In the mid-1990s, Nas and The Notorious B.I.G. were two New York-bred rappers ready to break onto the scene with their raw talent and unique approaches to rhyming. They both released their debut albums in 1994, with Nas’ Illmatic arriving in April and Biggie’s Ready to Die hitting store shelves in September. As Nas was preparing his 1996 sophomore LP, It Was Written, he took a page out of Big Poppa’s playbook.
The “One Mic, One Gun” MC reflected on the impact his Brooklyn colleague had on his music in a GQ interview published today (March 2). It Was Written sonically deviated from his bombastic first project, which was a creative move he made after seeing Big’s massive success with popular hits including “Juicy” and “Big Poppa.”
“These dudes didn’t want me to sell records,” the Queensbridge icon stated. “They wanted me to stay on an underground level, and I understand what they mean a little bit. But at the same time, Biggie made it different, where you can’t just be the hot dude that they liked from New York to Connecticut to Virginia. You got to hit the mainstream. You got to touch the world.”
It Was Written was largely produced by The Trackmasters, the duo behind smashes from the likes of JAY-Z, LL Cool J, and Mary J. Blige. Rather than tone down his lyrics to meld with the production, Nas worked to create tunes that would match his energy.
“I saw the same producers that I had worked with were now giving everybody else beats and then throwing me the same beats. That just wouldn’t do it for me,” he said of the direction his songs were taking at the time. “So I decided to make my rap style a little bit harder for them to follow. They’re not going to follow me on a song like ‘The Message.’ They’re not going to follow me on ‘I Gave You Power.’ They’re definitely not going to follow me on ‘If I Ruled the World.’ I got Lauryn Hill on it. They [didn’t] even fully get the Fugees at the time.”
When asked how his King’s Disease trilogy stacks up to his earlier albums like Illmatic, It Was Written, Stillmatic, and God’s Son, Nas confessed that only time will tell. “I don’t really know,” he admitted. “I’m working to just see what comes out so that 10 years from now, I can look back and have that answer.”
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