Few hip-hop debuts have been as devastating as Nas's Illmatic. Recorded when he was just 19 and released on the back of his outstanding cameo on Main Source's Live At The Barbeque, it was a succinct and gritty discourse on Queensbridge street life – his literary, cinematic evocations matched by perfectly pitched beats from Pete Rock, DJ Premier, LES and Large Professor on stand-alone efforts like New York State Of Mind and Life's A Bitch. That the son of jazz musician Olu Dara has spent the rest of his career trying, and failing, to match it, only reasserts its potency. Flossier efforts like immediate follow-up It Was Written (1996) or I Am (1998) would divide critics, and it wasn't until his early 00s beef and battle for New York supremacy with Jay-Z (spawning the excellent Ether) that shades of the hungry Nas of old would start to re-emerge. The two would squash their beef by the mid-00s, paving the way for Nas to sign with Def Jam. After 2006's slight false start in Hip-Hop Is Dead, 2008's Untitled (widely known as Nigger) found him finally recapturing his elusive mojo, delivering his most focussed work since Illmatic and finally winning over old fans anew.
Followers: Eminem, Big L, 50 Cent, MC Serch, Bravehearts
Influenced By: Kool G Rap, Eric B Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, Marley Marl, MC Shan, The Last Poets...