Pure rhyme skills are invaluable in hip-hop. However, an artist’s legacy ultimately hinges on the quality of their discography.
Among the more vaunted catalogs in rap history, was from Nas, one of the greatest and most influential emcees of all time and the mastermind behind classic albums like Illmatic, It Was Written, and Stillmatic. Despite having three of his first five albums be deemed as masterpieces, the other two albums, 1998’s I Am… and 1999’s Nastradamus, were considered lackluster in comparison to his previous work. This lead some critics to allege Nas had “fallen off,” strayed too far into the realm of commercial success and had forgotten his calling as a rap messiah. This growing perception led rivals like JAY-Z to question Nas’ credibility as a supreme soloist. His Brooklyn counterpart shined a light on his diminishing returns creatively, sparking a fire under Nas that resulted in the making of Stillmatic, an album many deemed as a return to form.
One tidbit that many casual fans gloss over when appraising Nas albums like I Am… and Nastradamus are the circumstances that surrounded their release and how they ultimately altered the course of his career. After the release of his monstrous It Was Written album in 1996, the untimely deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. occurred within a year of It Was Written‘s release, leaving Nas as the default choice to carry on the torch as rap’s supreme soloist.
Taking a page out of his fallen rivals’ books, the Queens native intended for his highly anticipated follow-up to It Was Written, I Am…, to be a double-album, a move that if executed well, would have put him in rare air as a rap artist. However, many key songs intended for the album, including “Blaze a 50,” “Drunk by Myself,” and “Poppa Was a Playa,” were leaked and bootlegged prior to its release, leading Nas to scrap the double-album idea and release a stripped down version of I Am… . Another attempt at damage control as a result of leaked material also affected Nas’ Nastradamus album, forcing him to record all new material to meet its intended release date, a move that would be maligned and serve as a blemish on an otherwise stellar catalog.
Released on September 23, 2002, Lost Tapes was met with critical acclaim and hailed as an instant-classic, capitalizing on the momentum set by Stillmatic and erasing any doubt that Nas had lost his touch or capability as an emcee. Fifteen years after its release, VIBE goes down memory lane and compiles 20 of the most memorable lyrics from the album that still leaves us in awe.
1. “Doo Rags”
“Pushin’ drop-tops, Stacy Lattisaw tapes, the 80’s had us all apes/Youngest gorillas up to bat at home plate/That was a uncanny era, guns in my pants, yeah/X-Clan hair, with dreads at the top of my fade/Homicidal feds on the blocks where I played b-ball/That’s when I wondered was I here for the cause or because/’Cause Ray Charles could see the ghetto/Was told to stay strong and I could beat the devil”
“Ni**as used to wear rags on they hair when it was fried up/That’s when we were lied to, buyin’ hair products/Back before my generation, when our blackness started disintegratin’ till awareness started penetratin’/The styles come from prison/They used potatoes makin’ liquor just to prove we some creative ni**as/Turnin’ nothin’ into somethin’ is God work/And you get nothin’ without struggle and hard work”
2. “My Way”
“Never knew murder ’til I seen my man get popped/No blood soakin’, layin’ there, eyes still open/I got a little closer, put my hand in his palm/He was lookin’ right through me, yo, starin’ beyond/I wonder what he saw: the limos, movies and tours?/Did he die in vain or represent for the cause?/Now I put his name on everything I’m involved/And that’s the game; y’all can’t relate, f**k y’all”
3. “U Gotta Love It”
“Nastradamus, skama lit, know when I rep/Flow when I’m set, I got the chips to make a lotus my whip/Gold on my neck was once a code of respect for high rollers and vets/Now it’s loads of baguettes, prefer a Mac-10 over a Tec/No matter sober or wet, I smack soldier cadets/Trees that might eject my hype back/Famous phrase “Ni**a, light that”
“I got that confident soul, for those locked in a hole/Inhumane, living hostile opposed/To living on the street, proper from my top to my toes/Aeropostale my clothes, Vernon ni**as in suburbans with liquor/Preposterous foes, finicky foul ni**as/See ni**as and blacks, there goes a loud difference/Coke sniffing, tapping 13-year-old chickens/You can’t be a kingpin when you snitching”
4. “Nothing Lasts Forever”
“Cop Ferraris with navigational screens/Guide us through your hood and any locality, head back to Queens/Piped out seats, Oakwood MB Quart speakers/Bumpin’ out old sh*t that made me think of Old Easters ’86 in a Le Tigre short sleeves/Lees, flip the cuffs up, gettin’ fu**ed up/From Old E, Fresh Fest, ni**as got hurt/100 ni**as rush the door with Queensbridge tournament shirts”
5. “No Idea’s Original”
“No idea’s original, there’s nothing new under the sun/It’s never what you do, but how it’s done/What you base your happiness around? Material, women, and large paper/That means you inferior, not major”
“The hood converted from trey bags to 20’s a girl/Everybody had money, every summer was real ill/Four-finger rings, dope dealers, Kane/”No Half Steppin'” with flat tops when Rakim reigned/Radios on card tables, Benetton, the gods buildin’/Ask for today’s mathematics, we Allah’s children/And this was goin’ on in every New York ghetto/Kids listened, Five Percenters said it’s pork in Jell-o”
“From, Czechoslovakia to Texas metropolis/Them treacherous rastas in the Mexican mafias/Be scrapping with tats on they back, violent wars/Nothing less than a lethal injection if ever caught/Courtrooms, eagles and flags, American style/While in our world, the ghetto stays incredibly foul/Watching for paint chips, don’t want no lead in yo’ child/But them gangstas put lead in yo’ child, the bezzy be out/The chain be like a hundred K/Shining since Roxanne Shante’ made “Runaway;” that’s been a minute”
6. “Blaze A 50”
“Blaze a 50, sit back in the drop top Azure Bentley/Of course with me, this chick who’d make Bobby divorce Whitney/Brazilian candy, from Miami/Masseuse, wedding ring on, loving Celine Dion/Hate rap, told me where she get cake at/She’s a part-time dancer, part-time romancer/Tries to be a mother when she gets a chance to/Left her husband alone to raise they son, he’s in pampers”
“Met her in San Diego at tha Super Bowl party/Had the Henny, sipped it up with Terrell Davis/MVP, we flicked it up from Sports Illustrated/I was silked out, flossing with Stoute, he had the gators/When she walked in, she lit up the room like Las Vegas/Terrell said her man’s a fullback for the Raiders/A drunk who’d f**k cheerleaders and wind up in the papers/It’s easy to get the pu**y, just don’t fall in love/Next thing you know I’m hugged up with this bi**h in the tub”
7. “Everybody’s Crazy”
“Nasir bin Olu Dara Visqu Allah/Fist full of dollars in a dice game god/D & D glass cloth Kangols guided by angel with white wings/Nas the Viking fresh from my ankles thankful/Gangster see gangster do, I’m Langston Hughes predecessor/Gun on my dresser, slang I use upsets college professor/More knowledge than Webster, dictionary/Obituary column plus sign ’em, the first fake rapper murdered for rhyming/The jig is up gut ’em like fish swiss cheese ’em up”
“Peep ni**as that got prices on their head so high/Their main niggas will take the contract surprise/So we play a mental game intimidation/Got pu**y ni**as get pressed up on and paying/I wish these ni**as would step up wait for the day and since I’m famous they thinking assault rifles won’t be sprayin/Whoever thinking coming to my vault for the safe/I got some ni**as with acid get it thrown in your face/Play dirty catch your moms in J-30/Whatever whodie we all crazy we all 7:30”
“The whole city is mine, prettiest Don/I don’t like the way P. Diddy did Shyne with different lawyers/Why it’s mentioned in my rhymes? F**k it/It’s just an intro, hate it or love it, like it, bump it or dump it/Write it, across the stomach spell “God son”
“Unmarked police cars roam the streets hard, the heat is God/Somebody tell these shorties reach for the stars/Instead they tell ’em how to reach through the bars holdin’ a mirror/Lookin’ down a tier in jail, makin’ weapons to kill ya/Weed smoke, three tokes, ni**a, pour more Henny/He sighs with eyes that seen a war too many/Cold-blooded murderers, universal/Hood to hood, blowin’ smoke, state of mind is purple”
9. “Drunk By Myself”
“Heard ni**as hate me, but I hated too once/Been in the shoes of a Wolf in the night when he hunts/For every shell ni**as bust, we bust at ourselves/Can’t tell these ni**as nothing though, bullets wak’em up well/Take ’em to hell, stick up ni**as once ran up on me/My decadent lifestyle attracted sharks on me/I ain’t your mark, homie/It’s hard to look straight, my foot on the brake/Spilling my bottle not even shook of the Jakes”
10. “Black Zombie”
“I’m learning something every day, there is no Lazarus/Words like God is Greek or Latin/So if you study Egypt, you’ll see the truth written by the masters/My ni**as is chilling, getting high, relaxing/Envisioning, owning sh*t, yo it can happen/What do we own? Not enough land, not enough homes/Not enough banks, to give my brother a loan”
“If you cared what they think, why wear what they wear, just be you/Dumb ni**as with long beards like they Arabs or Jews/Or from Israel, Bismillah al rahman al rahim/Islam’s a beautiful thing/And Christian and Rastafari, helps us to bring/Peace against the darkness, which is unGodly/So what’s the black man’s true religion, who should we follow?/Use your own intuition, you are tomorrow”
11. “Poppa Was a Playa”
“Roaches and weed all over my crib, him and mom’s relaxing/Next thing you know he packing/So then I asked him what’s this white sh*t on that plate and your face and/Papa why you butt a** from the waist and who’s this lady I’m facing/Dark skin you not my mommy/He grabbed me up to run some smooth words by me/Promise things that he would buy me/If I kept my mouth closed and don’t tell mommy/He said one day I’ll understand little me/What’s in you is inside me”
“I’m not worthy to come from a woman so pure, Ann-Jones/Flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood, her blood and bones/Hearing prayers, she asking for my good health/That I’d become a man and learn to make a way for myself/Nervous she was and her paranoia got in my blood/Mixed with marijuana from my daddies genes/’Lotta screams I’m hearin’, it’s crazy, both parents is scrappin’/I’m not even a baby, a miscarriage could happen”