nine, but five were posthumous releases.)

And that, friends, is the crux of the debate: hot lines vs. hot songs. No one would deny Hova his dap, but it seems he has said, in both word and action, that it’s tough to top Nas.

Read the full story at CNN.

PREVIOUS: Nas Live At Radio City Music Hall (Video)

  • jmarzy

    I agree 100%, listen to verbal intercourse and tell me otherwise…best verse I ever heard in my life.

  • Rezo

    It’s a fair argument, but I am going with Eminem or Andre 3k. People always try to throw Biggie and Pac into the best lyrical rapper conversation wrongfully. Big and Pac had hit records, not lyrical records. If you just read their song lyrics they’re very basic for what we consider a lyrical rapper these days. Big and Pac didn’t really use clever metaphors or have an impressive vocabulary. With that said Pac was more lyrical than Biggie, Biggie just had a better flow. Big was like a more lyrical version of Rick Ross. They both rap about that fly fat guy rich shit in a lot of their songs. Pac was more deep.

  • realnizz

    Dont compare ross and big. Man had records like long kiss goodnight, kick in the door, the what, biggie was lyrical as fuck dumb nigga.

  • DJ

    Rezo, that was jus a dumb statement, pac was no where near big lyrically. and i dont even know why u mention ross. But, with that said, Nas is definetly the best lyricist, hands down.

  • Rezo

    I mentioned Ross because they have the same style of music. Big started out rapping about hustling on Ready To Die and so did Ross. Then Big moved onto the fat fly guy shit that Ross does now. Obviously Ross stole his Big’s style, but to say their music isn’t similar would make you sound like an idiot. Big was also nowhere near Pac lyrically. Big was more for the clubs, Pac was more for the mind.

  • marty mcfly

    Wuz up people, you knew I was coming on this one. Now 1st of all let me just say that I have absolutely NO problem with anyone who thinks Nas is the greatest “Lyricist” of all time. Cant say I agree but the reason I cant really argue either with that is because Nas earned that claim. He earned it fair and square so its all good BUTTTTTT!!! I just have to point out that the reason CNN said JAYZ is NOT the greatest lyricist of all time is because all his albums went platinum. WHAT? And because all his albums are platinum and because he’s a hitmaker and businessman then he cant be greatest lyricist as well. CNN said because of what Jay said in Moment Of Clarity (im so tired of this explanation) and because Jayz makes hot songs (as if they dont contain hot lines), that Jay is not the greatest lyricist. CNN also said that Jayz signed Nas after their beef so by signing him or “partnering up” with Nas, that somehow means Jayz cant be best lyricist. Basically what im saying is this, CNN is saying that because Jayz is so good at being an artist, he cant be the best lyricist? That because he makes songs that are so good that they become hits and albums that are so good they go platinum and moves that are so good that he’s a great business man that somehow that takes away from him as a lyricist? COMEONSON!!! but again, Nas does deserve anything positive that people wanna give him. He is still indeed number 2 on my personal list of greatest of all times so I cant be mad if people say he is number 1 on their list. Its just my opinion folks, relax.

  • detroit89

    I hate ranking of emcees. sure it is fun and amusing debate, but at the end of the day the word “greatest” is really subjective.

  • Benny Blanco from The BriX

    Can’t really argue with that. It’s like saying Jimi Hendrix is the best guitarist of all time, might not be 100% true but he is the guy you think of when you think “best guitarist”. Same with Nas, I think of him when I think of best lyricist of all time. If Biggie wasn’t taken from us so early it could’ve been him. I would say Biggie has the best flow of all time though. DJ Premier = best beat maker of all time. RZA or Dre would be best producer of all time.

  • Thank you.

    And I’m not one of those people that tries to force my opinions on others.

    But, I agree with this.

    Which is why Nas has been my favorite rapper since I got into Hip-Hop & Rap.

  • Rezo

    Best flow = Big L or Big Pun

    • FOH

      Big Pun was lyrical as fuck but his flow was ugly as fuck as well lol

  • the realest

    even cnn doesnt care as much about numbers as marty. sad.

  • Chuck E

    Well, I went around for years saying Ras Kass was the greatest MC, whether people knew who I was talking about or not. Then I grew up & realized all this “greatest” shit is stupid.

    If you a real MC, YOU’RE the greatest. Period. Come with it every time with that in your mind & heart & fuck what the haters, fans (points to self), & the media say.

    Nas ain’t co-sign this, so no apologies needed, but we’ve come a LONG way in Hip-Hop when we start giving a fuck about what CNN’s got say in this arena. One.

  • DBS

    Rezo you just showed that you know absolutely nothing about rhyming and lyricism if you somehow managed to come to the conclusion that Pac was more lyrical than biggie, it’s not even debatable. I’m guessing you think Marshall, Pun and Rakim aren’t lyrical either.

  • brite

    “second among rappers only to Jay-Z”

    Story of Nas’ life.

  • Read a book

    They NEVER said Hov isn’t #1 because all his albums went platinum.
    What was said was:

    “He’s a hit maker extraordinaire, maybe the world’s best, but that doesn’t translate to best lyricist.”

    Sounds like they didn’t name Hov best lyricist because they simply thought he wasn’t the best lyricist. Which I personally can agree with.

  • smitty

    If you honestly think, for even a second, that Biggie was not a lyrical mastermind, please go blow your brains out now. Nobody who calls him/herself a fan of hip-hop can honestly believe that without knowing that they are just showing that they are completely ignorant about the subject itself.

    And saying Biggie is just a better Ross? Nigga please…

  • marty mcfly

    Lets take Jayz record sells completely out of the argument then. Lets pretend thats it’s actually harder to not go platinum then it is to go platinum continuously. Lets also pretend that making hit after hit is a bad thing even though most artist make about 5-10 hits their whole career and Jay probably has 50 by now. Were talking “lyricists” right? The word Lyricists by definition means writer of songs or one who specializes in writing songs. Do you have any idea how hard it would be to become a better song writer then Jayz? Go write a better NY anthem then Empire State and I named his biggest hit for a reason. We’re talking words right? Lyricism right? Well what is Jay talking about on Regrets, Hard Knock Life, A week Ago, Meet The Parents, Lucifer, Pray, Fallen, So Ambitious, Why I Love You, 99 problems etc? This guy probably has the most quotables in hip hop history and behind all the glitz and glamour of his successful exterior he still is SAYING SOMETHING that goes so far deeper then just money that I dont think there is a bottom to the meaning of his combined lyrics from 95 till now. Nas is of course great but I still think Jay has held a balance for so ling that is completely unmatched that its crazy. To make t even more dope, Jay is talking about his actual REAL LIFE when he speaks. Not saying Nas isnt but just saying. So @realest, lets just act like being successful dont matter at all, if we just talking “lyricism” I doubt that in this life time we will ever see an MC repeat what Jay has.

  • marty mcfly

    and actually most artist make like 1-3 hits their whole career.


    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz,,,Hell No…Jay is the Best Lyricist from these here United States…His Output of “cold” lyrical songs matched with hooks is cant even compare the two because Jay put his skills to the test against his peers and the new generation.He on every relevant album of the last decade.Nas was never there..Get this New York Opiniion only the fucouttahere


    and you niggas who put Eminem in this argument are the scum of the earth.


    “second among rappers only to Jay-Z”
    Story of Nas’ life. < Cosign

  • 1hunnit

    Firs I would like to say I am enjoying the outpouring of opinions so far, seems to be some pretty respectable comments so far. HOWEVER…

    On the topic of BIG being lyrical, I would definitely have to agree that if you don’t think that boy was a lyrical mastermind, then your hip hop cred takes some hits. But to say that its not even an argument who was more lyricial between him and back is also stupid. Pac was extremely lyrical as well.

  • 1hunnit

    him and Pac*

  • marty mcfly

    Pac was definitely a lyricist, just imagine what he would’ve said if he never died at age 25? He was getting more lyrical by the song. Anyway back to Nas though, like I said in my first comment I do still see how someone would say Nas is the best in some aspects. Its cause Nas has a certain kinda perspective and a certain kind of energy that comes from his soul. Its like some prophetical poetical inner Yoda shit coming from his music when he raps. So I still get why people feel the way the do.

  • Chris

    Marty Mcfly always coming with them paragraphs of bullshit…

  • yp

    It’s hard to agree with this when you take in consideration cats like BIG & Jay. All three were lyrical masterminds.. It’s hard to decide. And I disagree with Pac being lyrical, in a Hip Hop sense.. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have took out anyone with his style of aggression.

  • Sam


  • theE

    Kool G Rap >>> Big Smalls

  • SforMusic

    I will say this Greatest lyrists of all Time is Nas but the Greatest hip hop Artist of all time is Jay Z

  • Reality1989

    Nas is one of my all time favorites. I just HATE the title “Of All Time” Its just puts all of the art form in a box. All time just lessens all of the greats contributions to the music. And who knows what the future holds?

  • marty mcfly

    @yp, Heartz Of Men (one of my favorites), Blasphemy, Hold Ya Head, Picture Me Rollin etc cause I could go on. Keep in mind that Pac is a MC from the early 90s and lyrics were already starting to get complex but Pac wasn’t too far behind. At his prime some were already considering him as one of the best. If he lived long enough to evolve and advance in lyrics with the times from 97 – til now chances are he would’ve been on some shit. By the time his last album came out you could tell he was taking his lyrics more serious at that point.


    Nas – lyricism
    Pac – Poet and passionate lyricist
    Biggie – Clever wordplay and flow is impeccable
    Eminem – Clever Worlplay, witty, TRUE lyricist and creative
    Jay-z – one of the best .
    I can not make up who is the best but this is my list.

  • opinion

    when it comes to listening about bitches, sellin crack, money, killing people I like the list above…when i want to hear rap with a meaning i like brother ali/lupe fiasco…

  • jundamane24

    Since when has CNN posted dope hip hop articles like this? nice work CNN. He’s def one of the greatest to ever touch the mic

  • Nas is def the greatest when it comes to lyrics and concepts.
    Jay is the greatest rapper of all time tho for everything hes accomplished in his career.

    Plz dont mention em… Hes cool(maybe top 10) but dude has alot of extreme corny material in his catalog.

  • LesBeHonest

    how do ppl keep forgeting the name Marshall Mathers…2, saying a LYRICIST is someone “who could hold their own with Coleridge and Wordsworth” is 100% opinionated. Not a dictionary definition but something not based on facts; a 1 sided perspective. part 3, #1 albums in any category today are 100% label backed/marketing fueled. Not to knock on the legend, but ppl throw these lists and rankings out there like they are reading scripture and not just bullshitting

  • Wolfy

    But Nas Only Had One Good Album And That Was ILLMATIC…

    The Rest Were G A R B A G E !

  • b.ali

    Great article. We need more disections of this great artform In writting. Xxl and the source are god aweful at it. This is how the culture stays pure. This is how we reconcile the old with the new and get back on track.

    That being said, yes Nas IS the greatest lyricist ever. Better than eminem? Hell yes! Why? Because Nas was doing it before him and you can hear the influence that he’s had not just on eminem but in hip hop period.

    Get mad honkeys :)

  • marty mcfly

    Whats also crazy is CNN and alot of other people say Nas is the greatest lyricist and yet AZ spends damn near his whole career under the radar when bar for bar and album for album (include a couple mixtapes from AZ) these two are almost identical in style, creativity and subject matter. Thats just interesting to me thats all. Also if you dont at least know one verse by heart from The Lost Tapes or have a favorite song from Streets Disciple, Hip Hop Is Dead or Untitled then you just saying Nas the greatest just to say it but you not really rocking with his music like that. Not saying Nas dont deserve it but but at least know the mans music. @LesBeHonest, nobody forgets to mention Em, ask 9 outta ten white people who their favorite rapper is and they’ll say Em damn near every time. LOL

  • randy

    @marty mcfly 2pac was not getting more lyrical by the song. lol pac himself said he wasnt into “tricky” lyrics

    “you wont here me doing that lyrical mirical style… the way i grew up I was raised to get straight to the message”.

    Plus he was way more lyrical in the early 90’s than he was in his later work. listen to a song like “something wicked” and then listen to his deathrow stuff.

  • marty mcfly

    Pac can say whatever he wants about his own style and people that say he aint lyrical can also have that opinion too. You gotta remember Pac was a young dude and he didnt really get to master his craft like alot of other artists because he was dealing with drama, jail time, court shit, gun wounds etc. A pac thats older and wiser would have been able to look back at his music from when he was alive with hindsight and say you know what, I was really saying something. THATS the point of view im talking about. Those that are really fans of Pac have a different way that they heard his lyrics. They pick up on his reference points, they pick up on how he took different events in his life and put them in rhyme form with a deeper meaning there that sorta made it an every man kind of thing. How he used metaphors and emotional hot buttons to stress an issue. How he used revolutionary and militant philosophy to express things he believed in and he verbally attacked and completely destroyed things he did not agree with. Many of those things were from a moral or religious or social and community standpoint. Alot of people just dont hear those things from Pac cause maybe they just hear an angry thug but trust me Pac was very lyrical.

  • marty mcfly

    I assume by “lyrical miracle” he meant just that. He wasn’t gonna try to be the whole Wu Tang Clan in one person with his style but he was spittin for sure on every album and maybe he wasn’t using words like extraterrestrial in his rhymes but he was still lyrical.

  • marty mcfly

    Pac also spent alot of his time doing movies and working on his movie career as well so by the time he got in the studio he was racing. Thats why it may seem like he’s just blazing through songs without even thinking about what he’s saying but it was some dope shit though.

  • Zozo

    U say rap lyrics aren’t heralded like its an issue, but u continue to post garbage on this site with horrible lyrics. This site used to be part of the solution when it actually had a filter and only posted dope shit, now it’s part of the problem.

  • Clayton Bigsby

    Rezo: Your just a silly mofo aren’t you. His hits were lyrical you dumb mofo. You really should stop giving your opinion when it’s built on ignorance.

    Like I always say. You can take Jay’s catalog now and any rapper you want to find and none of them can go song for song, subject for subject with Pac, KRSI and Nas. No one. That’s the trinity of rap. With Rakim for changing the game for the better and LL for being the greatest battle rapper ever. If that’s not your top 5 you need to go back. It’s like naming your top 5 singers and not having Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder listed just because you weren’t born born. Neither was I but they are in my top 5. It’s like naming the greatest bands and EWF not being on your list with Led Zeppelin. But you got Linkin Park. When i see names like Andre 3k or some other rapper who get’s sidetracked by a ho I giggle. I actually fucking giggle.

    Back to Jay. He can’t go song for song with Ghost let alone with the three I listed.. Want to go to the Wutang Albums vs his State property albums. His album with Kanye vs Ghost and Rae. Ghost dropped 5 straight classics. You want to have that battle. The Watch series. Pure Genius. Stop it.

    After the club hits Jay is going to have a fake drug dealer story and then he’s done. Subject for subject, song for song.

    Jay Z makes fast food music. All of his biggest hits were club music. Fake it till you make it music is what I call it. Fake people love fake things. And people love to fake it. Go to a club. The perfect place for Jay’s music.

    Big doesn’t match up either.

    Would you put Terrell Davis in the top 10 of greatest RB’s.
    Sorry Big. Two chips an MVP a 2000 yard season and no HOF. It is what it is.

    Maybe if Big’s double album wasn’t terrible. He would make it. Don’t forget Pac made the greatest rap double CD ever.

    That album was in your rotation for two years straight. The only rap album that got more play was the Chronic. What’s the longest run you got with a Jay album. 6 months. If you listen to an album longer than 3 months it’s considered a classic now. Hell As soon as it drops your arguing if it was a classic. When only time will tell.

    Time tells me that Biggie, Junior Mafia, Puffy, Mase music sounds horrible today. Just like the jay and Neptunes BS.

    Listen to it. The word play and beats are terrible. Can’t say that about Illmatic. I ruled the world is still the shit.

  • 5%

    no one would touch G Rap and Chef, Escobar is great too tho

  • Top Notch

    I call CNN one of the biggest BS news sources of all time and certainly don’t care about their opinion about anything hip hop related. But if I ever need a biased liberal point of view on politics I’ll look their way for sure.

  • realtalk™

    This is all just personal preference.. there is no 1 greatest rapper, 1 greatest lyricist or any of that.. at least retards like Rezo make it entertaining to read with that “Biggie ain’t lyrical” bullshit

  • i dont care i listen to the most soulfull music!

  • dont believe the likes and the news thesedays!!!!! the end is almost near….

  • marty mcfly

    @Clayton Bigsby, Ummm actually Jay can go song for song with all those people you named and KRS-One would be the last MC standing. Jay does actually have more records then those other artists you named. You said you wanna have that battle between Ghost vs Jay? Im ready whenever you are cause I know every Ghostface song thats out there so we can go if you want to. I’ll use only LYRICAL songs from Jays catalog and im willing to match up with ANYBODY bar for bar. Your top 5 is ok but on a bar for bar level it would come down to Jay being 1, then Nas, then ICE CUBE (and ill also go bar for bar with ANY MC vs this nigga right here) and then it would be KRS One. PS, were not talking about super underground people were obviously talking about the greats and im willing to put Jayz up against any MC in the game bar for bar, punchline for punchline, album for album, concept for concept, whatever….

  • LesBeHonest

    Nas – Poet/this century’s Homer
    Jay – Sets the bar/Most Imitated
    Em – SICK, unmatched lyricism.

    Em gives 0 fucks about what the other heads are doing (unless hes knocking them). Jay is all over pop culture (watch the throne, really). Nas’s last album was 75% garbage IMO

  • marty mcfly

    and yes KRS does actually have more material then everybody but some artists have been able to come close to his catalog in regards to subject matter and dope lines. BTW Lupe is getting closer and closer with every album to damn near all the greats. If he decides to keep rapping after Skulls he’ll damn near be in range of the top ten already if you include his mixtapes and if were talking concepts and substance… just saying but with Jayz, we can go song for song whenever.

  • LesBeHonest

    @Ty mc belated i know. Something tells me you dont like Slim Shady (sad)

  • marty mcfly

    @LesBeHonest, when it comes to Em, I assume your talking raw lyricism like syllable flips and shit. Well Em is not unmatched there cause there has been others. Maybe @Clayton Bigsby can bring up Ghost with that argument and if were talking raw lyricism on some line for line shit idk if Em would even get passed Inspectah Deck (talking just raw lyricism), let only Ghost and Meth. There are many others that can go vs Em too, not saying he aint dope but as for the white rappers id have to give it to Atmosphere (Slug) before Em.

  • marty mcfly

    @LesBeHonest, and if you talking about being funny and rhyming the most? Killa Cam’s – Come Home With Me, Diplomatic Immunity and Purple Haze(classic) can go vs Em’s albums. Yes Em will obviously win is sells. 2nd for people wondering why I put Ice Cube before KRS One? Yes I know that looks crazy but I would compare the lyricism of both just for the fuck of it even though KRS is damn near impossible to match. 3rd @Clayton Bigbsy, with the Jayz shit? Get at me… be back later.

  • A-Train

    …So, we’re just talking STRICTLY LYRICS, right? I can’t call Nas “The Greatest Lyricist of all time” because there were many before him that were better than him. Also, there are too many artists, currently, that are better than him. Don’t get it confused, Nas is superb. He takes his craft very seriously and it’s evident in his work, but if you can sit up here and just flat out over look folks like Em, Big, Rakim, Mos Def, 3 Stacks and of course Jay, then something’s incredibly wrong. I do honestly think that one’s accolades can potentially be their own undoing. Why? Some folks think that because of what Jay has accomplished, he’s not as good. Everyone wants to hear about the struggle, but no one can stand to hear about the success. Lyrics are vital. They drive the song just as much as the production. Lyrics. Flow. Delivery. Word-play. Originality. Innovation. These are just some of the key components for a lyricist. Nas is great, but you cannot honestly say that there aren’t other who do it better than him. P.S. Can we stop with just rating “lyricism”? If you’re going to rate an artist, look at EVERYTHING that they’ve done. Lyrics alone just isn’t good enough.

  • marty mcfly

    ^^^ Nas will still be mostly viewed as better then Em, BIG, Rakim, Mos and 3 Stacks because of full bodies of work though. Illmatic, It Was Written, Stillmatic, Godson, Streets Disciple, Hip Hop Is Dead and Life Is Good. I think an MC would have to make 4 or more albums that are equal or better bodies of work then Nas in order to win there and they would also have to have big songs. Then you have to consider classic songs and his effect on the culture and the fact that Illmatic is still used as the measuring stick of excellence almost 20yrs after it came out. Thats just some more reasons why Nas has to be at least top 3 at all times. NOW back to this Jayz shit, lets start with Lyrical Exercise. How many punchlines, metaphors and double entendres are in this one song alone? Thats just the start of about 100 more I could name… just saying, Again

  • Jazz

    Jay-z is a great hip hop entertainer not artist
    The things Nas does with his own and creates on his album (I gave you power,rewind,project roach,heaven, etc) makes him a Better artist than jay but as far as entertaining te crowd jay got it hands down. It’s like Michael Jackson and prince clearly prince is the better artist but MJ knows what the crowd wants while prince thinks he knows what it needs same with jay and Nas. So naw I dot believe jay is a better artist than Nas.

  • marty mcfly

    ^^^ So Jay made more then ten albums and been around 17 years now and he aint even a artist? He’s “just” an entertainer cause he can move the crowd? Stop the nonsense cause how does he move the crowd? Is he a DJ? No fool, he’s a artist.

  • Young Vvs

    …Jay-Z is hands down the best lyricist I ever heard…From his similies to his metaphors to his Double/Triple entendre’s…

  • yah723

    I have a BS and MSc in Engineering; and now earning $100k+ per annum at the age of 28.
    Fuck all these n!ggas thinking they’re smart e.g. “From his similies to his metaphors to his Double/Triple entendre’s…”. It’s spelt Similes. Def: A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two different things, usually by employing the words “like” or “as” – also, but less commonly, “if”, or “than”.

    Wow. Jay-Z can do that. Lets pay him $1 million more.

    Btw, Nas is the GOAT.

  • yah723


  • Nas is the greatest! You can’t compare no other rapper…it is not even close. Please just listen to life is good album. Stay and World’s an Addiction…Enough said!

  • C-los

    So if they’re Making a clear distinction between “rapper” and “lyricist” then Im a wrong to assume that the category includes other genres of music besides rap?

  • Blue Ivy Carter

    Marty, Get my Dads dick out your mouth.