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Top 10 Non-'Illmatic' Nas Songs

Ashley Velez |
April 19, 2014 | 12:16 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Nas celebrates 20 Years of his debut album, "Illmatic." (Columbia Records)
Nas celebrates 20 Years of his debut album, "Illmatic." (Columbia Records)
Nasty Nas has been in the game for more than two decades and has been nothing less than ill. 

“Illmatic” debuted exactly 20 years ago and marked the inauguration of yet another hip-hop heavyweight from New York. The album instantly received five mics from The Source and is still regarded as one of the best hip-hop records of all time.

The 1994 debut of “Illmatic” reawakened East Coast hip-hop and influenced the style of rappers nationwide. Songs like “N.Y. State of Mind,” “Represent” and “The World Is Yours” put the Queensbridge native on the map. The 10-song album can easily take over any Nas Lover’s top song list but this week we celebrate 20 years of Nas with his greatest non-Illmatic tracks.

1.“One Mic”- “Stillmatic”- 2001

It’s impossible not to get chills while listening to this track. Nas uses his staggering story telling techniques to make the listener feel like he or she is in the heat of the gun blasts and police sirens. The song samples “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins and comments on street life and his desire to change the world with a microphone. Each verse starts off on a slow cook that comes to a boil as the beat gets heavier and Nas snaps. The adrenaline-pumping track flawlessly showcases the rapper’s deep lyrical content and artistry.

2.“Ether”- “Stillmatic”- 2001

If you’re going to come for Nas, make sure he sent for you. Jay-Z was the target of what was perhaps the greatest diss track of all time. There was nothing subliminal about this track when Nas spit, “That ether, that shit that make your soul burn slow.” He left it all out on the track and got downright ugly as he dissed every inch of Jay’s being. Although the hip-hop legends have since buried the hatchet, the beef between Nas and Jay bread one of the most intense diss records in hip-hop history. 

3.“The Message”- “It Was Written”-1996

Speaking of diss tracks, “The Message” proved that no one was granted amnesty in rap politics while Nas reigned supreme. The song uses the guitar strings from Sting’s “The Shape Of My Heart” and features samples from the classic “N.Y. State Of Mind.” The gritty track came out during the Jay-Z, Tupac and Biggie era, just after Biggie was being called the "King of Rap." Although Tupac believed that the track was aimed at him, this track was intended to keep every rapper on his toes as Nas solidified his position as a top contender.

4.“I Gave You Power”- “It Was Written”- 1996

Nas’ metaphorical storytelling techniques easily make him one of the most adroit lyricists in hip-hop. “I Gave You Power” is a potent track where Nas raps from the perspective of a gun. The song details the vicious and careless cycle of gun violence from the most commanding weapon of all. Its heart-wrenching lyrics make listeners face the realities of street savagery from the viewpoint of the barrel.

5.“Affirmative Action”- “It Was Written”- 1996

Nas wasn’t the only lyrical killer from New York. His groupmates AZ, Foxy Brown, and Cormega (who was later replaced by Nature) from “The Firm” delivered verses that went dumb hard. The simple beat on “Affirmative Action” showcased the fire that each artist brought to the track. Nas spits the unforgettable line, “Life’s a bitch but God forbid the bitch divorce me,” and Foxy slays the final verse. The super-group went on to make many hits together but Nas had the most longevity of the team.

6.“Nas Is Like”- “I Am…”- 1999

Nas reminded the world why he caused such a stir in 1994 when he teamed up by DJ Premier for the immaculate production of “Nas Is Like.” The track samples “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” from “Illmatic.” His eloquent lyrics make him stand out from many hip-hop greats. One of the most memorable lines is, “Much success to you, even if you wish me the opposite. Sooner or later, we’ll all see who the prophet is.” 20 years later, it’s clear who the true hip-hop visionary is.

7.“Purple”- “The Lost Tapes”- 2002

Aside from using the mic as an escape from the terrors that surrounded him, Nas relied on herbal supplements to stimulate his mind. Nas sits back as he blazes and spits the truth about the violence in his neighborhood and the misused idea of the glorified gangsta. The nostalgic beat and honest lyrics make this track unforgettable, especially for those who light up from time to time and reflect on the madness in the world.

8.“Poppa Was A Playa” – “The Lost Tapes”- 2002

Nas gets personal on this track as he details the unstable relationship his parents had. His father, jazz musician Olu Dara, was apparently caught up with many women during Nas’ upbringing. Still, Nas explains that he loves his dad for being around when he saw that many fathers were missing from his peers’ lives. The intimate narrative was produced by Kanye West and touches on personal themes of infidelity, drugs, family, and fatherhood. 

9.“Made You Look”- “God’s Son”- 2002

This track is unforgettable from the first second it plays. It starts with a single gunshot and Nas proceeds with fire. The Bravehearts Chant added to the exceptional production on this track by Salaam Remi. This song is the perfect victory lap as Nas laughs at his so-called contenders. His rivals were already shaken and he wanted to remind them who was on top. Nas raps past the beat with a final line that leaves his opponents unconscious. 

10.“If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)”- It Was Written- 1996

This song earned Nas a Grammy nomination and gained plenty of mainstream attention. Nas was no longer a secret and this gave him a chance to display his poetic story-telling techniques to the world. The hip-hop queen, Lauryn Hill, lent her vocals to this memorable collaboration that addresses the truths about poverty, violence and “the system.” Nas revealed in an interview with COMPLEX that one of his biggest regrets was not contributing to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” when he had the chance. They were very close but the timing just didn’t work out. We can only imagine what that would have sounded like. There’s still time for another collaboration, Nas!

Reach Staff Reporter Ashley Velez here. Follow her on Twitter here



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