Nas isn’t the wealthiest or most popular rapper in the game today. He’s rarely in the tabloids, and he doesn’t record features with today’s popular young rappers. Yet the 41-year-old is undeniably one of the most respected and original artists of the last two decades, all because he’s maintained the personality and style that he came up on.
In 1994, Nas released his highly-anticipated debut LP, Illmatic. The album dropped at #12 on Billboard 200 and both fans and critics instantly fell in love, praising it as one of the best albums of the decade. Though its sales were underwhelming on release, today the album is regarded as one of the most influential hip-hop albums of all time.
Nas, full name Nasir Jones, grew up in the largest housing development in the U.S. and dropped out of school in grade eight after becoming frustrated with the inner-city school system. Despite his lack of formal education, he had a passion to educate himself about everything from classical music, to spirituality and ancient Egypt.
“He was blending the best parts of the old school, that sort of attitude and swagger and mythology but then making it very modern.” – Minya Oh, NPR Interview
Combining his street smarts with his literary interests allowed him to tell the story of his neighbourhood in a larger social and political context. He didn’t glorify or sensationalize the projects. He presented an honest and thought provoking perspective that only someone with his wealth of knowledge and experience could produce.
“It’s important for me to give an honest opinion on the way the world has changed. I feel like it’s just who I am today… To answer your earlier question, why I’m still around, it’s because honesty is the best policy. – Nas, CNN Interview
Although his career has been far from flawless, Nas has avoided conforming to industry trends and has taken immense pride in his artistic credibility since the first tracks that he recorded. His wealth of knowledge and breadth of influences has allowed him to remain relevant and commercially viable in a constantly changing industry.
By staying true to his roots, Nas has maintained his unique voice and established a legacy as one of the most respected and influential musicians of the last two decades.
NPR Conversation with Nas and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s of A Tribe Called Quest – Nas: ‘I’m Still Charged’ 20 Years After ‘Illmatic’
Image Credit: BET.com
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