I’ve been yearning for years to say this publicly, so here it is: Y’all have had Nasir Jones fucked up for a while now.
For years people have publicly lambasted Nas. Nas made a turn around Nastradamus for more commercial success. The introspection and hunger that made Nas great disappeared. Around this time the public started being knit-picky about his career.
Most claimed he couldn’t pick beats and that he wasn’t relevant anymore. This was the end of the Golden Era entering the early 2000s. Also around this time a long-brewing beef with Roc-A-Fella records stalwart Sean Carter came to a head. By then, Jay-Z was the hottest rapper alive and the public was riding with him.
Younger readers may not remember, but the early 2000s Nas (Queens) and Jay-Z (Brooklyn) engaged in a public feud that dominated hip-hop chatter. Tensions between the two provided two of the greatest battle rap records of all time. Jay drew the line in the sand first unleashing “The Takeover” on The Blueprint. You whooper snappers wouldn’t understand this, but we had to actually wait for Nas’s response. The Blueprint was released on September 11, 2001. Nas released Stillmatic on December 18th, 2001. I was in high school and I vividly remember waiting for Nas’s response record. The scathing track “Ether” proved to be a haymaker. The word ether would become a mainstay in the lexicon of Hip hop culture going forward. The King was back, baby.
“Street’s disciple, my raps are trifle
I shoot slugs from my brain just like a rifle
Stampede the stage, I leave the microphone split
Play Mr Tuffy while I’m on some Pretty Tone shit
Verbal assassin, my architect pleases
When I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus
Nasty Nas is a rebel to America”
—Nas, “Live At The BBQ”
But the story of Nasir Jones is bigger than a single beef. In 1994, Nas came into the game with his verse on Main Source’s “Live At The BBQ” on The Breaking Atoms album. He was 17 years old and he completely stole the show. The only comparison that comes to mind is the hype surrounding LeBron when he transitioned into the NBA. Nas had the world by the throat just as his debut album was released.
In 1994, Nas debuted the crown jewel and the genre-shifting classic album Illmatic. The album was the perfect fusion of jazz and hip-hop. In retrospect, Illmatic changed everything about east coast rap. Artists had to completely switch up their flow. Nas’s lyricism was prolific and poignant, each internal rhyme scheme like a dart on assignment to the bullseye.
His couplets really coupled. Do you know what I’m saying? The album contained 10 songs and Nas eviscerated each one. The album made artists step their bars up. It made producers step their beats up. Keep in mind, up to this point we had not seen such diversity in production (Large Professor, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and L.E.S.) on a singular body of work. It introduced introspective rap on a mainstream level but also established Nas with a foot in mafioso rap. This is a blueprint he would follow for future albums.
“Before I blunt, I take out my fronts
Then I start to front; matter of fact, I be on a manhunt
You couldn’t catch me in the streets without a ton of reefer
That’s like Malcolm X catching the Jungle Fever
King poetic. Too much flavor, I’m major
Atlanta ain’t Brave-r, I’ll pull a number like a pager
Cause I’m an ace when I face the bass
40-side is the place that is giving me grace
Now wait, another dose and you might be dead
And I’m a Nike-head, I wear chains that excite the Feds
And ain’t a damn thing gonna change
I’mma performer strange, so the mic warmer was born to gain
Nas, why did you do it
You know you got the mad fat fluid when you rhyme, it’s halftime”
It is easy to forget the bars you just read were written by a teenager in 1994. I find that mind-blowing.
Nas would go on to assume the mantle of the King of New York. He would go on to have an illustrious career widely regarded as one of the GOATs of the craft. He made the song “Rewind for Christ’s Sake.” He f****** rapped backward for an entire song. Can you comprehend that? His creativity knew no bounds. Nas would star in what black people would call “a hood classic” called Belly with DMX. I can’t say it’s good. I can’t say it’s bad. But it did happen and it’s visually a masterpiece. Shout out to Hype Williams.
This kid from the Queensbridge Housing Projects that dropped out of school in 8th grade had reached the zenith of music. Nas is commonly referred to as your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. He has released 14 albums and finally won his first Grammy in 2021 for King’s Disease II. It has been a fairytale career.
What does a man like this do next?
He becomes a venture capitalist. You read that correctly. Nas—a top 3 greatest rapper ever—is now an investor in big tech. Over the past decade, Nas has built his business portfolio as an investor. He was an investor in Dropbox, Casper Sleep, Lyft, and SeatGeek. He also invested in Ring, which, was bought by Amazon.
He’s also become the self-proclaimed King of Crypto. In 2013 Nas invested in Coinbase, an online platform for buying, selling, transferring, and storing digital currency. More recently, Nas has given away two songs in NFT form using Royal, a blockchain-based music platform.
It’s uber empowering to see Nas go from project hallways to Silicon Valley. From being a product of the system to being a glitch in the matrix. A huge middle finger to white America. 8th-grade dropout, self-taught future billionaire.
On December 24th, 2021 Nas and Hot-Boy decided to leave a gift under our tree, in the form of an album called Magic. It was the third album the two artists produced together.
Of the songs on Magic, “Speechless” and “40-16” are two of my favorites. “Speechless” is the opening song and it sets the tone for the mission. From the door, Nas elicits our respect with the high quality of the bars. Each bar feels like it’s on a tightrope. You look down and it’s a steep fall, but Nas’s flow keeps the rhythm, so we don’t miss a step.
“40-16,” named after his old public housing, is menacing. The song features Nas in a reflective state. He reminisces and gifts us bars of peak Nas. It’s 2022 and it feels like Nas has seemingly defeated father time. His flow is full of life. He is still as sharp as he was as a teen in 1994.
“Ugly” is my favorite song on the album. It’s a masterpiece. Nas is in his goddamn bag the entire song. In my mind, he walked in the booth with an army jacket, stashed an uzi in the jacket lining, and his tooth is still chipped. His flow and lyrics here are on some ‘06 Kobe Bryant s***.
Never in my life did I think Hit-Boy and Nas would become a dynamic duo, but here we are. Nas bludgeons the song with dashes of realism on what is and what should be. He touches on Jam Master Jay buzzing his killers into the studio wishing he could take it back. He speaks on the murders of Marvin Gaye and Young Dolph. (“We taking out our brothers. Distorted faces, solemn features, we kill each other.”) The actuality of the situation makes you want to lose hope—if you have any left. The beauty in the wordplay leaves you wanting more even in its somber. That’s ugly. Lastly, the song confirms King’s Disease III is on the way. Most importantly Rest In Peace Young Dolph, Marvin Gaye, Mercedes Morr. Love.
Stoked for King’s Disease III. Well done Nasir and Hit-boy.