Nas, the greatest of his generation.(Source: The Quinnipac Chronicle)
Hip-hop legend Nas recently celebrated not only his 50th birthday but the 50th anniversary of the rap genre. The story of hip-hop can not be told without discussing Nas, who rose up to legendary status during the golden age of rap: the ‘90s.
So many legends rose to stardom during this era, from Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, and Jay-Z to Andre 3000, Lauryn Hill, Eminem and more. However, Nas is different from the rest of the pack.
Not only did he release some of the most lyrically crafted and high-quality albums of the ‘90s, he continues to release albums with the same top-notch quality in the 2020s. Currently, Nas has 17 studio albums, with each one of them adding onto the myth and legend of the Queens native.
Nas (born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones) launched into the stratosphere of hip-hop when he dropped what is considered by many to be the magnum opus of the entire genre, “Illmatic.” A multitude of rappers from different eras have gone on record saying they were directly inspired by Nas’ debut album, including Lil Wayne, Common, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar.
Whether it’s the iconic verses on “N.Y. State of Mind” or the smooth and catchy chorus on “The World Is Yours,” “Illmatic” served as a blueprint for the rappers of generations to come for how to successfully start a discography.
What separates Nas from the other artists of his generation is not only his riveting lyrics and freestyles, but his ability to tell unique and fascinating stories. Whether it’s spitting bars from the point of view of a gun on “I Gave You Power,” detailing his experience of the highs and lows of fatherhood on “Daughters” or telling an entire story in reverse on “Rewind,” Nas is always able to creatively tell stories while also putting the spotlight on important social issues, such as poverty, police brutality and racism.
The Queens rapper has always been able to hold his own against other emcees, including legends from his own time. The most famous rap battle Nas ever participated in was his years-long lyrical sparring match with Jay-Z.
After the New York native dissed Nas on “Takeover,” off his 2001 classic album “The Blueprint,” Nas fired back with everything he had on the track “Ether.” The brutal diss goes after Jay-Z in many different facets, from poking fun at his appearance, trashing his record label, claiming that other rappers out-rap him on his own songs and claiming that the New York rapper stole lyrics from the late Biggie Smalls.
The track even spawned the phrase “getting ethered,” which means to get insulted or humiliated publicly, which is certainly what Nas did to Jay-Z. Despite this, the story between these two New York legends has a happy ending as both rappers reconciled, and even went on to collaborate together on Nas’ 2006 album “Hip-Hop Is Dead.”
In more recent years, Nas has taken a more indirect approach to the rap game, dropping albums on his own time and experimenting with sounds. Some examples are the Jamaican inspired production on his collaborative album with DJ Damian Marley titled “Distant Relatives” to his 2018 project “Nasir” produced entirely by Ye (formerly known as Kanye West). Nas continues to find ways to innovate his own sound that stays refreshing and enjoyable to listen to.
However, the most impressive aspect to Nas’ game in recent years has been his consistency, which he matches with quality. In the 2020s alone, Nas has released two separate trilogies all executively produced by Hit-Boy.
The “Magic” and “Kings Disease” series showcases Nas’ rapping over modern-day beats with his iconic flow and pen game that seems to never run out. It seems as though Nas gets better with time as some of his best material has come out of these sessions with Hit-Boy, including “Magic” and “Kings Disease III,” which both feature Nas delivering quality verses over quality beats.
The six-album run between Nas and Hit-Boy officially came to an end in 2023 with the releases of “Magic 2” and “Magic 3,” coming within just a few months of each other, as both artists are looking forward to starting new chapters in their music careers.
Unlike some of the other rap giants from his era, Nas continues to deliver into the present day, with a wide variety of high-caliber albums in his catalog that will certainly continue to grow until the day he retires. His reputation, discography and passion for hip-hop make him stand out as the greatest rapper from the golden age of the genre.