Nas Biography

Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones, 14 September 1973, Long Island, New York, USA. From the tough Queensbridge housing projects which brought the world Marley Marl, MC Shan and Intelligent Hoodlum, Nas made his name as a highly skilled rapper with the double whammy of 1994’s Illmatic and 1996’s It Was Written, albums whose music was crafted with a degree of subtlety and forethought often absent from the genre. Jones was heavily influenced by his jazz-playing father, Olu Dara, and started rapping at the age of nine, graduating to a crew entitled the Devastatin’ Seven in the mid-80s. He met Main Source producer Large Professor in 1989, in the course of recording his first demo tape. The producer introduced him to the crew, leading to his debut on Main Source’s 1991 collection Breaking Atoms, guesting on the cut ‘Live At The Barbeque’, where he was part of a skilled chorus line, alongside Large Professor and Akinyele. Though he was widely applauded for his contribution he failed to build on the impact, drifting through life and becoming disillusioned by the death of his best friend Will, and the shooting of his brother. He may well have stayed on the outside of the hip-hop game had not MC Serch (Nas had guested on his ‘Back To The Grill’) hired him to provide a solo track for the soundtrack to 1992’s Zebrahead. ‘Half Time’, again recorded with the Large Professor, was the result.

A debut album followed, ILLMATIC, a record which fulfilled the hope laid upon him and arguably one of the ten most important hip-hop records of all time, with contributions from the cream of New York’s producers: DJ Premier (Gang Starr), Pete Rock and Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest). A hefty unit for which Columbia Records were happy to pay the bill, judging Nas to be their priority rap act for 1994. Nas, who had by now dropped his ‘Nasty’ prefix, honed a rapping style that was at once flamboyant, but with a lyrical armoury that far surpassed the expected humdrum ‘bitches and ho’s’ routines. Serch, now A&R head of Wild Pitch Records, once declared Nas: ‘Pound for pound, note for note, word for word, the best MC I ever heard in my life’. There was now evidence to suggest he may have been correct. Commercial success followed when Nas’ second collection, It Was Written, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard album chart in July 1996. In 1997, he collaborated with Foxy Brown, AZ and Nature on the ‘supergroup’ project, the Firm. Nas’ long-time associate Cormega was originally planned to appear on the album, but was replaced by Nature sparking off a bitter rivalry between Nas and Cormega that rumbled on into the new millennium.

Although it demonstrated signs of a creative impasse, I AM... , which revealed the new Nas Escobar alias, showed no sign of his commercial popularity having diminished when it debuted at US number 1 in April 1999. His quality control standards dipped alarmingly on the half-baked follow-up Nastradamus, released the same November. Nas launched his Ill Will Records imprint in autumn 2000 with the debut release by his rap supergroup QB Finest, who enjoyed a national hit single with the salacious ‘Oochie Wally’. He set about rebuilding his creative and commercial standing with a string of well-received albums in the early 00s. In 2001, his lyrics given bite by a public beef with (among others) his former friend Jay-Z, Nas dropped STILLMATIC, a hint that there was still ample lifeblood in the Queens MC. 2004's STREET DISCIPLE (name taken from the first phrase he ever spit on wax on the Main Source track) contained a moving tribute to/duet with his father and the Iron Butterfly sampling "Thief's Theme." In January 2005, Nas married his partner of two years, the singer Kelis. That same year, he ended the fued with Jay-Z in a big way, joining the Brooklyn rapper on stage to embrace and trade freestyles, and by January 2006, Nas was signed to the Jay-Z run Def Jam. Later that year, He openly went to the Iron Butterfly well again, using the same looped sample for the title track to the confrontational HIP HOP IS DEAD, which sparked discussion in the rap universe, but was meant as a wake-up call more than a slam.

In 2008, the provocative rapper made headlines yet again when he announced the title of his next record would be a certain 6-letter racial slur. While he drew criticism from many corners, and Wal-Mart refused to stock an album with said title, Nas contended that he wanted to "take power [away] from that word." Ultimately, the record was released on July 15 of that year without a title (it defaulted to NAS). On the first single, "Hero," Nas wrote his own coda "So untitled it is/I never change nothin'...No matter what the CD called/I'm unbeatable y'all," and Nas ultimately got the last laugh as the album debuted at #1 and many downloads featured the album with its original title. That same year, Nas made news when he marched on Fox News for its unfavorable (and he contended, biased) coverage of African-American Presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.