Beginning with his classic debut, Illmatic (1994), Nas stood tall for years as one of New York City’s leading rap voices, outspokenly expressing a righteous, self-empowered swagger that endeared him to critics and Hip-Hop purists. The self-appointed King of New York battled numerous adversaries for his position atop the epicenter of East Coast rap, none more challenging than Jay-Z, who vied with Nas for the vacated throne left in the wake of the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 assassination. Such headline-worthy drama informed Nas’ provocative rhymes, which he delivered with both a masterful flow and a wise perspective over beats by a range of producers: legends like DJ Premier, Large Professor, and Pete Rock; hitmakers like Trackmasters, Timbaland, and will.i.am; street favorites like Swizz Beatz, Megahertz, and the Alchemist; and personal favorites of his own like L.E.S., Salaam Remi, and Chucky Thompson. Nas likewise collaborated with some of the industry’s leading video directors, including Hype Williams.
Born Nasir Jones, son of jazz musician Olu Dara, Nas dropped out of school in the eighth grade, trading classrooms for the streets of the rough Queensbridge projects, long fabled as the former stomping ground of Marley Marl and his Juice Crew as immortalized in “The Bridge.” Despite dropping out of school, Nas developed a high degree of literacy that would later characterize his rhymes. At the same time, though, he delved into street culture and flirted with danger, such experiences similarly characterizing his rhymes. His synthesis of well-crafted rhetoric and street-glamorous imagery blossomed in 1991 when he connected with Main Source and laid down a fiery verse on “Live at the Barbeque.”
Columbia Records meanwhile signed Nas to a major-label contract, and many of New York’s finest producers offered their support. DJ Premier, Large Professor, and Pete Rock entered the studio with the young rapper and began work on Illmatic. When Columbia finally released the album in April 1994, it faced high expectations; Illmatic regardless proved just as astounding as it had been billed.Nas reigned atop the New York rap scene alongside few contemporaries of equal stature.
In addition to his endless stream of hits by he co-starred in the Hype Williams-directed film Belly (1998) alongside DMX. All the while, Nas keep the albums coming, and works such as God’s Son (2002), the double album Street Disciple (2004) and Hip Hop Is Dead (2006) insisted upon Nas’s status as one of his generation’s top rappers. Nas is often named as one of the greatest hip hop artists. MTV ranked him at number 5 on their list of The Greatest MCs of All Time. In 2012, The Source ranked him No. 2 on their list of the “Top 50 Lyricists of All Time”. In 2013, Nas was ranked fourth on MTV’s “Hottest MCs in the Game” list. In 2014, About.com ranked him No. 1 on their list of the “50 Greatest MCs of All Time”.