Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones (born September 14, 1973), better known as Nas, is an American rapper, songwriter and actor. He is the son of jazz musician Olu Dara. Since 1994, Nas has released eight consecutive platinum and multi-platinum albums and sold over 25 million records worldwide. Aside from rapping and acting, Nas is an entrepreneur through his own record label, retail sneaker store, and magazine publishing. He serves as Mass Appeal Magazine’s associate publisher as well as an owner of a Fila sneaker store. He is currently signed to Def Jam Recordings.
As a teenager, Nas enlisted his best friend and upstairs neighbor Willy « Ill Will » Graham as his DJ. Nas initially went by the nickname Kid Wave before adopting his more commonly known alias of Nasty Nas. In the late 1980s, he met up with the producer Large Professor and went to the studio where Rakim and Kool G Rap were recording their albums. When they were not in the studio, Nas would go into the booth and record his own material. However, none of it was ever released. In 1991, Nas performed on Main Source’s « Live at the Barbeque ». In mid-1992, Nas was approached by MC Serch of 3rd Bass, who became his manager and secured Nas a record deal with Columbia Records the same year. Nas made his solo debut under the name of « Nasty Nas » on the single « Halftime » from Serch’s soundtrack for the film Zebrahead. Called the new Rakim, his rhyming skills attracted a significant amount of attention within the hip-hop community.
In 1994, Nas’s debut album, Illmatic, was finally released. It was awarded Five Mics from The Source. It also featured production from Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S. and DJ Premier, as well as guest appearances from Nas’s friend AZ and his father Olu Dara. The album spawned several singles, including « The World Is Yours », « It Ain’t Hard to Tell », and « One Love ». Shaheem Reid of MTV News called Illmatic « the first classic LP » of 1994. In 1994, Nas also recorded the song « One on One » for the soundtrack to the film Street Fighter.
Steve Huey of Allmusic described Nas’ lyrics on Illmatic as « highly literate » and his raps « superbly fluid regardless of the size of his vocabulary », adding that Nas is « able to evoke the bleak reality of ghetto life without losing hope or forgetting the good times ». Reviewing Nas’s second album It Was Written, Leo Stanley of allmusic believed the rhymes to be not as complex as those in Illmatic but still « not only flow, but manage to tell coherent stories as well ». About.com ranked Illmatic as the greatest hip hop album of all time, and Prefix magazine praised it as « the best hip-hop record ever made ».
Columbia Records began to press Nas to work towards more commercial topics, such as that of The Notorious B.I.G., who had become successful by releasing street singles that still retained pop-friendly appeal. In 1995, Nas did guest performances on the albums Doe or Die by AZ, The Infamous by Mobb Deep, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx by Raekwon and 4,5,6 by Kool G Rap. Nas also parted ways with manager MC Serch, enlisted Steve Stoute, and began preparation for his second LP, It Was Written, consciously working towards a crossover-oriented sound. It Was Written, chiefly produced by Tone and Poke of Trackmasters, was released during the summer of 1996. Two singles, « If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) » (featuring Lauryn Hill of The Fugees) and « Street Dreams », including a remix with R. Kelly were instant hits. These songs were promoted by big-budget music videos directed by Hype Williams, making Nas a common name among mainstream hip-hop. It Was Written featured the debut of The Firm, a super group consisting of Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown, and Cormega. The album also expanded on Nas’s Escobar persona, who lived more of a Scarface/Casino-esque lifestyle. On the other hand, Illmatic, which, while having numerous references to Scarface protagonist Tony Montana, was more about his life growing up in the projects.
Signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment label, The Firm (The Firm was an American hip hop supergroup that formed in New York City in 1996. It was created by rapper Nas, his manager Steve Stoute, producer Dr. Dre and production team the Trackmasters. The group was composed of East Coast-based rappers Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ and Nature, who served as a replacement for Cormega after he was ousted from the group) began working on their debut album. Halfway through the production of the album, Cormega was fired from the group by Steve Stoute, who had unsuccessfully attempted to force Cormega to sign a deal with his management company. Cormega subsequently became one of Nas’s most vocal opponents and released a number of underground hip hop singles « dissing » Nas, Stoute, and Nature, who replaced Cormega as the fourth member of The Firm. Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Nature Present The Firm: The Album was finally released in 1997 to mixed reviews. The album failed to live up to its expected sales, despite being certified platinum, and the members of the group disbanded to go their separate ways.
During this period, Nas was one of four rappers (the others being B-Real, KRS-One and RBX) in the hip hop super-group Group Therapy, who appeared on the song « East Coast/West Coast Killas » from Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath.
In late 1997, Nas began work on a double album, to be entitled I Am… The Autobiography; he intended it as the middle ground between Illmatic and It Was Written, with each track detailing a part of his life. In 1998, Nas co-wrote and starred in Hype Williams’s 1998 feature film Belly. I Am… The Autobiography was completed in early 1999, and a music video was shot for its lead single, « Nas Is Like ». It was produced by DJ Premier and contained vocal samples from « It Ain’t Hard to Tell ». Music critic M.F. DiBella noticed that Nas also covered « politics, the state of hip-hop, Y2K, race, and religion with his own unique perspective » in the album besides autobiographical lyrics. Much of the LP was leaked into MP3 format onto the Internet and Nas and Stoute quickly recorded enough substitute material to constitute a single-disc release.
The second single on I Am… was « Hate Me Now », featuring Sean « Puff Daddy » Combs, which was used as an example by Nas’s critics of him moving towards commercial themes. The video featured Nas and Combs being crucified in a manner similar to Jesus; after the video was completed, Combs requested his crucifixion scene be edited out of the video. However, the unedited copy of the « Hate Me Now » video made its way to MTV. Within minutes of the broadcast, Combs and his bodyguards allegedly made their way into Steve Stoute’s office and assaulted him, at one point apparently hitting Stoute over the head with a champagne bottle. Stoute pressed charges, but he and Combs settled out-of-court that June. Columbia had scheduled to release the pirated material from I Am… under the title Nastradamus during the later half of 1999, but, at the last minute, Nas decided to record an entire new album for the 1999 release of Nastradamus. Nastradamus was therefore rushed to meet a November release date. Though critics were not kind to the album, it did result in a minor hit, « You Owe Me ».
In 2000, Nas & Ill Will Records Presents QB’s Finest, which is popularly known as simply QB’s Finest, was released on Nas’s Ill Will Records. QB’s Finest is a compilation album that featured Nas and a number of other rappers from Queensbridge projects, including Mobb Deep, Nature, Capone, the Bravehearts, Tragedy Khadafi, Millennium Thug and Cormega, who had briefly reconciled with Nas. The album also featured guest appearances from Queensbridge hip-hop legends Roxanne Shanté, MC Shan, and Marley Marl. Shan and Marley Marl both appeared on the lead single « Da Bridge2001, » which was based on Shan & Marl’s 1986 recording « The Bridge. » Fans and critics feared that Nas’ career was declining, artistically and commercially, as both I Am… and Nastradamus were criticized as inconsistent.
After trading subliminal criticisms on various songs, freestyles and mixtape appearances, the highly publicized feud between Nas and Jay-Z became widely known to the public in 2001. Jay-Z, in his song « Takeover », criticized Nas by calling him « fake » and his career « lame ». Nas responded with « Ether », in which he compared Jay-Z to such characters as J.J. Evans from the sitcom Good Times and cigarette company mascot Joe Camel. The song was included on Nas’s fifth studio album, Stillmatic, released in December 2001. Stillmatic peaked at number five on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and featured the singles « Got Ur Self A… » and « One Mic ».
In response to « Ether », Jay-Z released the song « Supa Ugly », which Hot 97 radio host Angie Martinez premiered on December 11, 2001. In the song, Jay-Z explicitly boasts about having an affair with Nas’s girlfriend, Carmen Bryan. New York City hip-hop radio station Hot 97 issued a poll asking listeners which rapper made the better diss song; Nas won with 58% while Jay-Z got 42% of the votes. In 2002, in the midst of the feud between the two New York rappers, Eminem cited both Nas and Jay-Z as being two of the best MC’s in the industry, in his song ‘Till I Collapse. Both the feud and Stillmatic signalled an artistic comeback for Nas after a string of inconsistent albums. The Lost Tapes, a compilation of previously unreleased or bootlegged songs from 1997 to 2001, was released by Columbia in September 2002. The collection attained respectable sales and received rave reviews from critics.
In December 2002, Nas released the God’s Son album including its lead single, « Made You Look » which utilized a pitched down sample of the Incredible Bongo Band’s « Apache ». The album peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts despite widespread internet bootlegging. Time Magazine named his album best hip-hop album of the year. Vibe gave it four stars and The Source gave it four mics. The second single, « I Can », which reworked elements from Beethoven’s « Für Elise », became Nas’s biggest hit to date during the spring and summer of 2003, garnering substantial radio airplay on urban, rhythmic, and top 40 radio stations, as well as on the MTV and VH1 music video networks. God’s Son also includes several songs dedicated to memory of Nas’s mother, who died of cancer in April 2002, including « Dance ». In 2003, Nas was featured on the Korn song « Play Me », from Korn’s Take a Look in the Mirror LP. Also in 2003, a live performance in New York City, featuring Ludacris, Jadakiss, and Darryl McDaniels (of Run-D.M.C. fame), was released on DVD as Made You Look: God’s Son Live.
God’s Son was critical in the power struggle between Nas and Jay-Z in hip hop at the time. In an article at the time, Joseph Jones of PopMatters stated, « Whether you like it or not, ‘Ether’ did this. With God’s Son, Nas has the opportunity to cement his status as the King of N.Y., at least for another 3–4-year term, or he could prove that he is not the savior that hip-hop fans should be pinning their hopes on. » After the album’s release, he began helping The Bravehearts, made up of his younger brother Jungle and friend Wiz (Wizard), put together their debut album, Bravehearted. The album features guest appearances from Nas, Nashawn (Millennium Thug), Lil Jon, and Jully Black.
Nas released his seventh studio album Street’s Disciple, a sprawling double album, on November 30, 2004. It addressed subject matter both political and personal, including his impending marriage to recording artist Kelis. The double-sided single « Thief’s Theme »/ »You Know My Style » was released months before the album’s release, followed by the single « Bridging the Gap » upon the album’s release. Although Street’s Disciple went platinum, it served as a dropoff from Nas’ previous commercial successes.
In 2005, New York-based rapper 50 Cent dissed Nas on the song « Piggy Bank », which brought his reputation into question in hip hop circles. In October, Nas made a surprise appearance at Jay-Z’s highly publicized I Declare War concert, where they reconciled their beef. At the show, Jay-Z announced to the crowd, « It’s bigger than ‘I Declare War’. Let’s go, Esco! ». Nas then joined him onstage, and the two performed Jay-Z’s « Dead Presidents » (1996) together, a song that featured a prominent sample of Nas’s « The World Is Yours » (1994). The reconciliation created the opportunity for Nas to sign a deal with Def Jam Recordings, of which Jay-Z was president at the time. He signed Nas in January 2006. The signing included an agreement that Nas was to be paid about 3 million dollars, including a recording budget, for each of his first two albums with Def Jam.
Tentatively called Hip Hop Is Dead…The N, Hip Hop Is Dead was a commentary on the state of hip hop and featured « Black Republican », a hyped collaboration with Jay-Z. The album debuted on Def Jam and Nas new imprint at that label, The Jones Experience, at number one on the Billboard 200 charts, selling 355,000 copies—Nas’s third number one album, along with It Was Written and I Am…. It also inspired reactions about the state of hip hop, particularly controversy with Southern hip hop artists who felt the album’s title was a criticism at them. Nas’ 2004 song « Thief’s Theme » was featured in the 2006 film The Departed. Nas’s former label, Columbia Records, released the compilation Greatest Hits in November.
On October 12, 2007, Nas announced that his next album would be called Nigger. Both progressive commentators, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and the conservative news station Fox News were outraged; Jackson called on entertainers to stop using the epithet after comedian Michael Richards used it onstage in late 2006. Controversy escalated as the album’s impending release date drew nearer, going as far as to spark rumors that Def Jam was planning to drop Nas unless he changed the title. Additionally, Fort Greene, Brooklyn assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries requested New York’s Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to withdraw $84 million from the state pension fund that has been invested into Universal and its parent company, Vivendi, if the album’s title was not changed. On the opposite side of the spectrum, many of the most famous names in the entertainment industry expressed a sense of trust in Nas for using the racial epithet as the title of his full-length LP. Nas’s management worried that the album would not be sold by chain stores such as Wal-Mart, thus limiting its distribution.
On May 19, 2008, Nas decided to forgo an album title. Responding to Jesse Jackson’s remarks and use of the word « nigger », Nas called him « the biggest player hater », stating « His time is up. All you old niggas’ time is up. We heard your voice, we saw your marching, we heard your sermons. We don’t want to hear that shit no more. It’s a new day. It’s a new voice. I’m here now. We don’t need Jesse; I’m here. I got this. We the voice now. It’s no more Jesse. Sorry. Good bye. You ain’t helping nobody in the ‘hood and that’s the bottom line. »
The album was ultimately released on July 15, 2008, untitled. It featured production from Polow da Don, stic.man of Dead Prez, Sons of Light & J. Myers, « Hero », the album’s lead single, reached number 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 87 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks. In July, Nas attained a shoe deal with Fila. In an interview with MTV News in July, Nas speculated that he might release two albums—one produced by DJ Premier and another by Dr. Dre—simultaneously the same day. Nas worked on Dr. Dre’s studio album Detox. Nas was also awarded ‘Emcee of the Year’ in the HipHopDX 2008 Awards for his latest solo effort, the quality of his appearances on other albums and was described as having « become an artist who thrives off of reinvention and going against the system. »
At the 2009 Grammy Awards, Nas confirmed he was collaborating on an album with reggae musician Damian Marley which was expected to be released in Fall 2009. Nas said of the collaboration in an interview « I was a big fan of his father and of course all the children, all the offspring, and Damian, I kind of looked at Damian as a rap guy. His stuff is not really singing, or if he does, it comes off more hard, like on some street shit. I always liked how reggae and hip-hop have always been intertwined and always kind of pushed each other, I always liked the connection. I’d worked with people before from the reggae world but when I worked with Damian, the whole workout was perfect ». A portion of the profit is planned to go towards building a school in Africa. He went on to say that it was « too early to tell the title or anything like that ». The Los Angeles Times reported that the album would be titled Distant Relatives. Nas also revealed that he will begin working on his tenth studio album following the release of Distant Relatives. During Fall 2009 Nas used his live band Mulatto with music director Dustin Moore for concerts in Europe and Australia.
After announcing a possible release in 2010, a follow-up compilation to The Lost Tapes (2002) was delayed indefinitely due to issues between him and Def Jam. His eleventh studio album, Life Is Good (2012) was produced primarily by Salaam Remi and No I.D, and released in August 2012. Nas called the album a « magic moment » in his rap career.
In 2011, Nas announced that he would release collaboration albums with Mobb Deep, Common, and a third with DJ Premier. Common said of the project in a 2011 interview, « At some point, we will do that. We’d talked about it and we had a good idea to call it Nas.Com. That was actually going to be a mixtape at one point. But we decided that we should make it an album. » Life is Good would be nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
In January 2013 Nas announced he had begun working on his twelfth studio album, which will be his final album for Def Jam. The album will be released during 2014. In October 2013, DJ Premier said that his collaboration album with Nas, would be released following his twelfth studio album. In October 2013, Nas confirmed that a rumored song « Sinatra in the Sands » featuring JAY-Z, Justin Timberlake, and Timbaland would be featured on the album. It was reported on September 10, 2014 Nas has finished his last album with Def Jam.