Nas, Hip-Hop’s Defending Champ
by Sean Reilly
To seasoned fans of rap and hip-hop, it seems like lifetimes ago that Nas first unveiled a glimpse of his talents as a feature on Main Source’s 1991 track Live At The BBQ. Arranged by MC Serch, who is credited with the discovery of the Queens native, the verse packed a serious punch of clever metaphors and lyrical ability. Twenty years and nine solo albums later, we look back on the career of one of the greatest and most influential rappers to ever take hold of that one mic, and look to the future at an artist who shows no signs of slowing down.
As is the case with many artists across the musical spectrum, Nas’ debut album, Illmatic, is his best. A common favorite in debates over the greatest Hip-Hop album of all time, Nas defined his intriguing album title in a 2009 XXL interview saying, “Illmatic is supreme ill. It’s as ill as ill gets.” In his effort to live up to this definition, Nas enlisted the most talented production team in Hip-Hop history. The credits include Nas’ early-career mentor Large Professor, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip and L.E.S., all of whom regularly attest to the brilliance of the then 20 year old rapper. Over 17 years after its 1994 release, the Hip-Hop world has done nothing but nod in agreement to claims of greatness, donning Illmatic and its genius creator with a royal reputation.
Riding the shockwave of Illmatic’s success beneath the streets of the East Coast and towards inevitable national reverence, Nas continued making music, releasing three more solo projects before the end of the millennium, each reaching platinum benchmarks. In 2001, Nas released one of his most anticipated albums, Stillmatic, as a reminder to his fans and foes that his pursuit of “beyond ill” was still his target, and he did not disappoint.
Over the next ten years and through today, Nas scoffs at the challenge that has defeated so many of his fellow artists: staying relevant while staying talented. While most of his early 90’s competition have since lost their touch and faded from the spotlight, Nas has maintained his throne strictly through evolving his uncanny lyrical talent rather than overcompensating with other ventures to stay current. With his recent career flashback track “Nasty” released in August, as well as a collaboration with Common on “Ghetto Dreams,” it is evident to the listeners that God’s Son has kept his pace and appears to have plenty left to say.
The cut and dry summation of Nasir Jones’ career is that of a true Hip-Hop mogul. From his first verse in ‘92, the conception of the uncontested Illmatic, the slew of platinum albums to follow, and plans for a tenth LP Life is Good in 2012, Nas should be viewed as nothing short of the greatest of all time. With Hip-Hop’s tendencies of constant evolution, true fans can only hope that Nas and his defining Illmatic will continue to hold the standard for contemporary rap to shoot for.