From 2001 to 2005, Nas was involved in a widely publicized feud with rapper Jay-Z; both rappers verbally attacked each other in their songs. The two formally ended their rivalry through duet performances at concerts sponsored by New York City-area hip-hop radio stations. In 2006, he signed to Def Jam, releasing his albums Hip Hop Is Dead in 2006 and an untitled album in 2008. In 2010 he released a collaboration album with Damian Marley and he plans to release a tenth solo studio album before the summer of 2011. In late may 2011, he revealed the title of his new album as "Life Is Good".
Nas was born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York. His father, Olu Dara, is a jazz and blues musician from Mississippi. His mother, Fannie Ann Jones, was a Postal Service worker. He has one sibling, a brother named Jabari Fret who assumes the alias Jungle. While his family lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Nas would play the trumpet on his home stoop at age four. His family moved to the Queensbridge Houses in the late 1970s. Nas began writing rhymes at the age of nine. His neighbor, Willy "Ill Will" Graham, influenced Nas's interest in hip hop by playing him records. Nas's parents divorced in 1985, and he dropped out of school in the eighth grade. He educated himself about African culture through The Five Per Cent Nation, the Bible and the Qur'an.
1989-1992: Career Beginnings
As a teenager, Nas enlisted his best friend and upstairs neighbor Willy "Ill Will Graham" as his DJ. Nas first went by the nickname Kid Wave before adopting his more commonly known alias of Nasty Nas. In the late 80's, 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 weren't in the studio, Nas would go into the booth and record his own material. However, none of it was 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. Nas performed the song "One on One" for the movie Street Fighter. 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.
Steve Huey of Allmusic described the lyrics in Illmatic as "highly literate" and "his raps superbly fluid regardless of the size of his vocabulary". Lyrically, Nas is perceived as "able to evoke the bleak reality of ghetto life without losing hope or forgetting the good times". Huey describes the Illmatic track "One Love" as "a detailed report to a close friend in prison about how allegiances within their group have shifted". 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".
1996–1997: It Was Written and The Firm
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. Nas traded manager MC Serch for 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 as a teenager in the projects.
Signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment label, The Firm 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. In addition to the firing of Cormega, Alex Trojano was featured as a start up producer in The Firm. 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 five rappers (the others being B-Real, Dr. Dre, 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 1998, Nas co-wrote and starred in Hype Williams's 1998 feature film Belly.
1997–1999: I Am... and Nastradamus
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. The album 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 for I Am... was "Hate Me Now", featuring Sean "P. Diddy" 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 latter 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". It was produced by Timbaland and featured R&B singer Ginuwine. The only pirated track from I Am... to make it onto Nastradamus was "Project Windows," featuring Ronald Isley. A number of the other bootlegged tracks later made their way onto The Lost Tapes, a collection of underground Nas songs that was released by Columbia in September 2002. The collection saw decent sales and received glowing reviews.
2000: QB Finest
In 2000, 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 Bridge 2001," which was based on Shan & Marl's 1986 recording "The Bridge."
2001: Stillmatic, feud with Jay-Z
After trading subliminal criticisms on various songs, freestyles and mixtape appearances, the highly publicized feud rivalry 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 debuted at number five on the Billboard album charts 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 52% while Jay-Z got 48% of the votes.
By October 2005, the two rappers had eventually ended their feud without violence or animosity. During Jay-Z's I Declare War — Power House concert, Jay-Z announced to the crowd, "It's bigger than 'I Declare War'. Let's go, Esco!" Nas then joined Jay-Z onstage, and the two then performed "Dead Presidents" together, which Jay-Z had sampled from Nas's song "The World Is Yours". The two also collaborated on a song called, "Black Republican" which can be found on Nas's album, Hip Hop Is Dead. They then collaborated again on a song called, "Success" from Jay-Z's album American Gangster.
2002–2005: God's Son and Street's Disciple
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 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.
After Nas released God's Son in 2002, 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 Mya.
Nas released his seventh studio album, the critically acclaimed double-disc Street's Disciple, on November 30, 2004. The album's first singles were "Thief's Theme" and "Bridging the Gap", which features his father Olu Dara on vocals. The album also includes "These Are Our Heroes", which accuses prominent sports stars and actors such as Kobe Bryant and O. J. Simpson of not setting good examples for the children who look up to them and neglecting their heritage and background. The videos for "Bridging the Gap" and "Just A Moment" received moderate airplay on MTV and BET. Although the album went platinum, its commercial profile was relatively low compared to the rapper's previous releases.
Nas was featured on Kanye West's album Late Registration on a song titled "We Major". West said the song was Jay-Z's favorite on the album, but West was unable to get Jay-Z to record a vocal for the final mix of the song. He also appeared on Damian Marley's song "Road to Zion" and several other songs such as "Death Anniversary" and "It Wasn't You" (featuring Lauryn Hill).
2006: Hip Hop Is Dead
In January 2006, Nas signed a label deal with Def Jam, emphasizing collaboration over competition with former rival Jay-Z. Nas's original title for his next album was Hip Hop Is Dead...The N (shortened to Hip Hop Is Dead), though the UK release features a bonus track at the end called "The N." The album featured production from will.i.am, Kanye West, Dr. Dre, Scott Storch, and NBA All Star Chris Webber, as well as longtime Nas collaborators L.E.S. and Salaam Remi and newcomer Wyldfyer. A street single named "Where Y'all At" was released in June 2006. It was produced by Salaam Remi, and contained a sample from Nas "Made You Look", but it did not make the final cut for Hip Hop Is Dead.
The title record and first single was produced by will.i.am, and contains the same melodic sample ("In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida") as Nas's 2004 single "Thief's Theme". 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.... A music video for "Can't Forget About You" premiered on February 5, 2007, the song featuring Chrisette Michele and sampling Nat King Cole's song "Unforgettable". Another video, Hustlers, featuring The Game, would follow. Also, Nas has stated in an interview with MTV that a video for "Black Republican" featuring Jay-Z is also underway. A reality series on MTV entitled Me and Mrs. Jones will feature the lives of Nas and Kelis, with Vibe magazine has reported that the show will premiere in 2008.
The title of the album generated controversy, as many fans and artists (particularly those of Southern origin) began to debate over the actual state of rap music's vitality. With this album, Nas became an unofficial leader of the "Hip Hop Is Dead" movement. Ghostface Killah, on his album Fishscale seemed to agree with Nas and cited Southern crunk and snap music as the primary reasons for why hip-hop was "dead". Many Southern acts, such as rappers Big Boi from Outkast, Lil Boosie, T.I., Young Jeezy, Dem Franchize Boyz, and D4L took offense to the title, taking it to be directed at their region in particular. However, southern rapper André 3000 from Outkast said in an interview that hip-hop is "dying". After the controversy died down, some of the mentioned rappers would go on and collaborate with Nas on several songs, such as T.I. on Dr. Dre's "Topless" and, more notably, Young Jeezy on his song "My President" off his 2008 album The Recession.
Nas worked on a song called "Shine On 'Em" for the film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou, which opened in US theaters on December 8, 2006. His song "Thief's Theme" was featured in one of the scenes in the Academy Award-winning movie The Departed directed by Martin Scorsese.
2007: Bill O'Reilly/Virginia Tech controversy and Greatest Hits
Nas performed at a free concert for the Virginia Tech student body and faculty on September 6, 2007, following the school shooting there. Nas was joined by John Mayer, Alan Jackson, Phil Vassar, and Dave Matthews Band. When announced that Nas was to perform, Bill O'Reilly and Fox News Channel denounced the concert and called for the removal of the rapper citing "violent" lyrics on songs including "Shoot 'Em Up", "Got Urself A Gun", and "Made You Look". During his Talking Points Memo segment for August 15, 2007, an argument erupted in which O'Reilly claimed that it was not only Nas's lyrical content that made him inappropriate for the event, citing the gun conviction on Nas's criminal record. In the midst of his debate with author Bakari Kitwana (The Hip Hop Generation), who defended Nas, claiming that Fox News had "cherry picked" select fragments of the songs to make their case, O'Reilly shouted, "Even in his personal life, man, he's got a conviction for weapons, all right? He's got a weapons conviction, sir! On his sheet! This is a school that had a mass murderer with a shotgun gunning down people—this guy has got a conviction for weapons, and you say he's appropriate? Come on!" O'Reilly repeated the claim another five times before cutting the segment short.
On September 6, 2007, during his set at "A Concert for Virginia Tech," Nas twice referred to Bill O'Reilly as "a chump," prompting loud cheers by members of the crowd. About two weeks later, Nas was interviewed by Shaheem Reid of MTV News, where he criticized O'Reilly, calling him uncivilized and willing to go to extremes for publicity.
Responding to O'Reilly, Nas, in an interview with MTV News, said:
He doesn't understand the younger generation. He deals with the past. The people he represents are Republican, older, a generation that has nothing to do with the reality of what's happening now with my generation. ... He's not really on my radar. People like him are supposed to be taught and people like me are supposed to let niggas like him know. I don't take him serious. His shit is all about getting facts twisted or whatever. I wouldn't honor anything Bill O'Reilly has to say. It just shows you what bloodsuckers like him do: They abuse something like the Virginia Tech [tragedy] for show ratings. You can't talk to a person like that.
He repeated this stance again in July 2008, when a dispute between Nas and O'Reilly led to Nas taking a petition to Fox News, and appearing on both Fox News, and The Colbert Report. Also in 2008, Nas challenged Bill O'Reilly to a public debate, to which O'Reilly did not accept.
Nas's former label, Columbia Records, released his Greatest Hits album in November. This compilation features 14 songs: 12 from his seven first studio LPs under the label and two newly recorded songs. One of the new tracks, "Less Than an Hour", features Cee-Lo of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley. The track is a new take on the theme of the hugely successful Rush Hour film trilogy starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, and appears on the Rush Hour 3 soundtrack as well. The other new track, "Surviving the Times", contains auto-biographical lyrics about Nas's career and features production by Chris Webber.
2008: Untitled album
On October 12, 2007, Nas announced that his new album would be called Nigger. Both left wing commentators, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and the 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 EP. In an interview with Angie Martinez, a host on New York's Hot 97, Nas stated that the issue had been raised as high up as the United States Congress.
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. He went on to say in a statement:
“ It's important to me that this album gets to the fans. It's been a long time coming. I want my fans to know that creatively and lyrically, they can expect the same content and the same messages. The people will always know what the real title of this album is and what to call it. ”
"Hero", the lead single from the album, was released on June 6, 2008, featuring R&B singer Keri Hilson and produced by Polow da Don. In the US, "Hero" reached number 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 87 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, and it peaked at number 39 on the Hot Canadian Digital Singles chart. It was also sampled for a Hustler production erotic video Barely Legal 96 Released on July 15, 2008, Untitled is Nas's second album with Def Jam, in conjunction with his own imprint, The Jones Experience. It features production from Polow da Don, stic.man of Dead Prez, Sons of Light & J. Myers, Mark Ronson, Cool and Dre, DJ Green Lantern, Salaam Remi, DJ Toomp and more. Guest appearances include The Game, Chris Brown, Keri Hilson, The Last Poets, and Busta Rhymes.
On July 2, 2008, Fila announced that Nas had signed a shoe deal, his second to date. Nas will promote the sneakers in magazines and wear them at concerts. Fila also plans on having Nas release a second sneaker with 1980s-oriented style during the 2008 holiday season.
Responding to Jesse Jackson's remarks and use of the word "nigger" on July 6, 2008 regarding President Barack Obama, Nas, in an interview with MTV News, said:
I think Jesse Jackson's the biggest player hater. 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. Goodbye, Jesse. Bye!
In an interview with MTV News in July 2008, Nas speculated that he might release two albums—one produced by DJ Premier and another by Dr. Dre—simultaneously the same day. Nas will also be featured Dr. Dre's long awaited upcoming album Detox.
On July 16, 2008, Nas performed "Hero" with Keri Hilson on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. The following week, on July 23, he appeared on The Colbert Report to discuss his opinion of Bill O'Reilly and the Fox News Channel. Nas accused the latter of bias against the African-American community and re-challenged O'Reilly to a debate. During the appearance Nas sat on boxes of more than 625,000 signatures gathered by online advocacy organization Color of Change in support of a petition accusing Fox of race-baiting and fear-mongering. At the end of the show Nas performed the song "Sly Fox" off his new album, to affirm his criticism of Fox News. On August 28, 2008, Nas performed "Sly Fox" on Late Show with David Letterman. On August 4, 2008 Nas performed "Hero" on The Wendy Williams Show. Nas is currently touring in "Rock The Bells." 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." On March 4, 2009 the second annual Smirnoff Signature Mix Series released Nas "If I Ruled the World 09" (feat.) Marsha Ambrosius
2009-2010: Distant Relatives with Damian Marley
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. The album was released May 17, 2010.
2010-Present: The Lost Tapes Pt. 2 and tenth studio album
On September 15, 2010 Nas announced on his Twitter "It's coming... LOST TAPES VOLUME TWO!!!". However, The Lost Tapes Vol. 2 wasn't released by the end of the year, and regarding the release of the compilation album Nas stated in an interview with MTV: "Because I kind of lost time, I really wanted to release [the album] in December, But I'm starting my next album. So I feel like I'll probably give 'The Lost Tapes' as a deluxe, maybe, on the next album for free. I'm trying to figure that out now".
Speaking about his upcoming tenth studio album, Nas called the album a "magic moment" in his rap career while mentioning that Swizz Beatz, DJ Premier, The Alchemist, Dr. Dre, Kanye West and RZA are possible producers on the LP. "A Milli" producer Bangladesh revealed that he produced some tracks for the album. Kane Beatz revealed he had recently worked with Nas. OFWGKTA member Frank Ocean has been confirmed to feature on Nas' tenth album. It was confirmed in late may 2011 that his new album would be titled "Life Is Good" and recently it has been confirmed that he will be collaborating with Mobb Deep in the new album.