Real Name: Nasir Jones
D.O.B.: September 14th, 1973 Crown Heights, Brooklyn NY
Label: Def Jam Recordings
Known simply as Nas, formerly Nasty Nas, is the son of jazz musician Olu Dara. He is well known for his 1994 début album Illmatic, which many consider to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. This album established Nas as one of hip-hop’s most profound lyricists, introducing his signature poetic style. Raised in the notorious Queensbridge housing projects in New York City, he represents a continuation of a hip-hop tradition in Queensbridge that has spanned through early hip-hop, including the Juice Crew, Mobb Deep, and MC Shan.
Nas, whose given name Nasir means “helper and protector” in Arabic, spent the first years of his life in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. His father, Olu Dara was a jazz trumpeter and his mother Fannie Ann Jones was a Postal Service worker. He has one sibling, a brother named Jabari who assumes the alias Jungle. While in Brooklyn, Nas would listen to his father’s trumpet in his house’s stoop at age four. The family soon after moved to the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing project in the United States. Olu Dara left the household in 1986, when Nas was 13, and Ann Jones raised her two boys on her own. Nas soon dropped out of school in the ninth grade. He educated himself, reading about African culture and civilization, and the Qur’an. He also studied the origin of hip hop music, taping records that played on his local radio station. Nas interests moved away from playing the trumpet as a child to being a comic book hero artist.
Nas had settled on pursuing a career as a rapper, and as a teenager enlisted his best friend and upstairs neighbour Willy “Ill Will” Graham as his DJ. Nas first went by the nickname Kid Wave before adopting his more commonly known alias of Nasty Nas. Nas and Graham soon met hip-hop producer and Queens resident Large Professor (William Mitchell), who introduced Nas to his Toronto-based group, Main Source. In 1991, Nas made his on-record début with a verse on “Live at the Barbecue”, from Main Source’s LP Breaking Atoms. Despite the substantial buzz for Nas in the underground scene, the rapper was rejected by major labels and was not signed to a recording deal. Nas and Graham continued to work together, but their partnership was cut short when Graham was shot and killed by a gunman in Queensbridge on May 23, 1992.
In mid-1992, Nas was approached by MC Serch of 3rd Bass, who became his manager and secured Nas a record deal with Columbia Records the same year. Nas made his solo début on the single “Halftime” from Serch’s soundtrack for the film and became part of the Chang Gang productions with Freshy C Zebrahead. The single increased the buzz surrounding Nas and when MC Serch’s solo album is released later in the year, Nas’ stand-out appearance on “Back To The Grill” only intensified interest. Hailed as the second coming of Rakim, his rhyming skills attracted a significant amount of attention within the hip-hop community.
In 1994, Nas’s début album, Illmatic was finally released. Critically acclaimed and widely regarded as one of the best hip-hop albums of all time, Illmatic featured lyrics that portrayed stunning visual imagery. It also featured production from Large Professor, Pete Rock (one half of legendary group with C.L. Smooth), Q-Tip (frontman for A Tribe Called Quest), L.E.S. and DJ Premier (one half of Gang Starr) as well as guest appearances from Nas’s friend AZ and his father Olu Dara. Aside from Halftime, three moderately popular singles were released in order to promote Illmatic. However, due to widespread bootlegging and a lack of corporate appeal, the album did not do well in terms of record sales.
Following Illmatic, Nas appeared on AZ’s Doe or Die album, and collaborated with his Queensbridge-associates, Mobb Deep, on their album, The Infamous. One notable achievement during this period was Nas verse on “Verbal Intercourse” on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. It earned Nas a Source Quotable, and gave him the distinction (at the time) of being the only non-Wu-Tang Clan member to be featured on one of their songs. It also continued his “Nas Escobar” persona, in keeping with the Mafioso-theme of the album (the alias was introduced on Mobb Deep’s “Eye for an Eye” from “The Infamous” album.
Columbia began to press Nas to work towards more commercial topics, such as that of the rapper The Notorious B.I.G., who had become successful by releasing street singles that still retained pop-friendly appeal. Nas traded manager MC Serch for Steve Stoute, and began preparation for his second LP, It Was Written, consciously working towards a crossover-oriented sound. It Was Written, chiefly produced by Tone and Poke of Trackmasters, was released during the summer of 1996. Two singles, “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” (featuring Lauryn Hill of The Fugees) and “Street Dreams” using the same sample as Tupac Shakur’s All Eyez on Me base track and a remix with R. Kelly were instant hits. These songs were promoted by big-budget music videos directed by Hype Williams, making Nas a common name among mainstream hip-hop. It Was Written featured the debut of The Firm, a super group consisting of Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown, and Cormega. The album also expanded on Nas Escobar persona, who lived more of a Scarface/Casino-esque lifestyle. On the other hand, Illmatic, which, while having numerous references to Tony Montana and the theatrical hit featuring Al Pacino, was more about his life as a teenager in the projects.
The Firm signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment label, and began working on their début album. Halfway through the production of the album, Cormega was fired from the group by Steve Stoute, who had unsuccessfully attempted to force Cormega to sign a deal with his management company. Cormega therefore became one of Nas most vocal opponents, releasing a number of underground hip hop singles “dissing” Nas, Stoute, and Nature, who was Cormega’s replacement in The Firm. Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Nature Present The Firm: The Album was finally released in 1997 to mixed reviews and lackluster sales (though still reaching platinum) and the members of the super group went their separate ways.
At about this time, Nas became a spokesperson for the Willie Esco urban clothing line, but had no other connection with the clothing line. He stopped promoting Willie Esco in 2000, dissatisfied with the company’s operations. During the same period, Nas co-wrote and starred in Hype Williams’ 1998 feature film Belly
I Am… to Nastradamus
In 1998, Nas began work on a double album. It was to be entitled I Am…The Autobiography, which he intended as the middle ground between the extremes of Illmatic and It Was Written. The plans were for it to be a double album autobiography of Nas with each track detailing a part of his life. The album was completed in early 1999, and a music video was shot for its lead single, “Nas Is Like.” It was produced by DJ Premier and contained vocal samples from “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.” Much of the LP was leaked into MP3 format onto the Internet and Nas and Stoute quickly recorded enough substitute material to constitute a single-disc release. Those leaked tracks include “Amongst Kings,” “Blaze a 50,” “Drunk By Myself,” “Hardest Thing to Do Is Stay Alive,” “U Gotta Love It,” “Find Ya Wealth,” “Project Windows,” “Fetus,” “Wanna Play Rough,” “Sometimes I Wonder,” and “Daydreamin, Stay Scheming.”
The second single for I Am… was “Hate Me Now,” featuring Diddy, which was used as an example by Nas critics of him moving towards commercial themes. Hype Williams shot an allegorical video for the single, which featured Nas and Diddy being crucified in a manner similar to Jesus; after the video was completed, Diddy, a Catholic, requested his crucifixion scene be edited out of the video. However, the unedited copy of the “Hate Me Now” video made its way to MTV, and was premièred on April 15, 1999 on TRL. Within minutes of the broadcast, a furious Combs and his bodyguards allegedly made their way into Steve Stoute’s office and assaulted him, at one point apparently hitting Stoute over the head with a champagne bottle Stoute pressed charges, but he and Combs settled out-of-court that June.
Columbia had scheduled to release the pirated material from I Am… under the title Nastradamus during the latter half of 1999, but, at the last minute, Nas decided that he should record an entire new album for the 1999 release of Nastradamus. It was therefore rushed to meet a November release date. Though critics were not kind to the album, it did result in a minor hit, “You Owe Me.” It was produced by Timbaland and featured R&B singer Ginuwine. The only pirated track from I Am… to make it onto Nastradamus was “Project Windows,” featuring Ronald Isley. A number of the other bootlegged tracks later made their way onto The Lost Tapes, a collection of underground Nas songs that was released by Columbia in September 2002. The collection saw decent sales and received glowing reviews.
Nas vs. Jay-Z
The highly publicized feud rivalry between Nas and Jay-Z started when Nas failed to show up to a scheduled recording session to record the hook on Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt track, “Dead Presidents”.
Even though it was obvious to most hip hop heads that a rivalry existed between Nas and Jay-Z, the rivalry wasn’t made known to the general public until a rivalry between Nas, and Jay-Z’s protégé, Memphis Bleek. On his début album, The Coming of Age, Bleek made a song entitled “Memphis Bleek Is,” which was similar in concept to Nas single “Nas Is Like.” On the same album, Bleek recorded “What You Think Of That,” featuring Jay-Z. This contains the refrain, “I’ma ball ‘til I fall/What you think of that?”. In retaliation, “Nastradamus,” the title track from Nas second 1999 album, featured the quote, “You wanna ball till you fall, I can help you with that/You want beef? I could let a slug melt in your hat.” Memphis Bleek perceived the reference on “Nastradamus” as an insult, and retaliated against Nas on the lead single for his next album, The Understanding. That single, “My Mind Right,” stated “And only a few fit in, your lifestyle’s written/So who you supposed to be, play your position”.
In 2000, QB’s Finest was released on Nas Ill Will Records. QB’s Finest is a compilation album that featured Nas and a number of other rappers from Queensbridge projects, including Mobb Deep, Nature, Capone, the Bravehearts, Tragedy Khadafi, Millennium Thug and Cormega, who had briefly reconciled with Nas. The album also featured guest appearances from Queensbridge hip-hop legends Roxanne Shanté, MC Shan, and Marley Marl. Shan and Marley Marl both appeared on the lead single “Da Bridge 2001,” which was based on Shan & Marl’s 1986 recording “The Bridge.”
“Da Bridge 2001” also featured a response from Nas to Memphis Bleek, in which Nas retaliated with “Oh you didn’t, wanna know whose life was written/The life I’m livin” and “Jaws is broke, your whole crew is coffin bound/Your ho, your man, lieutenant, your boss get found”.
Jay-Z responded to Nas songs with an on stage swipe during the 2001 Hot 97 Summer Jam concert in New York City, when he premièred his song “Takeover”. Initially, the song was to only be a Mobb Deep diss it only included a single line about Nas near the end. Nevertheless, Nas recorded the “Stillmatic Freestyle”, an underground single which sampled Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid in Full” beat, and attacked Jay-Z and his Roc-A-Fella label. On his 2001 album, The Blueprint, Jay-Z added a third verse to “Takeover” dissing Nas, claiming that he had “…one hot album every ten year average” record (referring to Illmatic), that his flow was weak, and that he had fabricated his past as a hustler.
Nas responded with Ether, which begins with gunshots and a repeated, slowed-down sample from “Fuck Friendz” of Tupac Shakur rapping “Fuck Jay-Z.” In “Ether,” Nas accuses Jay-Z of stealing (“biting”) lyrics from The Notorious B.I.G., getting the name “Blueprint” from a previous KRS-One album of the same name, and brown-nosing Nas and other rappers for fame. Nas also claimed that all of Jay-Z’s raps on The Blueprint were inferior to the one guest verse on the album (Eminem’s on “Renegade”): Eminem murdered you on your own shit. Ether was included on Nas fifth studio album, Stillmatic, released in December 2001. Stillmatic managed to be not only a critically-acclaimed comeback album, but a commercial success as well, albeit not on the level of It Was Written and I Am…, the album debuted at #7 on the Billboard album charts and featured the singles “Got Ur Self A…” and “One Mic.”
Jay-Z responded to Ether with a song entitled “Supa Ugly,” going into detail about how he had sex with Carmen Bryan, the mother of Nas daughter Destiny. This wasn’t the first time Jay-Z alluded to his relationship with Nas daughter’s mother in the song “Is That Your Chick” the lost verses addition was said to be all about Jay-Z, Carmen and Nas. Nas dismissed the track by claiming that he was no longer with Bryan during the time the affair took place. In a recent interview, however, New York radio station Hot 97 settled the battle taking votes comparing “Ether”/”Stillmatic” and “Takeover”/”Supa Ugly,” and Nas won with 58% while Jay-Z got 42% of the votes.
Jay-Z also responded to Nas on Jay-Z’s 2002 album, The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse on the track named “Blueprint 2.” On that track, Jay-Z says that no matter what happened in the battle, he’s never been phony and that Nas is hypocritical for recording songs like ‘Black Girl Lost” and then turning around and taking advantage of those same lost black girls on tracks like ‘You Owe Me’. Jay-Z also claims that he single handedly revitalized Nas career by dissing him in the first place.
Nas spoke about the battle once more on the track “Last Real Nigga Alive” from the album God’s Son. On this track Nas breaks down how the battle went down. He raps about coming up in the game with fellow artists like the Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie Smalls and others. Nas raps how Jay-Z came in the mix with this line: “Jigga started to flow like us, but hit with ‘Ain’t No Niggas’”, how Jay-Z tried to attack when Nas and his mother went through a difficult time:
“I gave it all up so I can chill at home with mama/She was getting old and sick so I stayed beside her/We had the best times, she asked would I make more songs/I told her not till I see her health get more strong/In the middle of that, Jay tried to sneak attack/Assassinate my character, degrade my hood/Cause in order for him to be the Don, Nas had to go”. And on the track Nas had claimed victory, “I was Scarface, Jay was Manolo/It hurt me when I had to kill him and his whole squad for dolo”.
By October 2005, the two rappers had eventually ended their feud without violence or animosity. During Jay-Z’s I Declare War - Power House concert, Jay-Z announced to the crowd, “It’s bigger than ‘I Declare War’. Let’s go, Esco!” Nas then joined Jay-Z on-stage, and the two then performed “Dead Presidents” together, which Jay-Z had sampled from Nas song The World Is Yours. The two also collaborated on a song called, “Black Republican” which can be found on Nas most recent CD, “Hip Hop Is Dead.”
In December 2002, Nas released the God’s Son album including its lead single, “Made You Look” which utilized a pitched down sample of the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache”. The album peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts despite widespread internet bootlegging. Time Magazine named his album best hip-hop album of the year. Vibe gave it four stars and The Source gave it four mics. The second single, “I Can”, which reworked elements from Beethoven’s “Für Elise”, became Nas biggest hit to date during the spring and summer of 2003, garnering substantial radio airplay on urban, rhythmic, and top 40 radio stations, as well as on the MTV and VH1 music video networks. God’s Son also includes several songs dedicated to memory of Nas mother, who died of cancer in 2002, including “Dance”. In 2003, Nas was featured on the Korn song “Play Me”, from Korn’s Take a Look in the Mirror LP. Also in 2003, a live performance in New York City, featuring Ludacris, Jadakiss, and Darryl McDaniels (of Run-D.M.C. fame), was released on DVD as Made You Look: God’s Son Live.
Nas released his seventh studio album, the critically acclaimed double-disc Street’s Disciple, on November 30, 2004. The album’s first singles were “Thief’s Theme” and “Bridging the Gap”, which features his father Olu Dara on vocals. The album also includes “These Are Our Heroes”, which accuses prominent sports stars and actors such as Kobe Bryant and O. J. Simpson of not setting good examples for the kids that look up to them and neglecting their heritage and background in favour of white values. The videos for “Bridging the Gap” and “Just A Moment” received moderate airplay on MTV and BET. Although the album went platinum, its commercial profile was relatively low compared to the rapper’s previous releases.
Nas was featured on Kanye West’s album Late Registration on a song titled “We Major”. West said the song was Jay-Z’s favorite on the album, but West was unable to get Jay-Z to record a vocal for the final mix of the song. He also appeared on Damian Marley’s song “Road to Zion” and several other songs such as “Death Anniversary” and “It Wasn’t You” (featuring Lauryn Hill). In addition, Nas married R&B singer Kelis on January 8, 2005 in Atlanta, Georgia, after a two-year engagement.
At a free concert in Central Park, New York, Nas made a statement regarding the quality of 50 Cent’s music; “this is the real shit, not that 50 Cent shit!” 50 Cent responded on his single “Piggy Bank” by speaking negatively about Nas’ wife, Kelis; implying that she was promiscuous and calling Nas a “sucker for love.” Nas eventually decided to retaliate, and in July 2005 released “MC Burial (Don’t Body Ya Self)”, a song which taunts 50 Cent and his G-Unit crew, stating that 50 was “a sucka for death if I’m a sucka for love.” and “They say Jada defeated him, Joe too street for him/What’s next? I guess it’s for Nas to ether him” also, “Niggas don’t want beef, they vegetarian/Scared of pussy, you climbed out of caesarean/I’ll push your grown ass back in your mother’s womb”. However, despite all of this, Nas still claims to “have a lot of love towards 50”, claiming 50 didn’t understand his moves when they both were together at Columbia Records.
After rap duo Mobb Deep signed to G-Unit, they decided to diss Nas since G-Unit had beef with Nas. They released a diss song targeting Nas and the Bravehearts sometime in 2005 titled “It’s That…”
Hip Hop Is Dead
In January 2006, Nas signed a label deal with Def Jam, emphasizing collaboration over competition with former rival Jay-Z. Nas original title for his next album was Hip Hop Is Dead…The N (shortened to Hip Hop Is Dead), though the UK release features a bonus track at the end called “The N.” The album featured production from will.i.am, Kanye West, Dr. Dre, Scott Storch, and NBA All Star Chris Webber, as well as longtime Nas collaborators L.E.S. and Salaam Remi. A street single named “Where Y’all At” was released in June of 2006. It was produced by Salaam Remi, and contained a sample from Nas “Made You Look,” but it did not make Hip Hop Is Dead’s final cut.
The title record and first single was produced by will.i.am, and contains the same melodic sample (“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”) as Nas’ 2004 single “Thief’s Theme.” The album debuted on Def Jam and Nas new imprint at that label, The Jones Experience, at number one on the Billboard 200 charts, selling 355,000 copies—Nas’s third number one album, along with It Was Written and I Am…. A music video for “Can’t Forget About You” premièred on February 5, 2007, the song featuring Chrisette Michele and sampling Nat King Cole’s song “Unforgettable”. Another video, Hustlers, featuring The Game, would follow. Also, Nas has stated in an interview with MTV that a video for “Black Republican” featuring Jay-Z is also underway. A reality series on MTV entitled Me and Mrs. Jones will feature the lives of Nas and Kelis, with Vibe magazine has reported that the show will première in 2008.
The title of the album generated controversy, as many fans and artists (particularly those of Southern origin) began to debate over the actual state of rap music’s vitality. With this album Nas became an unofficial leader of the “Hip Hop Is Dead” movement. Ghostface Killah, on his album Fishscale seemed to agree with Nas and cited Southern crunk and snap music as the primary reasons for why hip-hop was “dead”. Many Southern acts, such as rappers Big Boi from Outkast, Lil Boosie, Young Jeezy, Dem Franchize Boyz, and D4L took offense to the title, taking it to be directed at their region in particular. Interestingly enough, prominent Southern rapper Lil Wayne seemed to agree with Nas blaming slumping record sales on the “modern” rappers’ laziness and lack of creativity.
Nas performed at a free concert for the Virginia Tech student body and faculty on September 6, 2007. Nas was joined by John Mayer, Phil Vassar, and Dave Matthews Band. When announced that Nas was to perform, Bill O’Reilly and Fox News Channel denounced the concert and called for the removal of the rapper citing “violent” lyrics on songs including “Shoot ‘Em Up”, “Got Urself A Gun”, and “Made You Look”. During his Talking Points Memo segment for August 15, 2007, an argument erupted in which O’Reilly claimed that it was not only Nas’s lyrical content that made him inappropriate for the event, but claimed repeatedly that Nas also had a “gun conviction” on his criminal record. In the midst of his debate with author Bakari Kitwana (“The Hip Hop Generation”), who defended Nas claimed that Fox News had “cherry picked” select fragments of the songs to make their case, O’Reilly shouted, “Even in his personal life, man, he’s got a conviction for weapons, all right? He’s got a weapons conviction, sir! On his sheet! This is a school that had a mass murderer with a pistol gunning down people—this guy has got-a-a-conviction for weapons, and you say he’s appropriate? Come on!” O’Reilly repeated the claim another four times before cutting the segment short.
Responding to O’Reilly, Nas in an interview with MTV News said:
“He doesn’t understand the younger generation. He deals with the past. The people he represents are Republican, older, a generation that has nothing to do with the reality of what’s happening now with my generation. … He’s not really on my radar. People like him are supposed to be taught and people like me are supposed to let niggas like him know. I don’t take him serious. His shit is all about getting ratings or whatever. I wouldn’t honor anything Bill O’Reilly has to say. It just shows you what bloodsuckers do: They abuse something like the Virginia Tech [tragedy] for show ratings. You can’t talk to a person like that.”
On September 6, 2007, during his set at “A Concert for Virginia Tech,” Nas twice referred to Bill O’Reilly as “a chump”, prompting a few members of the crowd to cheer in agreement. However, during his performance many students also boycotted by sitting or leaving the stadium area. About two weeks later, Nas was interviewed by Shaheem Reid of MTV News, where he criticized O’Reilly, calling him uncivilized and willing to go to extremes for publicity.
Nas’ former label, Columbia Records, released his Greatest Hits album in November. This compilation features 14 songs: 12 from his seven first studio LPs under the label and two newly recorded songs. One of the new tracks, “Less Than an Hour,” features Cee-Lo of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley fame. The track is a new take on the theme to the hugely successful Rush Hour film trilogy starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, and will appear on the upcoming Rush Hour 3 soundtrack. The other new track, “Surviving the Times,” contains biographical lyrics about Nas’ career and production by Chris Webber.
Nigger was originally scheduled for a February release, but January has come and gone without a proper single release. Nigger will be Nas’ second album with Def Jam, in conjunction with his own imprint, The Jones Experience. In response to the album’s title, many of the entertainment industry’s most famous names have expressed a sense of trust in Nas using the controversial term for his next full-length LP.
During an interview at the 50th Grammy Awards on February 10, 2008, while promoting his new album, Nas was asked which candidate he would be supporting in the upcoming presidential election. Nas responded, “Whoever can abolish this thing that doesn’t allow black people to vote after twenty three years.” Bloggers and other fans speculated that Nas was referring to the expiration of the temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and various internet urban legends surrounding their expiration. These rumors have been previously dispelled by groups such as the NAACP.
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- 1994 Illmatic (Platinum)
- 1996 It Was Written (2× Platinum)
- 1999 I Am… (2× Platinum)
- 1999 Nastradamus (Platinum)
- 2001 Stillmatic (Platinum)
- 2002 God’s Son (Platinum)
- 2004 Street’s Disciple (Platinum)
- 2006 Hip Hop Is Dead (Gold)
- 2010 Nigger (Platinum)
- 1997 The Firm: The Album (Platinum)
- 2000 QB’s Finest
- 2002 The Best of Nas
- 2002 From Illmatic to Stillmatic: The Remixes EP
- 2002 The Lost Tapes