Nas is one of the most celebrated lyricists in hip hop and, at one point, was New York’s prodigy child and lyrical poster boy. Known for his infamous battle with Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella records, Nas is definitely a rapper that has cemented his place in rap history. However, Nas’ albums have always been a bit hit and miss, so in this article, we’re going to be ranking Nas’ albums from worst to best.
Born and raised in the Queensbridge area of New York, Nas was one of the biggest names in underground hip hop during the early 90s, with his debut album Illmatic, to this day, still classed as a classic and a must-listen for any fan of hip hop. He was a rapper, songwriter and most importantly, a storyteller that other artists envied over. But unlike the big man Hov, Nas’ career never took off the way it was supposed to in the early noughties, and it could be something to do with his ability to adapt themes.
Nas was good at illustrating the run-down inner city and could romanticise very sombre themes and find the beauty in what most would consider squalor. However, when you elevate and are no longer in those places, your art has to reflect your reality, and perhaps, this is where Nas stalled. He had the lyrical skill and rapping ability, but his albums were thematically not changing or evolving as he exited a life of poverty.
Nas, as a creative, of course, continued to release albums after the 1990s, however, the sound of the early noughties was not a sound that gelled with Nas or his brand. Nas’ image was that of a tough, rough-cut, Queensbridge struggler, and his sound was that of 1990s producers such as DJ Premier and Large Professor. Very lo-fi, very analogue and sparse with more space for MCs to flow. However, the early noughties saw a shift, and many say it began with Ja Rule.
The early noughties saw hip hop become more melodic and softer, with songs such as ‘What’s Luv’ by Fat Joe and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ by Jay-Z doing exceptionally well, while more traditional boom-bap hip hop sunk to the bottom of the charts. Hip hop and R’n’B began to merge at one point, but singing, girlish melodies and R’n’B fusion tracks were not on Nas’ agenda, which saw him sink with the sound of the 90s. However, regardless of whether or not Nas was relevant outside of the 90s, his music remains some of the most memorable creations in all of hip-hop, and his contribution to the culture can never be negated.
Nas albums ranked worst to best:
10. Nastradamus (1999)
This turn of the millennium album is arguably what helped Nas know that the noughties were not going to be for him. Why? Because this is the album where he attempted to make records for both mainstream and hardcore hip-hop fans and failed. The Queens rapper failed to a severe degree and was shamed for how bad it was compared to his debut album Illmatic.
With an influx of unfavourable reviews upon its release, the album is considered one of, if not Nas’ weakest.
9. Street’s Disciple (2004)
A far cry from a flop, Street’s Disciple performed fairly well. However, there was a lot going on in hip hop at this time, and although the album was received well by critics, it was unable to compete with albums such as Eminem’s Encore, which went five times platinum the same year.
Street’s Disciple was for the streets and not for the charts. ‘Bridging the Gap’ was the only single to get on the Billboard Hot 100 and squeaked in, peaking at number 94. Critics enjoyed it, but, for the most part, the album went under the radar as other artists turned heads with a newer sound.
8. Untitled (2008)
Shrouded in controversy before its release, at several performances where Nas had revealed he was releasing a new project, he referred to the album as “N*gger”. The album’s working title was the N-word. The label on which it was going to be released made no immediate comment at the time, but it did not end up with that title. Nas ended up naming it Untitled, except for on iTunes, where it is called Nas. However, he had said it on so many occasions that fans knew the project, in reality, was entitled N*gga.
Again although the album was certified Gold upon release, the lead single ‘Hero’ featuring Keri Hilson peaked at 97 on the Billboard Hot 100, just squeezing in by two songs. The singles performed poorly, and the controversy overshadowed its content.
7. NASIR (2018)
Nas’ twelfth studio album, NASIR, was executively produced by Kanye West, and at only seven tracks long, it was one of five projects known as the ‘Wyoming Sessions’. Produced by West in his house and ranch in the vast, sparsely populated and agricultural state of Wyoming, NASIR was received very well and performed adequately.
Peaking at number five on the Billboard 200 album chart, only one single from the album again made the charts, with ‘Cops Shot The Kid’ debuting at number 96 on the Billboard Hot 100. At a mere seven tracks, it is actually debatable as to whether NASIR is an album or EP.
6. Distant Relatives (2010)
A collaborative album with Damian Marley, who executive produced the project, Distant Relatives is a pan-Africanist album that is very racially charged. It addresses the plight of the black man and woman. The album reflects on the history of the rapper and explores a potential utopian future.
Critics received it well, with The Guardian describing its music as “thoughtful, sincere, weighty stuff, tackling subjects from African poverty to the diamond trade without sounding preachy or schmaltzy”. Commercially it performed not so well. It debuted at number five on the US Billboard 200, but not one single entered the Billboard Hot 100, with the lead single not even managing to peak at 101.
5. Life Is Good (2012)
A solid body of work, Life Is Good is the rapper’s eleventh studio album. The project was released to a lot of critical acclaim and debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200. The album is mature and explores a lot of the rapper’s personal issues, from his divorce to his ever-changing relationship with his daughter Destiny.
With songs like ‘Daughters’ really showing the rapper’s vulnerability, the project showed a different side to the rapper, different to the hard, rough-cut Queensbridge Nas from the ’90s. The rapper’s collaboration with the late Amy Winehouse is also on this album, featuring smooth jazz instrumentation. If you’re looking for the ‘Ether’ Stillmatic Nas on this album, you won’t find him.
4. The Lost Tapes (2002)
The lost tapes is a compilation album, but it made quite the impact as it showcased what were, at the time, previously unreleased tracks that had been discarded during the rapper’s recording of I Am… and Stillmatic.
The Lost Tapes album was essentially a body of work comprised of album cuts that got lost. Listening to the tracks, you can still hear the emotion and grit of the 1990s, and you’re transported. The album peaked at number ten on the Billboard 200, but it has more cultural significance than a commercial one because fans got to hear these exclusive songs that had remained behind the scenes for years.
3. Stillmatic (2001)
One of Nas’ best. With the album containing the legendary ‘Ether’ track, Stillmatic is a heavy-duty hip hop album. There’s no doubt Nas’ made a classic with this project, and just a little over twenty years later, the album has aged like a fine wine.
This was Nas’ comeback record that (after a disappointing album in 1999) would put him back on top of the New York rap game, as many felt that Nas had been knocked off the top by Jay-Z and….well, it’s fair to say it definitely made Jay-Z wake up to Nas with the ‘Ether’ track absolutely obliterating Jay-Z’s track ‘Takeover’. Stillmatic showed to fans that Nas was coming into the new millennium strong and with a bang.
2. It Was Written (1996)
Debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200, It Was Written is Nas’ best-selling album to date and is certified triple-platinum. With a more polished sound that was less ‘raw’ so to speak, It Was Written had far more mainstream appeal but at the same time slightly alienated some of Nas’ hardcore fans who preferred the older Illmatic Nas, that was edgier and a better representation of the New York streets.
However, alongside projects such as Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z’s debut album, Nas’ third album was slightly more braggadocious in embracing what has been dubbed as “mafioso-rap”, talking more from the perspective of a rich mobster rather than from a poor person. But regardless of what the hardcore fans thought, it did bring Nas to a wider audience, so with classics such as ‘I Gave You Power’, ‘The Message’ and ‘Affirmative Action’, as well as production from DJ Premier and Dr Dre, this album has to land at number two.
1. Illmatic (1994)
The holy grail of New York and undoubtedly one of the best debut albums in hip-hop ever, Illmatic captivated listeners with its stories of struggle, constant commotion, heartache and misery. Illmatic could immerse non-New York residents and make them feel like they lived there for years with its detail. Illmatic could and did literally transport listeners globally to Queensbridge with the picture it painted.
Tracks like ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ have become classics. You don’t hear Illmatic tracks in the clubs, they were not made for drunken ears, they were made for the heart and soul. With producers such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Q-Tip all helping capture the sound of inner city life on the streets of Queens, Illmatic is an unforgettable listen and has cemented its place in the hip hop history books and at number one on this list.