Nas is one of the best lyricists of all time. His 1994 debut album, Illmatic, is considered a classic and was inducted into the Library of Congress in 2021 due to its cultural impact. Furthermore, his 1996 sophomore project, It Was Written, which debuted at number one, has become a legendary body of work.
Both Illmatic and It Was Written contained hits such as ‘NY State Of Mind’ and ‘If I Ruled The World’. However, there was one specific artist that Nas (real name Nasir Jones) has highlighted as a figure who made him want to create “global hits”.
In an interview with the esteemed magazine GQ, Jones reflected on why It Was Written was slightly less gritty than his debut project. During the interview, the musician explained that although the underground nature of his debut was reflective of the streets, he knew that with his second album, he had to show versatility and make hits.
Jones admitted that it was his New York counterpart, Biggie Smalls, who opened his eyes to the necessity of crossing over into the mainstream. After hearing hits such as ‘Juicy’ and ‘Big Poppa,’ Jones admitted he realised his lo-fi, raw sound would only get him so far.
Opening up about it, Jones stated, “These dudes didn’t want me to sell records. 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.”
Nas explained how Biggie made songs that weren’t just relatable to people in Brooklyn but produced songs that people across the world could understand and appreciate. The Queensbridge legend professed that as more artists began to mimic his Illmatic sound, he wanted to stand out and make global hits, stating, “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.”
Nas worked with the likes of Dr Dre on his second album and its smooth production, partnered with hard-hitting lyrics paved the way for projects such as Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt which ushered in the era of Mafioso rap.