Who The Hell Am I: My Frustrating 20-Year Love/Hate Relationship With Nasir Jones

blame it on Andreas Hale April 17, 2014

It’s hard to believe that two decades have passed since I pulled my pennies together to purchase Nas’ Illmatic on cassette. I’m about to date myself by documenting how it all went down but it’s imperative to explain how Nas changed my life on April 19, 1994 and began a frustrating love and hate relationship that has lasted 20 years.

Before there were blogs, the only way to get unreleased music was by little cassettes that DJs put together with a variety of songs that was mixed together. Not this nonsense that you find online mistakenly called “mixtapes.” If you had a mixtape, it was similar to being in possession of a sacred scroll. Considering I lived in Las Vegas, the fact that my uncle used to bring me mixtapes straight off of 125th St. in New York made me a music God during my adolescence. Ron G and Doo Wop mixtapes on black Maxell cassettes overflowed my drawer with early music from Wu Tang Clan, Jay Z, Big L, Royal Flush, Mobb Deep and others. But it was this Main Source song that blew my mind.

“Live at the Barbeque” featured this kid named Nasty Nas that was just spewing poetic recklessness on the mic that I had never heard before. As soon as I heard “Verbal assassin, my architect pleases/When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus” I lost my fucking mind. “Who says that?” I thought aloud. As a kid just entering his teenage years and looked to artists like Chuck D and KRS One to elevate my mind state, it’s safe to say that hip-hop did more parenting than my actual mother and father did. The influence was heavy but Chuck D and KRS One were very straight forward with their rhyming. Aside from Rakim, I hadn’t really heard anything that poetic and abrasive all at once. But I was hooked. I bought every rap magazine I could find that had information on this Nasty Nas fellow. I had my uncle scoop up the Zebrahead soundtrack just so I could play “Halftime” over and over again until Illmatic dropped.

By the way, the Illmatic is easily the most amazing name for a debut album in the history of forever-ness. I never heard the word before and haven’t heard anything like it since. But I digress…

When I picked up the April 1994 issue of The Source and read Shortie’s review of Illmatic, my anticipation reached parts unknown (I would meet Shortie, who you know today as Miss Info, during my tenure at BET and, to this day, she doesn’t know that I worship the ground she walks on). A 5-mic review was unheard of back then when The Source actually meant something (I have since had the pleasure of conversing for hours with Jonathan Shecter in person about Illmatic and his time running the mag). Hell, it was the hip-hop Bible and I took Shortie’s words like the gospel. Those three weeks until Illmatic dropped moved slower than a countdown to Christmas (and we all know how slow time ticked by when you were a kid). I must have annoyed the hell out of cashier at the Warehouse with my hourly calls that week in hopes that they got a copy they could sell me early. But April 19th came and I ran from my house to the mall and tossed my quarters and crumpled dollars onto the counter like a real G would and George Jefferson strolled out that bitch. Three steps later the plastic was shredded off the cassette and the tape was popped into my Walkman.

That twenty-minute walk to my house was the most glorious walk I ever had as a 15-year-old. Oh yeah, I definitely ditched school that day just so I could consume Illmatic in all of its poetic beauty. The “Wildstyle” sample on The Genesis set the tone and Nas blew the door off the hinges with “N.Y. State of Mind.” You’ll be hard pressed to find an opening combination as potent as “N.Y. State of Mind,” “Life’s A Bitch” and “The World Is Yours.” To hear three wickedly written songs produced by DJ Premier, L.E.S. and Pete Rock in a fifteen minute span was completely unheard of back in 1994. You’ve got to understand that shit like that just didn’t take place before Nas and forced every emcee to not only reconsider their approach to rhyming, but how to cultivate the soundscape of an album.


Keep in mind, I lived in Las Vegas and the city swore it was the illegitimate child California tried to forget about. A Death Row Records album pumped out of every speaker within a 5-mile radius. It was either that or Too $hort, MC Eiht, DJ Quik or, hell, even a Bloods & Crips album that infiltrated my ears. So when I went to school the next day and sat at the lunch table debating why Nas was far superior than anything the West Coast had put together, you can see why the older kids dismissed me with the swiftness. But I was persistent, kicking Nas’ rhymes that I wrote down on my legal pad and then explaining them to the lunch table like class was in session.

Illmatic was my everything and my friends’ resistances to it only made me preach harder.

To this day, Illmatic is my most purchased album ever. I’ve bought the cassette/CD at least 9 times. 3 times my tape popped, I had at least two CDs stolen and I lost, misplaced, broke, scratched or simply played the other four copies until they died.

I just knew that Nas would be the greatest emcee to ever exist in the universe…until he wasn’t. And why he wasn’t is the exact reason why this crazy love/hate relationship I have with him exists to this day.

And the hate, isn’t so much that I disliked Nas. I hated that Nas wouldn’t be as great as I thought he could have been because I felt that he conformed so much to sell records. And it wasn’t because he wanted to, but because he had to. If there was any such thing as being too far ahead of the curve to the point it hurts you, Nas was it. Although Illmatic is considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time, it sure didn’t sell like it. Nas’ lyrical eloquence that existed as scripture which documented Queensbridge culture was simply too jarring for many to adjust to. It was like bringing Malcolm X to an Aerosmith bikini beach party.  It just wasn’t welcome at the time.

To go from “Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks” to “Wisdom be leaking out my grapefruit, troop I dominate break loops, giving mics men-e-strual cycles” is like eating 12 bags of Skittles and then trying to ingest a glorious filet mignon. Your body is going to reject it at first. And people did reject it. Week one sales were a wretched 59,000. By comparison, Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle sold 802,858 copies in its first week when it dropped on November 23, 1993. The Murder Was The Case soundtrack pushed 329,000 first week copies when it released in October 1994. As incredible as Illmatic was, it’s abysmal sales prompted a shift that would forever haunt Nasir Jones. And I not only hated it, I despised it.


Instead of sticking to the script, Nas’ second album needed to have commercial appeal. At the same time, Nas began to adopt a Mafioso mentality that was prevalent on albums like Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt. It was a conscious move by Nas to fit into his surroundings. As much as I loved It Was Written, I disliked what Nas’ environment made him commit to psychologically. The moment my homies took to “If I Ruled The World” because of its Whodini sample and Lauryn Hill hook (and that damn “Street Dreams” remix with Robert Sylvester Kelly), I knew bad things were to come. They didn’t surface on It Was Written though, that would be saved for I Am and Nastradamus, which were clearly infected by the money making jiggy rap bug and reduced Nas from secluded street poet to just another exceptional rapper in the cypher.

You know how they say that teams play to the level of their competition? That, to me, was Nas. If he played too well, he wouldn’t be invited to the party. But if he lowered his own bar, he was more than welcome to rock a fur coat with those that couldn’t touch him intellectually.

Nas’ “Nas Is Like” will go down in history as the biggest bait and switch my ears have ever dealt with. Just when I thought Nas had gone back to his roots after proving he could sell a few million records, I found out that “Nas Is Like” wasn’t the rule, it was the exception and I Am was the evidence that the old Nas wasn’t coming back anytime soon.  I hated what Nas had become. I cringed when I listened to the double time rhymes of “Big Things” and wanted to punch a puppy in the face when I saw the “Hate Me Now” video.

I felt let down because Nas was better than the music he was making. Going from Rap God to mere mortal who raps exceptionally well is rather disappointing. Nastradamous was the pinnacle of my frustrations. The brilliance of “Project Window” (which was overproduced compared to a stripped down version I had on a mixtape) juxtaposed next to “You Owe Me” and the putrid “Big Girl” had me clutching my heart and yelling “This is The Big One, Elizabeth” like I was Fred Sanford. It was like watching Michael Jordan become the league leader in assists just so he could feel like a team player. But what’s the point of winning some trivial short-term battle when you are losing a war with history?

It wasn’t until Jay Z gut punched his ass that he realized that being anyone else but Nas was unacceptable. It was a case of the student idolizing the teacher until he realized that the teacher impersonated him. Not to say that Jay Z was a student, but you get the point. Nas needed a reality check and Jay Z gave it to him in the harshest way possible. Rather than spit a bevy of insults as Nas later did on “Ether,” Jay Z just gave him raw truth on “Takeover” that everybody shrugged their shoulders, turned to their neighbor and said “you know, Jay Z’s right.” For that reason, I always thought Jay Z won the battle because he got what he wanted out of Nas, to shred the conformist mainstream image and reclaim his lofty perch as the supreme street poet.

I loved what Stillmatic represented for Nas. Songs such as “2nd Childhood” and “Rewind” found Nas being the brilliant versifier that we all knew that he could be. The song title “Destory & Rebuild” personified everything that Nas was doing.

Unfortunately, Nas proved to have another ailment surface that I like to call “beat retarded.”

I swear, I’m not sure what happened, but Nas’ ear for production had gone deaf. If Nas had Rick Ross’ ear from production, he would have murdered the game, but he didn’t. Nas did, however, prove that he was still head and shoulders above the rest from a lyrical standpoint.


The next stretch of albums (God’s Son, Street’s Disciple, Hip Hop Is Dead and Untitled) were so gotdamn uneven sonically that they were hard to digest. Nas’ rhymes were on point, but the beats weren’t holding up their end of the bargain. I begged and pleaded to whoever controlled the hip-hop universe that the Nas & DJ Premier album that had been teased since the duo appeared on the cover of Scratch Magazine would come to fruition. But it didn’t. And I hated that. However, I loved that Nas had gone back to the cinematic narrator he once was rather than kicking garbage girlie rhymes on “Oochie Wallie.”

However, as time passed, I hated that Nas never became a mogul like Jay Z or had several successful business ventures like his other hip hop peers. Nas deserved more than what he had simply off of the strength of Illmatic. I always thought that if Jay Z was meant to become the first rapper to play the Las Vegas Strip, Nas should be the one reopening the Moulin Rouge and performing his catalog regularly. In my eyes, Nas should have never had to sign with Jay Z. But music is a business and Nas just wasn’t as focused on the business aspect of the game like Jay was. Nas was, first and foremost, a poet. He was a unique blend of Gil Scott Heron and The Last Poets who took what Rakim started and elevated it to another stratosphere. Those kinds of artists never end up being rich. Usually, they end up broke, suffering from a drug habit or a disturbing combination of both.

And I realized that is what I hated more than anything else: Nas being a talented poet would never be enough to survive in this game. It’s the very reason why Spike Lee has never won an Oscar and is recognized as one of the greatest directors of our time. Being true to yourself will never give you the mainstream notoriety you believe you deserve. You have to conform a little bit if you want people to listen, watch and accept what you have to say. Take this as you want, Do The Right Thing was Spike Lee’s Illmatic and achieved all the critical acclaim while opening the door for Spike to achieve crossover appeal. But the difference between Spike and Nas was that Spike has always been comfortable in his own skin. Nas never came off that way during his I Am and Nastradamous phases.

Seeing Nas on the cover of Life is Good with the green wedding dress Kelis wore made me realize how much Nas had been through but was still standing when others were long gone.

Today, as Nas celebrates the 20th anniversary of Illmatic, I am proud to see him standing tall. I am happy to see that he has invested in multiple ventures including Mass Appeal Magazine while still keeping his ear to the street and working with emcees like Fashawn who idolized his same lyrical principals. The fact that he’s still relevant is a testament to his legendary status.

Furthermore, if Nas does nothing else, Illmatic will live on. It’s the single event that changed how I looked at the music industry and the first sign that I wanted to become a journalist who documented the culture. There have been millions of people who could kick a rhyme or two, but none will ever make an album as brilliantly concise, poignant and significant in hip-hop as Illmatic.


Some will criticize my personal criticisms of Nas while others will flat out say “that shit was too long.” Others will take from this writing what they will and recall how Illmatic made them feel while agreeing with my sentiments or simply finding a few strands of relatable truths.

But, regardless of how you feel about me venting my personal views, I’m still just a critic, who the hell am I?

  • biff tannen

    Dope! Great article.

    Don’t care what anyone says as far as LYRICS go, Nas is the GOAT.

    • datbul

      Lupe Fiasco is a better lyricist than Nas.

      • biff tannen

        Im a HUGE Lupe fan. Lupe has a better vocabulary and his metaphors and entendres are better but he’s yet to make a song better than rewind, one mic, 2nd childhood or I gave you power. Plus none of Lupe’s albums come remotely close to illmatic or stillmatic

        • datbul

          I hear you, and I’m glad you dig Lupe. I personally believe ‘The Cool’ is a better album than any Nas album, based on the concept alone [I don’t know if you’re familiar with the concept of the album but, if not, look into it]. Also, I’d argue that ‘Streets On Fire’ and ‘The Instrumental’ are conceptually better than every song you named with the exception of maybe ‘I Gave You Power’. ‘Streets On Fire’ is a song that can literally be intepreted three different ways. And as for ‘Rewind’, yeah it’s a cool enough concept, but I was way more impressed when I first heard it in High School. Looking at it now, although still cool, it’s not nearly as impressive. To be perfectly honest, I think any above average rapper could do it. It’s really not that difficult.

        • datbul
          • biff tannen

            Like I said I’m a huge lupe fan so I’m well aware of the concepts in his music. Here’s the thing tho. Sometimes you can say more by saying less. So while I enjoy Lupe’s complicated word play he’s never made a song or album that rivals any of Nas’ seminal work. What I mean is, Lu isn’t as concise and clear with the message he wants to convey. When you can present complicated concepts or messages in a clear and simple way it comes off more powerful and it reaches more people. It’s in that sense that I say Nas is the GOAT. He can paint a clear picture and be poetic at the same time. I’ve yet to hear Lu be able to do that as effectively.

          • datbul

            I definitely understand what you’re saying. But if that’s how you view it, then that would make Lu more lyrical… based on my understanding of the definition of the term. To my understanding, the most accurate definition of being Lyrical is ‘intricacy and complexity of wordplay’ [I understand that different people define ‘lyrical’ differently, but to me that seems to be the most universal and traditional definition of the term]. It sounds like you’re saying Nas’s words are more Visceral– that they hit and connect with the listener harder emotionally and psychologically– while Lu’s words are Cerebral [more complex and intricate]. If so, I definitely understand where you’re coming from and, more to the point, I agree. Also, if that’s the case, then we really aren’t disagreeing about who’s more Lyrical. It would seem that be both agree that Lu is more lyrical [technical] but Nas is more personal [visceral].

          • biff tannen

            Damn, yea that’s 100% what I’m saying and like you said we can argue semantics about what “lyrical” means, I like the way you worded it though. Completely agree with what you said.

            Now i gotta go make a nas and lu playlist on the ol’ ipod lol

          • datbul

            Lol. Word. Appreciate you keeping the convo positive and informative.

            Good talk, brother.

          • biff tannen

            Always do with those that show they actually wanna converse or discuss something as oppose to the ones that just want to rant and/or nut hug about why they love or hate something/someone.

            Stay up my dude

  • Holiday Kirk

    My favorite part about Questlove’s book is when he describes the Source Awards when Ready to Die crushed Illmatic. Watching Nas melt in his seat as he lost over and over again Quest said to Black Thought “He’s never going to be the same. You just watch.” And that one moment may have shaped Nas’ career more than any other.

    • biff tannen


    • who cares

      This was in the “Mo’ Meta Blues” book?

      • Holiday Kirk


        • who cares

          Dope. I’ve been meaning to check out that book, but now it just moved up toward the top of my list.

    • OE

      I agree imo ready to die crushed illmatic only cause imo biggie smalls is the goat of the goats! And is my all time fave rapper since 93!

    • Tim Davis

      yea Nas never got the mainstream love that BIG did….BIG was King of NY in the 90s!!! It never should overshadow his legacy because Illmatic was not a mainstream album, but it was probably because people kept saying he needed to be that dude, when in reality he just needed to be Nasty Nas!!!

  • YeDaTruth

    I don’t hate Nas. I hate Nas Stans. They swear everything he drops is gold, and say shit like “you just don’t understand what he’s saying, he’s too deep for you” when you don’t like some of his work. Side Note: Jay won the beef. He’s more relevant, still makes better music, and Takeover stuck to facts. Ether was gay and ugly jokes. That being said, Nas is a legend, arguably one of the best. But you nas stans suck him off entirely too much, and make it hard to objectively listen to the man without being overly critical.

    • Ryan Buley

      You think Jay-Z makes better music because you have terrible taste in Hip-Hop. It really is as simple as that. LMAO!

      • YeDaTruth

        Ha! It’s called an opinion that differs from yours! Music is subjective! LMAO!

        • Tim Davis

          i guess Nas did take it personal lol…..but he did get him with the Hawaiian Sophie line and the Roc a fella line LMAO….Damn Jay-Z came a long way!!!

    • Exhibit C

      How many times do we have to hear the “I don’t hate an artist, I hate his fans” argument. I think the same thing has been said a million times about every great rapper who has a “hipster” fan base. Kendrick Lamar is the new target of these rants. We get it. Same thing with your analysis of who won the Jay-Z/Nas feud. You get zero points for originality.

      • YeDaTruth

        I don’t want points for originality, I was just stating my genuine opinion.

    • iAmRafy

      I agree with the Ether/Takeover debate.
      Nas’ first few albums were all nice to me, Ever since then it ain’t even worth a download unless he’s someone. It’s like he doesn’t even know what he wants to be. He wanted to be a lyricist on Illmatic, Hood nigga on It was written, Dick Rider on I am… Although Favor for a Favor is one of his best’s tracks, then from there he went everywhere from back to a poet, to idk wtf he did on Street’s Disciple, Hip hop is dead was a decent tract, Jay kinda helped him on that, and then he jumped on that Damien Marley shit, Too much talent, forever lost down a road to find himself.

      • you don’t like Distant Relatives?

        • Ted

          I fucking LOVE that album.

      • Good to see some dope explanations. I def agree

    • Alldaygb

      My question to you is, how exactly is Takeover facts? The whole “One hot album every 10 year average” line can be picked apart. From 1994 to 2001 Nas had already dropped Illmatic and It Was Written, that’s not even 10 years and he came out with Stillmatic in 2001. So that’s already 3. How is that line even remotely fact? Secondly, sine when does success detemine who won a lyrical battle? That’s what I hate about Jay-Z stans…

      • YeDaTruth

        you pointed 1 line out. Neither Jay’s or Nas’ disses were 100% accurate. They were trying to undermine each other. To me, Jay won because his disses were better, not because he’s more successful. I only brought up the success because they were both competing and arguing about who sonned who, who was the real king of NY, etc. They weren’t JUST arguing about who was the best lyrically. They were debating points about relevance, originality, “street cred”, etc.

        • Alldaygb

          That’s all well and great, but at the time they still had the same level of relevance, or else there wouldn’t be any diss records. Nothing about right now has anything to do with who won, it’s about the time period. They aren’t beefing now are they? I could go all day about how many lines Jay was wrong about, I only used that one because that’s usually the one Jay stans used to try and prove that Jay won. It’s either that or the accolades Jay has accomplished since the beef. They wont talk about that Angie Martinez interview though.

          • YeDaTruth

            Yeah, well luckily I’m not a Jay stan. I just honestly feel he makes better music and albums overall. That’s not to say I’m blinded by any favoritism. Life is good was better than Magna Carta in my opinion. Magna Carta was boring. But I find myself listening to Jay more.

          • Nas stans call jay fans a stan and vice versa while using an eminem phrase. Lol. But dude all your points make sense imo. Jay def makes better music and more listenable albums cuz he doesn’t keep his head stuck in books and then base rhymes off of them over corny beats. Nas will always have the better concepts like the gun song (which he borrowed from Pharoahe Monch), 2nd childhood etc. But Jay has more diversity in flow, word play and def has a better ear for beats. Both can be contradicting but Nas takes it to anotther level. And Jay won the beef in terms of keeping it short on Takeover. But nas won in terms of making a whole song. But he kinda retorted to name calling (fail). Plus I dont think Jay would have gotten so angry to the point where it threw him off his game if the lies Nas spit were true. Lies can make you so angry, that you just wanna slap someone. Lol

    • StudentOfTheGame

      thats what stans do for any rapper they are a stan of.

      its their opinion, no matter how biased

    • Well said dude.

  • The realist shit i’v read in a long time.

  • Hood Oracle

    why do us Nas stans critic him for going commercial when almost everybody’s favorite rapper has gone commercial Jay didn’t ride around in a lexus and spit with Jaz-o his whole career, Snoop ain’t crip walking down lbc in a blue and black flannel no more, Eminem hasn’t made a good album since MMLP, but why I ask are we so hard on Nasir Jones…granted he had a few lackluster albums(I AM, Nastradusmas,Street Disciple) but again everybodies favorite rappers has a few albums they say “meh”

    • Tbones

      Cosignee, dont let them fool u. Most of them like this writer are more critics that fans.

      Him and his cohorts are confused as fuck.

      In one bit, hes saying he dint like Nas not dropping Illmatic esque through out his career.

      In another bit, hes saying he hates Nas not being as big as Jay, watever that means.

      This writer still thinks Nas signed with Jay, and not DefJam. Oh Jay owns DefJam, my bad.

      This writer really believes Ether was a bunch of insult although it managed to get its target all flustered and almost crying on radio, while Takeover is the gospel truth. I rest my case.

    • biff tannen

      Streets Desciple would’ve been a great album had it not been a double album imo

    • Holiday Kirk

      Jay went commercial but kept making good music. Sure, that’s not 100% true but it’s hard to front on most of his big hits. When Nas went commerical his output went straight in the shitter.

    • marty mcfly

      I think alot of it has to do with his commercial music sounding forced rather then just an extension of his art. Alot of his club songs/more commercial songs just aint that good and I think that also has something do with it. You take a song like You Own Me, its not that its a reach for radio, its just it doesn’t really sound good. Nas forces things in a commercial way instead of just honestly delivering radio material.

    • marty mcfly

      When Jay delivers a club song like Dirt Off Ya Shoulder, he’s completely comfortable in the element. Nothing sounds forced, he sounds like the same Jayz from the block just over a commercial beat. Im sure Nas is completely comfortable in the club in reality and im sure deep down Nas likes commercial rap cause nobody is walking around reading books 24/7 but when it comes to delivering that type of song? Nas just sounds a little off.

    • Excalibur

      I don’t think I AM and Street Disciple are lackluster albums at all. Nastradamus is probably his only poor album, but this says more about Nas’ greatness and GOAT status than anything else.

  • marty mcfly

    That was DOPE. I think I told this story before but anyway when I got Illmatic, I also bought a video game that day (I forgot what game) so I went home and played the video game and all of a sudden we had a power outage. It was already dark outside but when the power went out then it was just pitch blackness in the house. So I put Illmatic in my walkman and listened to that shit in complete darkness. The roller coaster my mind went on with that album for the next 40 mins was legendary. Anyway I can agree with everything said in this cause I know exactly where the writer is coming from. First, I gotta give Nas the benefit of the doubt and say that the pressure on his shoulders had to be crazy for the first decade of is career. First off, he’s the poster boy for conscious rap so Nas had a hard road in front of him just from that aspect. The shit I gotta say about Nas though is that alot of times he sounds uncomfortable and that feeling can be stamped into the music and people can feel that when they hear it. For example, if you take Jay or Wayne, or Biggie etc… They get to a point where they find their zone as rappers, where they sound like its not even a calculated delivery, they just go in the booth and get busy and its like whatever beat comes on gets murked immediately. Nas imo only been in the zone a few times in his career and thats cause he knows people comb through his bars so they can run and go compare to Jayz and thats another thing about Nas… Everything this guy says or does is almost always compared to what Jayz is doing at the time. Thats not Nas fault but its like people hear Nas and they want so bad to be able to say hey see I told you he’s better then Jay, that they not even really listening to Nas for Nas at that point. Now that may go on for like 1 or 2 listens and the rest of the time, they not comparing to Jay but thats just another factor when people listen to Nas. People have this image of Nas in their mind where they see him as the lyrical Moses or some shit so at that point they not even looking at Nas as a everyday person anymore. They expect some super poetical shit thats gonna change their life and open the stargate in their mind each time they hear Nas and I get that but its just not reality for Nas to always carry that mission for people. I could go on but yeah, Nas I feel at times over thinks stuff and you can hear it in the music and it can sound like he’s 2nd guessing himself or not really comfortable with everything thats being said. Still though he’s one of the illest of all time but just saying.

    • Why are you so against hitting “enter?”

      • biff tannen


  • best to ever do it even on his weakest lps he dropped so many jewels

    he speaks with his soul thats enuff http://insite.bandcamp.com/

  • Make sure you realize that this is ONLY ONE PERSONS OPINION of Nas and what molded him and guided his decisions. That said, unless you have rocked Nas’s J’s, you dont know shit and you probably would have done a much shittier job being him.

  • I see it in a much more positive light. He brought Real shit to the mainstreams front door. (and all you grown folk know how the mainstream was back then, these kids think they got it bad these days) Almost at the exact moment that i counted him out, The mother fucker drops Stillmatic, and just kept droppin dopeness. He owned the next 7-10 years as far as im concerned. i never thought anyone could make rap music of that quality and still be that successful. And i dont know if anyone ever will again. Feel how you want about his oochie walleys, but without those terrible tracks, he would have never had the platform that made people hear One Mic that otherwise wouldnt have. He took a major gamble on his career in order to get his message out, and there arent many other things in like bigger than ones career.. im just glad he did that shit.

  • disqus_pyrGXaSTDx

    lost tapes was the bomb too, and the bootleg volumes were pretty good

  • AndOneill

    Great article and well written my man! I still think nas is the greatest to ever do it tho, no matter how many ‘bad’ albums people say he made I can still pick songs on them that nobody else could make in my opinion! Hiphop at it’s finest

  • Wallace C

    The Nas slander/hate really does stem from the point of emphasis that his sheer greatness hasn’t been consistent. He could very well be the most talented MC we’ve seen. And very likely the best in terms of pure talent & skill, BUT…more so than going “Commercial”, I think every true head, just wishes Nas had a better team in his ear in terms of his production choices or should I say a Great Producer to oversee/EP his albums. You hear “Stans” that will say, the beat doesn’t matter, no the production absolutely does matter! It’s the Canvas added with his Paint Brush to make the Painting. He has the best 1st 2 Solo albums of any MC, and his performance on IWW is more refined than his performance on Illmatic. IWW may actually be the best MC performance in terms of lyricism, style, concept, stories, wordplay, coldness all wrapped in 1 of any Hip Hop album. Yet, it’s easy to look at Streets Disciple, Nastradamus, HHID, Untitled, half of God’s Son, half of I Am, and say to yourself Nas never spits garbage, but damn most of the production brings no life to the table and it dulls out the album. If you really listen to Nas, you know he sounds good over certain sounds/energy…Jazz, Funk, some Soul, Piano, Horns, Thick Basslines, Gritty, Sinister, Triumphant production and because of that certain producers fit the right bill for him…Premier, Pete Rock, Large Pro, Qtip, Buckwild, Alchemist, EZ Elpee, Showbiz, 9th Wonder, etc…No offense to the young bucks on the scene or some of the popular Rap producers, but I don’t know any diehard Nas fans who look forward to him working with Swizz, Timbo, or Flava of the month producers like Hitboy. That’s just not what sounds good with his style and voice. Just my opinion though.

    • YeDaTruth

      I completely agree. I have no idea why Nas and Swizz collab so often, it’s never anything spectacular. Even the original version of Swizz’ top down, featuring nas, was better when it was just swizz rapping. and swizz’ raps are TERRIBLE.

    • tictac

      I’d disgress about the hitboy comment,
      Nas would blaze flames if he had beats like 1train or even trophies, as you said he sounds great over triumphant horns.
      Let’s not put down this generatio’s producers off just yet just cause theyre new.

  • Excalibur

    I AM also had songs like: NY State of Mind, we will survive, ghetto prisoners and undying love on it. It doesn’t get more “Nas” than that. Nas is like wasn’t the only Nas-esque song that defined that album, as your article seems to suggest.

    But then again, your critique just shows you hold him to a higher standard than his peers, which is a good thing.

    • That album def had some other joints. I always said you could pull joints from each album and make a pretty dope album. I always hated when ppl said only Preemo can give this dude joints when he clearly makes dope joints with Large Pro, Salam Remi, and anyone from Illmatic. I think dude is really scared of just being pigeon holed into that sound when he should just accept it and run with it. It may not bring him money in sales, but he can tour off of that sound, go down in history, write a book since he likes to read so much and open a few businesses. There’s still time but like someone else said, “he doesn’t know what he wants”.

  • StudentOfTheGame

    I’m 21 years old from Chicago, Illinois. I love hip hop. I didnt grow up with Nas. Actually i really didnt grow up with a rapper that i loved and worshipped, i just enjoyed the stuff on the radio, wayne, eminem, whatever play i enjoyed, i really didnt listen to the lyrics or debated who was the best. I started trying to learn who was who when i was going on 13 and my cousin turned me on to Slim Shady, old Jay-Z, Wu-Tang. I still didnt have a rapper in my teenage years that was my go-to guy, i listened to what was hot until Drake came out and he was alright, then after that i was seeing a whole slew of new guys pop up. Wale, Big Sean, J Cole. Eventually i heard Kendrick Lamar Overly Dedicated and i was like YESSS this is my guy.

    Then my cousin turned me to Nas because i listened to Life is Good and i wondered why people didnt like his beat selection or whatever. I enjoyed the story telling, and i didnt see him as a flawed rapper. THEN my cousin blessed me with his illmatic album from his stash and i popped in a CD player i had put away (who uses CD players nowadays?) and long story short, i was like WOOOOOOOW, i see why people love this dude. Shit was dope af. Then i downloaded everything Nas i can find, there we’re some albums i liked more thankothers, (i didnt like Nastradamus) some songs here and there i was like WTF is this. But i still never fully understood why people hated on dude. I AM is sick af, he delivered. I understand why people think illmatic is a better product, but the with all the pressure he had on him after it with the follow up, i loved it.

    Thats my experience with Nas, I’m sure some of y’all dont care and wonder why I’m even writing this( Writing this because of the 20 years after illmatic.) I just love Rap and I’d thought i share it and show the “old heads” that 20 somethings from chicago listen to Chief Keef and Rich Homie and disregard the legends in the game. Thanks and have a good night.

  • soulonice_

    If I Am didn’t leak and he released this version instead https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9RrV8WMuYQ#aid=P9PD-gVtZxA you’re looking at 3 maybe classic or close to classic records. And maybe you don’t get Stillmatic, Ether, Takeover, and Super Ugly if this version of the album dropped. And I feel like if Nas had the production team Jay had people wouldn’t be so critical of his catalog.

    • thats just some guys mixtape

      • soulonice_

        I know, but the way I Am was released wasn’t the way Nas wanted it released. If it was somewhat released like this we’re talkin about a way better album. Most of it got leaked and he had to go with another plan.

  • Guest

    Great article!
    I feel as if I can somehow begin to relate. Being that 2dbz is my “The Source” where I come to for about 60% of my music knowledge, and Fashawn is my favorite artist who I hope does not stray off his own path.

  • Rodmatic

    One of the best hip hop articles i’ve read.
    Nas has been my favorite since i was able to grasp the concept of hip hop as a child, and this explains the struggle of a true poet who speaks realness through song but couldn’t get it to reach the masses as it should have.

  • Great article, I love when journalists give their personal feelings, not just general shit.
    100% agree with you, the question is : is it possible to achieve mainstream success without compromise ?
    Em, Nas, Mobb Deep, all the same story… Some exceptions remain like Outkast but they stop making music !

    I also deeply think that Nas could have been the greatest MC of all time but he’s not as great artistically and musically as he’s lyrically, you say “beat retarted” but that’s deeper than that, he just hasn’t a strong artistic vision and I think all the beatmakers around him during the Illmatic era are also strongly responsible for the success of it.

  • Idiotbrain

    Great piece. I definitely want to see him and Premo make that record. Also, I’d love to hear what he could do gettin in the studio with TDE…

  • DUCEWayne

    Nas will always be one of if not thee greatest to me. People say It Was Written wasn’t hot but he had som many dope gems on there. Not one song I had to skip. And people are superquick to $#!T on I Am And Nastradamas, but remember, at that period of time, he had so much material recorded, there were rumblings of packaging them as a double CD…until the bootlegers got a hold of it. If the songs on the Lost Tapes (Blaze a 50, Drunk By Myself) had made it to I An and Nastradamas, there would be no question to him being the greatest ever. Yeah, he has the wack beat syndrome (Ether’s beat wasnt even that hot), but lyrically, most rapper couldnt tie his shoes. Even Jay knows that. Glad to see NAs is still relevant and making business moves but staying true tim himself. Good Read too!

  • Lodidodida

    I pretty much wholly disagree with you, because as great as illmatic was, Nas’ songwriting skills vastly improved on his subsequent albums

  • tictac

    Man, the whole teacher copying the student thing was on point.
    Jay Z giving nas a hard snuffing was SO ESSENTIAL, or we’d see nas digging his own grave with where he was heading.

    Great article you have here sir,
    Good read.

  • willj

    “I always thought Jay Z won the battle because he got what he wanted out of Nas, to shred the conformist mainstream image and reclaim his lofty perch as the supreme street poet.”

    I hope you one day get to ask Jay-Z if that was his intent. Cause damn that’s a deep way to look at it.

    Much respect for the words here. Glad to see 2DB giving writers some space to breathe.

  • OE

    Man this was beautiful! awesome review! and everything you touched on i felt truth in it all! Keep up the good work Andreas!!

  • Guest
  • Brent Tnerb

    I cant believe what i just read, you actually just said lupe is a better lyricist than nas. We are talking about nasir jones correct lol, just so that im clear. I cant tell you your opinion is wrong because its an opinion and i respect lupe’s music but i can disagree with your opinion. Either way i look forward to more nas and lupe music in the future.