Nasisone of the greatest rappers ever to breathe on a mic. His catalog runneth over with street anthems, cinematic flair, conceptual prowess,and poetic sorcery. Here are Nas' greatest songs:
'You Wouldn't Understand'
There are many reasons tolove "You Wouldn't Understand." It's a love note to the old school, and the beat knocks. More than anything, though, "You Wouldn't Understand" is worth it if just to hearthe voice of the streetssay "f*ck it"once in a while. Nas invented YOLO.
'Surviving the Times'
"Surviving the Times" is a veteran doing his victory lap after aribbon-breaking marathon.Nas chronicles his journey, from unsigned emcee who "didn't even know what a record advance meant" to elder statesman who inspires a new generation of poets.
A cautiously optimisticNascapturesthe enthusiasm behindBarack Obama's 2008 campaign, especially in the hip-hop community.The song's power lies in how Nasflips2Pac's skepticism ("We ain't ready to see a Black president") into a statement of hope.
'Queens Get the Money'
Jay Electronica's brooding piano serves as the perfect setting for Nas'stream-of-consciousness flowon this excellent intro to the Queens rapper's"Untitled" album.
"Nasty" takes Nas back to early '90s New York, opening with an announcer querying the crowd of spectators: "Queensbridge, y’all ready to see Nasty Nas?" The guitar drops. The drums breathes. Nas takes the stage and it's on.
'Hate Me Now'
Every great artist has a moment of rage. "Hate Me Now" was Nas' "I've had it up to here!" soundtrack. You can hear the anger in his voice as he bullies the beat. Not even Puff Daddy could ruin the moment.
'Blaze a 50'
"Blaze a 50" is Nas showing off his cinematic flair. In under three minutes, he weaves a movie-on-wax tale: sex, drugs, betrayal,murder. You're not sure what the plot is, yet you can't look away.
'Take It in Blood'
"Take It in Blood" is one of the highlights on Nas' underrated second LP, "It Was Written." It pays tribute to the song's original producer, Stretch of the Live Squad, who died after working on the song.“Stretch dropped me off at home and went home and he was killed," Nas recalled in an interview.
Nas andDJ Premier go together like peanut butter and toast. It might have been worth donatinga pinkytobe a fly on the wall andsee the paircatch this lightning in a bottle.
'Last Real N***a Alive'
In the aftermath of their beef, Jay-Z tried to have the last word with thetitle track from "The Blueprint 2." But Nas quickly brushed him aside with "Last Real N***a Alive," a descriptive history of New York feuds showing reverence to Biggie, Diddy, and Wu-Tang while reducing Jay-Z toa back-stabbing upstart.
A nostalgic treatise on bygone eras, "Doo Rags" finds Nas getting misty-eyed and pondering the fate of Stacy Lattisaw tapes and ear-peeling door knockers. As a gentle piano loop lulls, Nas takes it back to the essence. His vicious flow deflects the pain in his testimony.
'I Gave You Power'
Like many artists with the gift of gab, Nas conceives new ways to say what's been said before. Rapping about gun violence wasn't groundbreaking in the '90s; what's fresh isNasir's raw, detailed gun metaphor on "I Gave You Power." He gave away the plot in the beginning, but he still had us hanging on every word.
James Brownhas long been a looming figure in rap production. A funky slice of Brown is thedriving forcebehind the "Get Down," the opening track from "God's Son." Nasdarts his eyes through the hood and reports on drug deals gone awry, tragedies, and funerals. Producer Salaam Remi'sold Black dude impression is a fresh touch.
The Jay-Z beef brought out the best in Nas. "One Mic" makes this case perfectly. Even though Jay isn't referenced directly, it's safe to speculate that he was on Nas' mind. Nas is hungry and vexed and ferocious throughout "One Mic," which isn't what you might expect from a song built on a Phil Collins sample. A quiet storm swiftly explodes into a ball of flames, Ali punchinga bag while visualizing Frazier's face.
'If I Ruled the World'
Even at his most radio-friendly, Nas offers a message of hope and peace. Lauryn Hill's supple vocals helped make "If I Ruled the World" a surefiresummer smash.
You know how people introduce esteemed speakers by saying "This next guestneeds no introduction"? That's one way to look at "Ether," which needs no introduction. If you've never heard it, go listen to it right now.
"The Message" has one of the most memorable opening lines in rap history: "Fake thugs, no love, you get the slugs, CB4 gusto, your luck low, I didn't know till I was drunk though," Nas barks on the sassy opener to the album "It Was Written." 2Pac felt the shots were directed at himand fired back at Nas on "Bomb First." This entire song was a message to Biggie, as Nas later revealed. The line"There's one life, one love, so there can only be one King"was a warning shot to Biggie, whohad dubbed himself King ofNew York. Biggie promptly replied on "Kick in the Door": "Your reign on top was shorter than leprechauns."
Do you know how much focusit takes to kick a story backward and still have it make sense? People who have tried this technique find their brains hurting years later.
"Illmatic" accounts for many of Nas' greatest songs. It's such an incessantly enjoyablealbum that you could justifiablyinclude all 10songs here. One of the highlights is "One Love,"which finds Nas writing a letter to an incarcerated buddy over producer Q-Tip's jazz loop.
'The World Is Yours'
Nas connected with Pete Rock on this hot rock from "Illmatic." The song's message of self-belief is as much directed to himself as to his future seed:
"Thinkin' of a word best describin' my life
To name my daughter my strength
My son, the star, will be my resurrection
Born in correction all the wrong s*** I did
He'll lead a right direction."
'Made You Look'
Salaam Remi's spin on the classic "Apache" set up Nas for the post-battle smash,"Made You Look." "Ether" was Nas at his most combative,"Last Real N***a Alive" was hisrelease therapy, and"Made You Look" was the perfect victory lap: Usain Bolt taunting his rivals at the finish line.
'Life's a B***h'
"Life's a B***h" is as much a win for Nas as it is for then unknown AZ. The song benefits from the friendly competition among the two New York upstarts. AZ would go on to score a record deal after his deft turn on "Life's a B***h."
'It Ain't Hard to Tell'
The ingredients that make "It Ain't Hard to Tell" one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time are the same ones that make Nas a candidate for hip-hop's Mount Rushmore:vivid metaphors, poetic prowess, anda terrifyingly self-assured flow.Large Professor concoctsa neck snapperfrom Michael Jackson's"Human Nature," whileNas touts his street smarts, tossing stray jewels like confetti.
'Nas Is Like'
"Nas Is Like" is songwriting perfection. Nas spiffs up his nasty flow and makes his word dance harmonize with DJ Premier's slickcomposition. It's a song so good it would fit right in on "Illmatic."
'N.Y. State of Mind'
Not your typical tribute, "N.Y. State of Mind" paints a nightmarish pictureofa city enveloped in darkness and paranoia: guns, fiends, blunts, and stick-up kids. No pretty hooks, no guests, just Nas perched on the corner, painstakingly documenting the mayhem.
During the 44-minute interview, Nas named his top five rappers: J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, he listed without hesitation.
Nas' rap opinion is highly respected, seeing that he is considered by many as one of the top 5 rappers of all time. He recently celebrated the 10th year anniversary of his controversial album "Hip Hop is Dead".
Nas has been named the best rapper of all time in a new poll voted for by NME.COM readers. Nasir Jones – known to the 25m people to have bought his albums worldwide to date as simply Nas – broke new ground for rap in 1994 with 'Illmatic', a coming-of-age sprint through the sights and sorrows of his native Brooklyn.
1991–1994: The beginnings and Illmatic
Nas made his solo debut under the name of "Nasty Nas" on the single "Halftime" from MC Serch's soundtrack for the film Zebrahead.
To add to that list, Nas made history as the first non-Wu Tang Clan member to feature on one of their albums, when he appeared on “Verbal Intercourse” on Chef's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… which is one of the greatest guest verses in rap history.
Illmatic is Nas best album of all time; it's also the best rap album of the '90s, the best hip hop debut album of all time, and certainly of the greatest albums of all time, across all genres.