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Remembering Nas’ album ‘It Was Written’ After 25 years,

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Nas Updates: Today (July 2) marks the 25th anniversary of Nas’ sophomore CD, ‘It Was Written,’ a 14-track classic on which he definitely crafted some of his best songs.

For nearly three decades, Nas has been a top MC. The Queens lyricist and Hit-Boy won the Grammy for Best Rap Album for King’s Disease a few months ago. This was, as we all know, Nas’s first Grammy win.

Even with the accolades that these types of awards garner, they do not begin to adequately showcase what the artist has meant to rap music. An astute storyteller, a trailblazer… the “rapper’s rapper.” Nas is who he is.

Today (July 2) marks the 25th anniversary of his sophomore album, It Was Written – a 14-track classic on which he definitely created some of his best work. To give you a sense of what was going on at the time, Nas had just released Illmatic, which many consider being the best hip hop album of all time and is still considered a gold standard in the genre.

Let’s Have a Look At Nas Album

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Following such a culture-shifting album as a young artist exposed him and the project to a slew of comparisons and critiques that didn’t age well. Yes, we can all nitpick and find things we don’t like about it – we’re all guilty.

But don’t get me wrong: It Was Written is a wonderful LP that only seems to get better with age. We get to hear a bit more polished artist as listeners, crafting his second chapter over distinctive Trackmasters production.

“See, It Was Written But Never Told, Look at the gems, Black man, it’s much better than gold.” – Nas, “Shootouts”

This project’s theme was clearly distinct from that of its predecessor. Aside from a more mafioso bent, the album had more sparkle, propelling Nas deeper into the mainstream than previously. With “The Commissioner” Steve Stoute on board as manager, It Was Written’s marketing strategy and general sonic direction almost immediately opened the door to further commercial success. The record soon became a success, selling 270,000 copies in its first week.

It had major singles including “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” and “Street Dreams.” The big features were there with Dr. Dre and Lauryn Hill, and it all came together without straying too far from what made diehard Nas fans fall in love with his creativity in the first place.

From a commercial standpoint, the “sophomore jinx” did not exist. Nas’s crew made a concerted effort to ensure that people were aware of this album before its release because they were confident in what they had developed. Stoute has related stories of taking and copying NYC parking tickets — one side appearing to be the ticket, but when you flip it over, the other side was a promotional piece for It Was Written with the release date.

We see promotional attempts like this every day, but in 1996, it was a novel strategy. People needed to hear this record, and Nas’s team made certain that they did.

Back in 2013, TDE’s own ScHoolboy Q declared It Was Written to be his favorite album, even saying it was better than Illmatic. Some people were vehemently opposed, but many others agreed that this was Nas’s best work.

I’m not bringing this up to rehash the issue, but to emphasize that this is one of those albums. The raps were top-tier, the themes were elevated, and Nasir’s musicality allowed him to incorporate melodies and cadences that took the song to a new level.

Nas’ flexibility as an artist was underlined by recordings like the iconic posse cut “Affirmative Action” with Foxy Brown, AZ, and Cormega; the storytelling on records like “I Gave You Power” or “Shootouts,” and the anthemic appeal of “If I Ruled The World” with Lauryn. He was covering more ground — and doing so with ease.

Other additional tracks worth mentioning, like “Take It In The Blood” and the hard-hitting Queensbridge collaboration with Mobb Deep on “Live Nigga Rap,” are all crucial to the album’s overall composition. Take, for example, two particular standouts:

Trackmasters created “The Message.”

Nas was in rare form, establishing a very high standard for the rest of the record right away. This is an important record not only for Nas or the project but for rap music as a whole.

It was clear from the start that he was sending a message to everyone who was creating a fuss at the moment, letting them know that he was, in fact, the top dog. The music borrowed Sting’s “Shape of My Heart,” which was a wonderful match for Nas’s furious rhymes.

“There were a lot of fresh rappers in the game, and a lot of us were creating noise,” the MC told Complex in 2016. JAY-Z, Mobb Deep, and Raekwon were all there. 2pac was going insane. Everyone was jockeying for positions. That was my reaction to ‘The Message,’ as in, ‘Yo, back up, everybody.'”

DJ Premier produced “I Gave You Power.”

The performance of “I Gave You Power” was outstanding. With Preemo on board, Nas wrote from the perspective of a loaded pistol, vividly describing its journey and the feelings that come with being a lethal weapon.

The metaphorical wording was excellent, keeping the listener interested with lines like “My body is cold steel for real, I was created to kill, that’s why they keep me hidden.” When asked about this song, Nas has acknowledged openly how prominent guns were in his life at the time, thus this was just another method to write his reality but in a different way.

“I may have taken your first child, scarred your life, or crippled your style, but I gave you the power and made you wild.”

So here we are, 25 years later, with Nas still outside. Rap is still going on. I’m still inspired. His most recent album featured guest appearances from Lil Durk, Don Toliver, and Five Foreign, but it also reunited The Firm on “Full Circle,” a collective created on It Was Written.

Nas’ second album has a multi-layered legacy. Back in 1996, it catapulted him into a new light as a star, and it continued to stretch his inventiveness and handwriting as an MC. It demonstrated that he could produce songs while retaining the artistic talent and honesty that have made him one of the best to ever sit in a booth.

It Was Written can stand up to any hip-hop release of all time, even after all these years. What more could an artist desire while putting together an album?

About the author

Hitesh Kumar

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