We have a new season today, we'll be going through legendary New York rapper Nas' discography (click here for review of his first album 'Illmatic'), starting with his 1996 followup to an undeniable classic titled 'It Was Written'. Nas dropped what some say is the Bible of hip hop, so there was immense pressure to follow that up with a great album - but would he deliver?
The production on here isn't as good as the production on 'Illmatic' - but there's some really good beats on here with heavy boom bap drums and deep bass guitars, such as 'The Message' which also has a great sample of 'Shape of My Heart' by Sting as he shows off great storytelling, slick lyricism and mean bars, "Yo, overnight thugs bug ‘cause they ain't promised shit // Hungry-ass hooligans stay on that piranha shit", as he talks on fake thugs, takes shots at Biggie and talks on his own thug life before telling the story of planning a hit but being shot and betrayed by a friend. The 'Illmatic' samples are cool to catch, his flow and everything is spot on and it's an amazing intro and a near perfect song. There's also some meh beats, such as on 'Suspect' while isn't exactly bad, it's just basic and doesn't standout although Nas makes up for this with great poetic bars and many double/triple entendres, "His mom's had a stare I wouldn't dare second look when I murk // It hurt, kind of took it as a brief reminder // That the street's designed to stop ya life clock, the beast'll time ya", as he tells the story of killing a man and getting sent down for it as well as giving a commentary of the streets. The mean hook suits its purpose and Nas' flow is at it's best here and it's a key highlight on here despite not really having a standout instrumental. Piano's are a key component of this album, as most beats have a glossy piano or some keys in there somewhere, such as on 'I Gave You Power' as he uses great and very graphic metaphors and storytelling, "My abdomen is the clip, the barrel's my dick // Uncircumcised, pull my skin back and cock me", to personify a pistol as he goes through its life cycle and all the violence - the pistol hates being apart of the violence and wants it to stop but the cycle of black on black violence continues. It's a very create and interesting concept, explored perfectly as Nas smashes it. A few misses production wise, but overall the beats are great especially at the start and they allow Nas to manoeuvre over them so it serves its purpose.
Nas has the most creative ways of wording even the most simplest things, such as on 'Street Dreams', "God sake, what a n**** got to do to make a half a million // Without the FBI catching feelings?", "Two sips from being alcoholic // Nine-hundred-ninety-nine thou' from being rich // But now I'm all for it", as he talks on a day as a drug dealer and his desire to get rich and problems with alcohol. The bass guitar in this is great as are the drums and it's a really nice beat with a nice hook and again the smoothness of Nas' performance makes this song as attractive as it is. However, the biggest attraction of this album is Nas' impeccable storytelling - this has some of the best storytelling ever, as shown on songs like 'Shootouts' as verse 1 talks on a police officer and snitch having sex as Nas and his crew burst in and kill them both, while verse 2 describes shootout with 2 gangs and the police as he sets the scene in only a way he can with creative lyrics and detailed storytelling. The beat is so entertaining on this with it's flickering glossy piano complimenting the gritty, muddy atmosphere well as the loop sounds great and it's one of the most gripping songs on here and one of Nas' best songs full stop. Even within that storytelling he stays very poetic, metaphoric and slick with his lyricism, as on 'Take It in Blood', "Put poetry inside a crack pot and blow", as he describes the king pin lifestyle of selling drugs, strapping guns, making money etc. over these glossy piano keys with a deep bass and great boom bap pattern. It's another smooth sounding and enjoyable track and a perfect display of rapping. It's truly one of the most lyrically dense albums ever and proof Nas has one of the best pen games ever. He has one of the best flows ever as well, and comes off so slick and effortless as rapping is too easy for him - his gritty delivery reflects the mood of the album perfectly as well to match that great flow.
There's not many features, but the ones that are here all do really well. They demonstrate chemistry with Nas and do their job as the album moves on, Nas picked some good features for this project. One example being the posse cut 'Affirmative Action', as AZ drops a verse with smooth lyricism and great punchlines as he slides on this with an amazing flow, Cormega's mean bars and slick lyricism, "My destiny's to be the new boss // That n**** Paulie gotta die, he too soft // That n****'s dead on, a ki of heroin // They found his head on the couch with his dick in his mouth // I put the hit out", match his mean delivery and Foxy Brown drops a vivid verse and comes with such a swagger and aura that makes her stand out. The track focuses on the drug lord lifestyle of selling drugs on a large scale and bathing in the luxury that comes with it, as Nas drops great bars and proves his majestic way with words, "Life's a bitch, but God forbid the bitch divorce me // I'll be flooded with ice, so Hell fire can't scorch me". The spiraling guitar strings give this beat a kick, and of course the bass guitar and boom bap drums are fine - it's a near perfect song and despite me loving every feature I think the end of Foxy Brown's verse goes on for too long and she starts waffling - it's the only minor flaw of the album so far. 'Live N**** Rap' has a feature from Mobb Deep, as Prodigy comes with a great flow, delivery, rhyme schemes and solid bars as Havoc's husky delivery and smooth flow gives us a solid verse over this Mobb Deep type beat which is a dark and murky boom bap beat with a deep bass which sounds exceptional. Nas' verse is full of great bars as the three describe the projects in Queens and what it's like as well as how good they are compared to the competition. It's a great track, but it doesn't grip me as much as other tracks on here or get me as hyped - I do like it just noticeably less than others. 'If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)' see's Lauryn Hill provide nice vocals and a good hook (which isn't anything special though) over this more mainstream beat with a "mwoab" sounding bass and glossy piano keys which partner well with a great boom bap beat - it's not the best here but it's enjoyable. He talks on what laws he'd implement if he ruled the world - more or less lists his dreams and this is the mainstream song of the project, it does its job and is catchy. It's not one of my favourite on here as there's so many 10/10 songs here but it definitely has some of the most replay value due to Lauryn's glossy hook.
Content wise, he focuses on life in the hood as the main concept and takes us through different events that may go on, as on 'The Set Up' which see's Nas plan revenge on people who killed his friends, using girls to entice them for sex before jumping in and killing them. Nas uses some incredibly vivid storytelling over this decent, stripped back boom bap beat which lets Nas do his thing. Havoc brings his usual aggressive style to the hook, and it fits the concept as this is a great track - but probably the least standout track so far (but still really good). Nas also takes more of a king pin persona for this album. The content is very strong, he really paints an image of all the violence and crime in the hood and just everyday life there, with very detailed and deep imagery. 'Watch Dem N****s' talks on how you have to watch those people close to you, as it's all about making money in the hook and even your inner circle would betray you for some money. Nas provides slick and complex lyricism with detailed description and mind blowing metaphors over these great synths and bass, and Nas' incredible flow keeps this interesting the whole way through and keeps up this perfect start to the album. 'Nas Is Coming' see's Nas talk on running the streets, shooting his opps and owning the rap game over this heavy bass and boom bap drums which sound amazing as Dr. Dre makes such an entertaining beat with some great keys. He really paints an image in your head on this track with his poetic metaphors as well as us getting a simple yet catchy hook - partner that with the best beat of the album and Nas' perfect rapping and you have another amazing song. 'Black Girl Lost' follows the life of a good girl gone bad who's become a bit of a "whore" and has resulted to drugs just to get by over this more upbeat, glossy beat I can't say is my favourite but I enjoy. Nas provides some great and powerful storytelling and this is a powerful track with a solid beat and great verse - Nas' rapping is amazing as per on here and it's another perfect song.
To conclude, this is a classic album and perfect follow up to a top 3 hip hop ever. Some say it's better than 'Illmatic' - and while I disagree due to the better production and slicker hooks of its predecessor, the rapping on this album is definitely better. The content is interesting, the rapping is some of the greatest ever and it just runs so smooth and polished throughout its run time. There might be a few 9/10 or even 8/10 songs - but nothing on here is below great so it's a solid 10 in my opinion solidifying him as the only rapper (other than Eminem) to have more than one 10/10. Nas had solidified him as top 10 ever with only 2 albums at this point in time - and the pressure for him to drop another great album to follow up 2 near perfect albums was at an all time high, so, would he deliver?
FAVOURITE TRACKS: The Message, Street Dreams, I Gave You Power, Watch Dem N****s, Take It in Blood, Nas Is Coming, Black Girl Lost, Suspect, Shootouts
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: Live N**** Rap
OVERALL RATING: Solid 10/10