Shapeshifting from Nasty Das to Escobar then NastradamusNas eventually returned to his roots throughout his artistic evolution as a rapper and songwriter.
Releasing 15 albums from his 1994 debut, Illmatic, his harder hip-hop “Nasty Nas” which reached No. 1 and chronicled his earlier life and growing years in the Queensbridge projects in Queens, New York, Nas continued his saga on the 1996 follow-up, It Was Written – which developed into its Nas Escobar persona living a Scarface-like existence – before closing the decade on the third album I am… and (third alter-ego) Nastradamus in 1999.
Nas’ powerful lyricism helped him dominate another realm of hip-hop throughout the 90s and which he continued to contribute throughout the 2000s and 2010s with Street Discipline in 2004, his eighth album hip hop is dead (2006), Life is Beautiful in 2012 and Magic in 2021.
Throughout her career, Nas has collaborated with Missy Elliot, Sean Combs (Diddy), Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey and others. He even co-wrote several tracks on Will Smith’s 1997 album, Big Willie Style, including co-writing Smith’s hit “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” which won a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1999.
Among his countless collaborations and hundreds of tracks in his catalog, here is a chronological overview of 10 songs showcasing the deeper range of Nas’ songwriting.
1. “The World is Yours” (1994)
The fourth single off Illmatic, ‘The World is Yours’ is a call to the people of Queensbridge projects, and the world at large, to get what they can from this world. It’s there for the taking. Many artists have sampled the song, including Lil Wayne in “Presidents” and Jay-Z in “Dead Presidents,” among others. For the track, producer Pete Rock reworked an excerpt from Ahmad Jamal’s 1970 “I Love Music” into a piano instrument following Nas’ searing lyrics:
I’m sippin’ Dom P, watchin’ “Gandhi” ’til I’m loaded
Then write in my rhyme book, all the words beyond the margin
To hold the mic, I throb, mechanical movement
It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine
Whose world is this?
The world is yours, the world is yours
It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine
Whose world is this?
This is yours
2. “New York State of Mind” (1994)
Another one Illmatic track, “NY State of Mind,” painted a tougher, weightier portrait of street life in two denser verses. Co-written with and produced by Chris Martin (DJ Premier), “NY State of Mind” incorporates excerpts from “Flight Time” by Donald Byrd and “Mind Rain” by Joe Chambers. Nas then recorded a follow-up to the track from his 1999 album, I am…with “NY State of Mind Pt. II.”
Dreamin’ I’m a gangsta, drinking Moets, holding TECs
Make sure the money was right, then I walked
Stock investments, stitch blocks to sell stones
Win shootouts with mega cops
3. “I Gave You Power” (1996)
Nas hit the mainstream with his second album, It Was Written, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and earned him a Grammy nomination (Best Rap Solo Performance) for the single “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” featuring Lauryn Hill. It was written was also the first Nas album to feature his short-lived supergroup, The Firm, featuring Cormega, AZ, and the Escobar persona of Foxy Brown and Nas, inspired by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. “I Gave You Power,” a more piano-dipped, jazz-fused track co-written with producer DJ Premier, tells the story from a gun’s perspective.
I’ve seen cold nights and bloody days
They catch and me the bullets spray
They use me wrong so I sing this song to this day
My body is cold steel for real
I was made to kill, that’s why they keep me hidden
Under the car seats, they sneak me into the clubs
Been in the hands of crazy thugs
They feed me when they load me with crazy slugs
Seventeen precisely, one in my head
They call me Desert Eagle, semi-auto with lead
I’m seven inch four pounds, been through so much manthere cities
4. “Street Dreams” (1996)
Using an interpolation of The Eurythmics’ 1983 hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and Linda Clifford’s 1979 soul single “Never Gonna Stop”, Nas’ “Street Dreams” featured a video inspired by the 1995 crime drama by Martin Scorsese. Casino. With a cameo from Scorsese, the late Frank Vincent, who starred in angry bull, Goodfellas, and Casinothe video was filmed around Las Vegas around the time of Tupac Shakur’s death.
A drug dealer’s fate reaches a key
Everybody’s looking for something
Street dreams are made of these
Knee shorts, for n—-s with big G’s
Who am I to disagree?
Everybody’s looking for somethingg
5. “Nas is like” (1999)
The first single from Nas’ third album I am…, “Nas is Like” marked the sixth collaboration between Nas and producer DJ Premier, who also co-wrote and produced the track weaving in a subtle string arrangement. Peaking at No. 3 on the Hot Rap Songs chart, the video features Nas rapping in the Queensbridge Projects.
Nas it’s like “Earth, Wind & Fire, rims and tires
Bulletproof glass, inside is the most real driver
Orbiting planets, line them up with the stars
Tarot cards you can see Pharaoh Nas
“Nas is like” Iron Mike, messiah type
Before Christ, after death
Last one left, let my money invest in stocks
6. “Hate Me Now”, with Sean Combs as Puff Daddy (1999)
Originally composed for Foxy Brown by producer D-Moet, Nas covered “Hate Me Now” and enlisted Sean Combs, who was playing Puff Daddy at the time, to join him on the second and final single. I am… . The song can be interpreted as a call to all Nas opponents and critics.
Escobar’s season is back
It’s been a long time, it’s been a long time coming
Looks like my death now
But you know there’s no turning back now
That’s what makes me; this is who I am
You can hate me now, (QB) but I won’t stop now
‘Cause I can’t stop now, (Bravehearts) you can hate me now
But I won’t stop now, cause I can’t stop now
You can hate me now, you can hate me nOuch
7. “A Microphone” (2001)
Co-written with James Mtume and Tyrone Gregory Fyffe, “One Mic”, taken from Nas’ fifth album, Stillmatic, samples part of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” and was featured in the 2017 documentary film The American Epic Sessions. The film tells the story of an engineer who restores an electric sound recording system lost since 1925 and involves 20 contemporary artists, including Willie Nelson, Elton John, Jack White, Alabama Shakes, The Avett Brothers and Nas, among others, to record songs on it for the first time in nearly 80 years.
“It was just music, people were expressing themselves with sound at the time, and it had nothing to do with the video, it had nothing to do with anything other than the song,” said said Nas of the film and the now antiquated technology. . “It shows me that there is so much more to do, there is so much further I can go, but now I know the beginnings; that gives me the roots of it all.
Yo, all I need is a mic, a beat, a scene
A n—- in front, my face on the front page
Only if I had a gun, a girl and a crib
A God to show me how to do the things his son did
Pure, like a cup of virgin blood, mixed with
151, a sip will make a—- flip
Write names on my hollow boards, plot some shit
The mad violence that I go body, this policy of the hood
Acknowledge it, leave the chopped bodies in the trash
The seeds watch us, grow and try to follow us
8. “I can” (2002)
“I Can” is a track by Nas with some words safer for children’s ears. More driven by motivation, the song conveys the message that when you believe in yourself, anything is possible. Released as the second single from Nas’ sixth album God’s Son, the song peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is Nas’ highest charting song to date on the chart.
i know i can
be what i wanna be
If I work hard for it
I will be where I want to be
I know I can (I know I can)
Be what I wanna be (Be what I wanna be)
If I work hard for it (If I work hard for it)
I’ll be where I wanna be (I’ll be where I wanna be)
9. “Hip-hop is dead” (2006)
With will.i.am, who also produced the track “Hip Hop Is Dead”, the title track of Nas’ eighth album, discussed the commercialization and filtered state of hip-hop music.
Everybody sound the same, market the game
Reminiscin’ when it wasn’t all business
If he got to where he started
So we all gather here for the dear departed
Hip Hop from a very young age
A homeboy became a man then a gangster
If the guys let me take my last sip of vodka
RIP, we’re gonna give your lungs to a Rasta
From turntables to mp3s
From “Beat Street” to Mickey D’s commercials
Gold cables at Jacobs
From simple facials to Botox and facelifts
I look over my shoulder
It’s about eighty n—– from my hood that appeared
And they came to show love
Concert sold out, and the doors are closed
10. “Girls” (2012)
From his 11th album Life is Beautiful, “Daughters” earned Nas Grammy nominations for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. Based on Nas’ own relationship with his daughter, Destiny Jones, the song reflects on fathers who question their own parenting skills and don’t have enough time with their daughters.
This morning I got a call, I almost broke my wig
This social network said “Nas go get your child”
She on Twitter, I know she won’t post a picture
Of herself underdressed, no inappropriate shit, right
Her mother cried when she answered
She said she didn’t know what was going through that kid’s head, she planted
(Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)