In case you ask any average hip hop fan to mention the greatest Nas songs, his hits from the “Illmatic” album will feature prominently in the list. It was during this period that Nas was at his peak. His songs featured some incredible beats and lyrics that painted vivid pictures of the New York City borough of Queens. He also worked with iconic hip hop legends such as DJ Premier, Q-tip, Pete Rock, Large Professor, and L.E.S.
Although many of his traditional fans may not agree with me, Nas has released some great songs even after “Illmatic.” Songs like “One Mic,” which was released in 2001, and “Nas Is Like: which was released in 1999, can go toe to toe with the best singles from the “Illmatic” album.
Since 2020, Nas has had some sought of renaissance that has seen him release two studio albums. The first album, King’s Disease, was released on 21st August 2020 with guest appearances from Big Sean, Charlie Wilson, and many more artists.
The album has gained numerous positive reviews from critics and earned Nas his first Grammy Award for Best Rap Album during the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. In 2021, Nas released King’s Disease 2, an album from the same sequel. Nas has also influenced many musicians in the last 25 years. J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Rapsody, and Nick Grant have all cited Nas’s influence in their careers.
From his Illmatic days until his recently released album “King’s Disease 2,” we are going to look at the top 10 Nas songs released throughout his incredible career.
10. It Ain’t Hard To Tell
“It Ain’t Hard To Tell” is the epitome of East Coast hip hop during its golden era. The beat, lyricism, and flow make this song a pure classic. It is the 10th and final track from Nas’s debut album Illmatic. The song peaked at position 91 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was ranked 28 in Pitchfork Media’s Top 200 Tracks of the 90s.
9. The World Is Yours
“The World Is Yours” is one of the most iconic tracks in hip hop history. The track is the fourth single in Nas’s debut album “Illmatic,” which was released in 1994. Numerous artists have sampled the song, including Jay-Z in “Dead Presidents,” Lil Wayne in “Presidents,” and many more. The song captures the feel of New York City in a smooth beat that is accompanied by a blend of vivid jazz.
8. One Mic
Jay-Z must have been on Nas’s mind when he released this track. It’s also safe to say that the beef between the duo brought out the best in Nas. Want to prove my notion? Listen to this track. Although Nas won his first Grammy Award n 2021, this track should have been the one to win him his first Grammy. The song begins with a deliberate slow beat but takes a fast-paced beat as Nas goes on an angry rant over a wailing siren.
Nas is renowned for his storytelling, and this particular song was a masterpiece. A lot of hip-hop artists have unsuccessfully tried to tell a story backward in their rap songs. The technique requires a lot of focus, not to mention an incredible amount of talent. “Rewind” is the sixth track off the album “Stillmatic,” which was released in 2001.
6. Got Ur Self A
Nas is one of the few rappers who could compare themselves with hip hop’s greatest Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. Everything from the hook to the beat and the delivery by Nas himself deserves a round of applause. “Got Ur Self A” is the second single from Nas’s 2001 album “Stillmatic.” The video features Nas in a church confessional and also depicts the Tupac and Biggie Notorious B.I.G shooting.
“Daughters” was a song for fathers like Nas who, due to circumstances, felt that they didn’t have enough time with their daughters. The song was released on 17th July 2012 as the third single from his album “Life Is Good.” The song also talks about Nas’s daughter Destiny Jones and the father’s behavioral problems, which would make them question their parenting skills.
The song was well-received by critics, and it earned Nas a Grammy Award Nomination for Best Rap Performance and another one for Best Rap Song. The song stayed in the charts for nine weeks and peaked at position 78 on the U.S Billboard Hot R&B/Hiphop songs.
4. N.Y. State Of Mind
Listening to this track has always brought back non-existent memories of me hustling on the streets. N.Y. State Of Mind was released in 1994 from Nas’s debut studio album Illmatic. In the song, Nas talks about the dangerous environment in New York City. The track has a fantastic beat that would have you picture the heat and business in New York. The incredible East Coast flow also adds meaning to the hardship of being a New York hustler.
3. Nas Is Like
After the death of Notorious B.I.G, Nas had to prove that he was the new undisputed king of New York hip hop. “Nas Is Like” demonstrates Nas’s lyrical prowess and great wordplay, which is why many traditionalists like the song. The track reached number 3 on the Top Rap Songs chart and peaked at position 86 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 14 on Canadian Single Chart.
2. If I Ruled the World
“If I Ruled the World” is just like most other Nas songs, which offer a message of hope and peace. However, Lauryn Hill makes this song more memorable. Her supple vocals combined with Nas’s flow ensured that it made it to the Top 20 R&B songs.
In the song, Nas illustrates how a perfect world would look like. Racial equality, prison reforms, and greater responsibilities on parents to raise their kids well. The song was nominated to the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance.
1. I Can
If you work hard and believe in yourself, you can achieve anything you want is the main message behind the song “I Can.” In my opinion, this track is one of Nas’ most underrated songs. “I Can” was a popular song, and many schools would ask kids to sing its chorus at the beginning of every school day. “I Can” is the second single from Nas’s album, “God’s Son,” released in 2003. The song peaked at position 12 on Billboard Hot 100, and it is the highest-charting song by Nas to date.
Top 10 Nas Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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