' discography reveals something most of his peers would kill for: a rich variety of records that touch on diverse topics all across the board. Oh, and did I mention that nearly all his albums were certified platinum? From the introspective expressionism of God's Son
to the biting commentary of Untitled,
Nas' versatility is simply undeniable. Here's an annotated list of his 10 solo CDs.
Nas' 1994 debut revealed a young hero at his most brazen. On "Life's a B*tch," Nas celebrates his youth: "I woke up early on my born day, I'm twenty years of blessin'/ The essence of adolescence leaves my body now I'm fresh'n/ My physical frame is celebrated 'cause I made it." But he's not completely oblivious of the struggle ahead, as he often paints grim pictures of life in the debilitated ghettos of Queensbridge. Illmatic
is not just Nas' best record, it's the best hip-hop album ever.
It Was Written
finds Nas trying to match the grit and glory of Illmatic
. One of the outstanding songs from Nas' 2nd entry was "The Message," which 2Pac saw as a personal attack because of the lines "Fake thugs, no love, you get the slug" and "Across the street you was wildin, talking 'bout how you ran the Island in eighty-nine." It also featured "If I Ruled the World," a classic collaboration with then 21-year old Lauryn Hill.
Third time wasn't exactly the charm for Nas. The dominant themes on I Am
-- wealth and vengeance -- showed a slight departure from the vivid street tales graced his first two albums. Still, the cinematic storytelling on "Undying Love" and the smart-but-funny boasts on "Hate Me Now" proved that Esco's creative juices were still flowing abundantly. This also gave yield to one of Nas' best songs, "Nas Is Like," a masterful collaboration with DJ Premier.
Nas fans often condemn Nastradamus
as his worst CD, mostly because of its overly ambitious vibe. Though a case can be made for the watered content on Nastradamus
, the album's bigger crime is that it lacks focus. Nas wanders aimlessly from pimp talk to thuggery, and leaves listeners with a collection of mediocre songs rather than a cohesive album.
The Lost Tapes
is not an album in the pure sense. Yet, it's noteworthy because of its superiority to half the stuff in Nas' catalog. This compilation of heavily bootlegged outtakes from previous albums shows a world-class MC whose worst effort is better than most people's best. Gems from Lost Tapes
include: "Drunk By Myself," which tackles alcoholism and depression and "Fetus," which is the most creative song about child birth ever made.
As the title suggests, Stillmatic
is Nas' attempt to repeat the classic feat of Illmatic
. He came pretty close, but let's just say this isn't quite Illmatic
arrived at the height of the legendary Nas vs. Jay-Z rivalry, so a few lines were devoted to that matter. Who am I kidding? "Ether" was devoted entirely to that topic. Other outstanding songs from Stillmatic
include "2nd Childhood" and "One Mic."
Every good artist has that one album where they show growth and maturity. For Nas, that album was God's Son
. The beauty of God's Son
is that Nas allowed the themes to evolve organically without forcing issues. Recorded at a time when he was still dealing with the painful experience of his mom's death, God's Son
reveals a rapper willing to show his vulnerable side. Memorable moments include: "Made You Look," "Dance," and "Book of Rhymes."
After 10 years in the rap game, Nas thought, "Hmm...how about a double album." While it had so many unyielding personal statements, Street's Disciple
wasn't without flaws. Interestingly, it suffered from the same issues that plagued Jay-Z's Blueprint 2
: excessive filler material. That said, some of Nas' finest moments ("Suicide Bounce," "Virgo," "Just a Moment") can be found on this album.
© Def Jam
On the cover of Hip-Hop Is Dead
, Nas holds out a black rose, while hunkering down on a symbolic tombstone with the words "Hip-Hop Is Dead" inscribed on it. This was by far the biggest statement of his career. One notable highlight was the first ever collaboration between erstwhile rivals Nas and Jay-Z, "Black Republican."
© Def Jam
Nas broke the rule of album titling when he decided to name his 9th CD after the most incendiary noun in the dictionary -- ni*ger. Sensing that the title was becoming a huge distraction from its message, Nas did the smart thing and changed the title to, well, no title at all. Despite the change, there's no shortage of red-hot rage on Untitled
, as Nas rails against greed on "America" and takes on Rupert Murdoch's Fox News on the instant classic "Sly Fox."
© Universal Music Group
Without a template to follow (no rapper has ever collaborated with a reggae artist on a full-length project), Nas and Damian Marley connect on the strength of their shared ancestry and music background. Both artists hail from music families, Nas' father Olu Dara being a jazz musician and Marley's father...well, he needs no introduction.
12. 'Life Is Good' (2012)
© Island Def Jam
That wine glass on the cover is half-full. The dress is a relic of bliss. The white suit signifies honesty and self-awareness. Nas got his good shoes on. Life is good.