The 1990s remains to this day, one of hip-hop’s most important decades. The decade saw the genre diversify and grow, which in turn, led to the emergence of underground subgenres across the US. However, some artists were mainstays, and Nas was undeniably one of them. Having released his acclaimed debut album, Illmatic, in 1994, with anticipations high, Nas knew he had to have a solid plan to avoid the infamous sophomore fall-off.
The Queensbridge emcee had released an instant classic, according to critics. Still, the lyricist knew he couldn’t merely produce a duplicate. In 1995, Nas and his then-manager, Steve Stoute began to find out how the rapper could make a more significant impact with his second project, It Was Written.
Nas worked with a range of producers for It Was Written. The ‘N.Y State of Mind’ rapper had worked with a small group of producers for his debut project—most notably renowned beatmakers like Large Professor, Q-Tip, and DJ Premier. However, the icon knew he had to change things for his second album.
For It Was Written, Nas worked with old school producers such as Marly Marl of Juice Crew but also utilised ’90s pioneers such as Dr Dre, The Trackmasters as well as Havoc of Mobb Deep. In an interview with music publication Complex, the rapper spoke about the various producers he worked with for the 1996 album.
Speaking with regard to Havoc, the Queensbridge artist (real name Nasir Jones) told the publication, “I love Havoc’s tracks and wanted to work with him by any means. I wound up with two from him. I was trying to work fast, because I was trying to get so much done with him.”
The rapper also elaborates on working with Dr Dre, stating, “I’m a big fan of Dr Dre. When Illmatic came out, he came to a show I did at a club that Prince owned called Glam Slam West in L.A. It was one of the illest L.A. clubs back then. Someone would always get shot outside, but important people would be there, and it would always be live. I came on stage holding a cognac glass of Hennessy, with a cigar in my other hand—that was my style then. Someone told me Dre was there, and so I went to see him after my show, and we kicked it.”
Recorded in 1995, reflecting on when Dr Dre played him the beat for ‘Nas Is Coming’, “When he did Dr Dre Presents…The Aftermath, he called me and I got on a song with him and a few people called ‘East Coast/West Coast Killas.’ I saw right there, Dre wasn’t about the drama, he was about making records. He called me and said, ‘I got this record for you.’ He played the sample over the phone and I went crazy! I recorded in Dre’s house, at this banging studio he had. It was real chill, just us, happy to work together.”
It Was Written boasted some classic tracks such as ‘If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)’ and ‘Street Dreams’, the album was a big hit and was certified triple platinum by the RIAA. It is Nas’ best-selling album of all time. You can listen to the project below.