The Beatbox: Nas

In 2006, Jay-Z signed Nasir Jones to Def Jam Records after the two New York rappers had been embroiled in an epic public battle that many thought Jones — or, rather, Nas — had won. That strange twist perhaps says as much about Jay-Z’s marketing acumen as it does Nas’ continued viability. Finding a rap artist who has remained relevant for as long as Nas has is rare. For that alone, the Queens native deserves an award for lifetime achievement. Nas released Illmatic in 1994, a steady barrage of aggressive street reportage and unimaginably layered rhyme schemes that earned the young MC five mics in The Source (when that magazine’s reviews still mattered). Two years later, Nas dropped It Was Written, another critical success. Based on those two efforts, Nas established himself as one of the most talented lyricists in hip-hop, following in the Bigfoot steps of Slick Rick and Rakim. After Nas put out a series of mediocre albums during the mid-’90s, Jay-Z finally coaxed him back to original form through their well-publicized exchange of words a few years ago. Two of the albums that followed, Stillmatic and Hip Hop Is Dead, re-established Nas as one of hip-hop’s most dominant — and marketable — lyricists.

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