His musical career began in 1991 when he was featured on Main Source's track "Live at the Barbeque". His debut album Illmatic, released in 1994, received universal acclaim from both critics and the hip hop community. It is frequently ranked as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. His follow-up album It Was Written debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Charts, stayed on top for four consecutive weeks, went platinum twice in only two months, and made Nas internationally known.
From 2001 to 2005, Nas was involved in a highly publicized feud with rapper Jay-Z. In 2006, Nas signed to Def Jam. In 2010, he released a collaboration album with reggae artist Damian Marley, donating all royalties to charities active in Africa. His tenth studio album, Life Is Good was released in 2012.
Nas is often named as one of the top hip hop artists. MTV ranked him at number 5 on their list of The Greatest MCs of All Time. In 2012, The Source ranked him No. 2 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All Time. In 2013, Nas was ranked fourth on MTV's "Hottest MCs in the Game" list. He has six number 1 albums on the Billboard 200, tying him with Eminem and Kanye West for
Early lifeNas was born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York. His father, Olu Dara, is a jazz and blues musician from Natchez, Mississippi. His mother, Fannie Ann Jones, was a Postal Service worker from North Carolina. He has one sibling, a brother named Jabari Fret who assumes the alias Jungle. As a young child, Nas and his family relocated to the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, Queens. His neighbor, Willy "Ill Will" Graham, influenced Nas' interest in hip hop by playing him records. Nas's parents divorced in 1985, and he dropped out of school after the eighth grade. He educated himself about African culture through the Five Percent Nation, the Nuwaubians, the Bible and the Qur'an.[not in citation given]
Late 1980s–1994: Underground beginnings and album debutAs a teenager, Nas enlisted his best friend and upstairs neighbor Willy "Ill Will" Graham as his DJ. Nas initially went by the nickname Kid Wave before adopting his more commonly known alias of Nasty Nas. In the late 1980s, he met up with the producer Large Professor and went to the studio where Rakim and Kool G Rap were recording their albums. When they were not in the studio, Nas would go into the booth and record his own material. However, none of it was released. In 1991, Nas performed on Main Source's "Live at the Barbeque". In mid-1992, Nas was approached by MC Serch of 3rd Bass, who became his manager and secured Nas a record deal with Columbia Records the same year. Nas made his solo debut under the name of "Nasty Nas" on the single "Halftime" from Serch's soundtrack for the film Zebrahead. Called the new Rakim, his rhyming skills attracted a significant amount of attention within the hip-hop community.
In 1994, Nas's debut album, Illmatic, was finally released. It was awarded Five Mics from The Source. It also featured production from Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S. and DJ Premier, as well as guest appearances from Nas's friend AZ and his father Olu Dara. The album spawned several singles, including "The World Is Yours", "It Ain't Hard to Tell", and "One Love". Shaheem Reid of MTV News called Illmatic "the first classic LP" of 1994. In 1994, Nas also recorded the song "One on One" for the soundtrack to the film Street Fighter. In his book To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic, William Jelani Cobb writes of Nas's impact at the time:
Nas, the poetic sage of the Queensbridge projects, was hailed as the second coming of Rakim—as if the first had reached his expiration date. [...] Nas never became 'the next Rakim,' nor did he really have to. Illmatic stood on its own terms. The sublime lyricism of the CD, combined with the fact that it was delivered into the crucible of the boiling East-West conflict, quickly solidified [his] reputation as the premier writer of his time.Steve Huey of Allmusic described Nas' lyrics on Illmatic as "highly literate" and his raps "superbly fluid regardless of the size of his vocabulary", adding that Nas is "able to evoke the bleak reality of ghetto life without losing hope or forgetting the good times". Reviewing Nas's second album It Was Written, Leo Stanley of allmusic believed the rhymes to be not as complex as those in Illmatic but still "not only flow, but manage to tell coherent stories as well". About.com ranked Illmatic as the greatest hip hop album of all time, and Prefix magazine praised it as "the best hip-hop record ever made".
1995–97: Mainstream direction and The FirmColumbia Records began to press Nas to work towards more commercial topics, such as that of The Notorious B.I.G., who had become successful by releasing street singles that still retained pop-friendly appeal. In 1995, Nas did guest performances on the albums Doe or Die by AZ, The Infamous by Mobb Deep, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx by Raekwon and 4,5,6 by Kool G Rap. Nas also parted ways with manager MC Serch, enlisted Steve Stoute, and began preparation for his second LP, It Was Written, consciously working towards a crossover-oriented sound. It Was Written, chiefly produced by Tone and Poke of Trackmasters, was released during the summer of 1996. Two singles, "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)" (featuring Lauryn Hill of The Fugees) and "Street Dreams", including a remix with R. Kelly were instant hits. These songs were promoted by big-budget music videos directed by Hype Williams, making Nas a common name among mainstream hip-hop. It Was Written featured the debut of The Firm, a super group consisting of Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown, and Cormega. The album also expanded on Nas's Escobar persona, who lived more of a Scarface/Casino-esque lifestyle. On the other hand, Illmatic, which, while having numerous references to Scarface protagonist Tony Montana, was more about his life growing up in the projects.
Signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment label, The Firm began working on their debut album. Halfway through the production of the album, Cormega was fired from the group by Steve Stoute, who had unsuccessfully attempted to force Cormega to sign a deal with his management company. Cormega subsequently became one of Nas's most vocal opponents and released a number of underground hip hop singles "dissing" Nas, Stoute, and Nature, who replaced Cormega as the fourth member of The Firm. Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Nature Present The Firm: The Album was finally released in 1997 to mixed reviews. The album failed to live up to its expected sales, despite being certified platinum, and the members of the group disbanded to go their separate ways.
During this period, Nas was one of four rappers (the others being B-Real, KRS-One and RBX) in the hip hop super-group Group Therapy, who appeared on the song "East Coast/West Coast Killas" from Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath.
1997–2000: Inconsistent output
The second single on I Am... was "Hate Me Now", featuring Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, which was used as an example by Nas's critics of him moving towards commercial themes. The video featured Nas and Combs being crucified in a manner similar to Jesus; after the video was completed, Combs requested his crucifixion scene be edited out of the video. However, the unedited copy of the "Hate Me Now" video made its way to MTV. Within minutes of the broadcast, Combs and his bodyguards allegedly made their way into Steve Stoute's office and assaulted him, at one point apparently hitting Stoute over the head with a champagne bottle. Stoute pressed charges, but he and Combs settled out-of-court that June. Columbia had scheduled to release the pirated material from I Am... under the title Nastradamus during the later half of 1999, but, at the last minute, Nas decided to record an entire new album for the 1999 release of Nastradamus. Nastradamus was therefore rushed to meet a November release date. Though critics were not kind to the album, it did result in a minor hit, "You Owe Me".
In 2000, Nas & Ill Will Records Presents QB's Finest, which is popularly known as simply QB's Finest, was released on Nas's Ill Will Records. QB's Finest is a compilation album that featured Nas and a number of other rappers from Queensbridge projects, including Mobb Deep, Nature, Capone, the Bravehearts, Tragedy Khadafi, Millennium Thug and Cormega, who had briefly reconciled with Nas. The album also featured guest appearances from Queensbridge hip-hop legends Roxanne Shanté, MC Shan, and Marley Marl. Shan and Marley Marl both appeared on the lead single "Da Bridge 2001," which was based on Shan & Marl's 1986 recording "The Bridge." Fans and critics feared that Nas' career was declining, artistically and commercially, as both I Am... and Nastradamus were criticized as inconsistent.
2001–03: Feud with Jay-Z and artistic comebackAfter trading subliminal criticisms on various songs, freestyles and mixtape appearances, the highly publicized feud between Nas and Jay-Z became widely known to the public in 2001. Jay-Z, in his song "Takeover", criticized Nas by calling him "fake" and his career "lame". Nas responded with "Ether", in which he compared Jay-Z to such characters as J.J. Evans from the sitcom Good Times and cigarette company mascot Joe Camel. The song was included on Nas's fifth studio album, Stillmatic, released in December 2001. Stillmatic peaked at number five on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and featured the singles "Got Ur Self A..." and "One Mic".
In December 2002, Nas released the God's Son album including its lead single, "Made You Look" which utilized a pitched down sample of the Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache". The album peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts despite widespread internet bootlegging. Time Magazine named his album best hip-hop album of the year. Vibe gave it four stars and The Source gave it four mics. The second single, "I Can", which reworked elements from Beethoven's "Für Elise", became Nas's biggest hit to date during the spring and summer of 2003, garnering substantial radio airplay on urban, rhythmic, and top 40 radio stations, as well as on the MTV and VH1 music video networks. God's Son also includes several songs dedicated to memory of Nas's mother, who died of cancer in April 2002, including "Dance". In 2003, Nas was featured on the Korn song "Play Me", from Korn's Take a Look in the Mirror LP. Also in 2003, a live performance in New York City, featuring Ludacris, Jadakiss, and Darryl McDaniels (of Run-D.M.C. fame), was released on DVD as Made You Look: God's Son Live.
God's Son was critical in the power struggle between Nas and Jay-Z in hip hop at the time. In an article at the time, Joseph Jones of PopMatters stated, "Whether you like it or not, 'Ether' did this. With God's Son, Nas has the opportunity to cement his status as the King of N.Y., at least for another 3–4-year term, or he could prove that he is not the savior that hip-hop fans should be pinning their hopes on." After the album's release, he began helping The Bravehearts, made up of his younger brother Jungle and friend Wiz (Wizard), put together their debut album, Bravehearted. The album features guest appearances from Nas, Nashawn (Millennium Thug), Lil Jon, and Jully Black.
2004–06: Double album and Def JamNas released his seventh studio album Street's Disciple, a sprawling double album, on November 30, 2004. It addressed subject matter both political and personal, including his impending marriage to recording artist Kelis. The double-sided single "Thief's Theme"/"You Know My Style" was released months before the album's release, followed by the single "Bridging the Gap" upon the album's release. Although Street's Disciple went platinum, it served as a dropoff from Nas' previous commercial successes.
In 2005, New York-based rapper 50 Cent dissed Nas on the song "Piggy Bank", which brought his reputation into question in hip hop circles. In October, Nas made a surprise appearance at Jay-Z's highly publicized I Declare War concert, where they reconciled their beef. At the show, Jay-Z announced to the crowd, "It's bigger than 'I Declare War'. Let's go, Esco!". Nas then joined him onstage, and the two performed Jay-Z's "Dead Presidents" (1996) together, a song that featured a prominent sample of Nas's "The World Is Yours" (1994). The reconciliation created the opportunity for Nas to sign a deal with Def Jam Recordings, of which Jay-Z was president at the time. He signed Nas in January 2006.
2006–08: Politicized efforts and controversiesTentatively called Hip Hop Is Dead...The N, Hip Hop Is Dead was a commentary on the state of hip hop and featured "Black Republican", a hyped collaboration with Jay-Z. The album debuted on Def Jam and Nas new imprint at that label, The Jones Experience, at number one on the Billboard 200 charts, selling 355,000 copies—Nas's third number one album, along with It Was Written and I Am.... It also inspired reactions about the state of hip hop, particularly controversy with Southern hip hop artists who felt the album's title was a criticism at them. Nas' 2004 song "Thief's Theme" was featured in the 2006 film The Departed. Nas's former label, Columbia Records, released the compilation Greatest Hits in November.
On October 12, 2007, Nas announced that his next album would be called Nigger. Both progressive commentators, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and the conservative news station Fox News were outraged; Jackson called on entertainers to stop using the epithet after comedian Michael Richards used it onstage in late 2006. Controversy escalated as the album's impending release date drew nearer, going as far as to spark rumors that Def Jam was planning to drop Nas unless he changed the title. Additionally, Fort Greene, Brooklyn assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries requested New York's Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to withdraw $84 million from the state pension fund that has been invested into Universal and its parent company, Vivendi, if the album's title was not changed. On the opposite side of the spectrum, many of the most famous names in the entertainment industry expressed a sense of trust in Nas for using the racial epithet as the title of his full-length LP. Nas's management worried that the album would not be sold by chain stores such as Wal-Mart, thus limiting its distribution.
On May 19, 2008, Nas decided to forgo an album title. Responding to Jesse Jackson's remarks and use of the word "nigger", Nas called him "the biggest player hater", stating "His time is up. All you old niggas' time is up. We heard your voice, we saw your marching, we heard your sermons. We don't want to hear that shit no more. It's a new day. It's a new voice. I'm here now. We don't need Jesse; I'm here. I got this. We the voice now. It's no more Jesse. Sorry. Good bye. You ain't helping nobody in the 'hood and that's the bottom line." He also said of the album's title:
It's important to me that this album gets to the fans. It's been a long time coming. I want my fans to know that creatively and lyrically, they can expect the same content and the same messages. The people will always know what the real title of this album is and what to call it.The album was ultimately released on July 15, 2008, untitled. It featured production from Polow da Don, stic.man of Dead Prez, Sons of Light & J. Myers, "Hero", the album's lead single, reached number 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 87 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks. In July, Nas attained a shoe deal with Fila. In an interview with MTV News in July, Nas speculated that he might release two albums—one produced by DJ Premier and another by Dr. Dre—simultaneously the same day. Nas worked on Dr. Dre's studio album Detox. Nas was also awarded 'Emcee of the Year' in the HipHopDX 2008 Awards for his latest solo effort, the quality of his appearances on other albums and was described as having "become an artist who thrives off of reinvention and going against the system."
Bill O'Reilly/Virginia Tech controversy
On September 6, 2007, during his set at "A Concert for Virginia Tech," Nas twice referred to Bill O'Reilly as "a chump," prompting loud cheers by members of the crowd. About two weeks later, Nas was interviewed by Shaheem Reid of MTV News, where he criticized O'Reilly, calling him uncivilized and willing to go to extremes for publicity. Responding to O'Reilly, Nas, in an interview with MTV News, said:
He doesn't understand the younger generation. He deals with the past. The people he represents are Republican, older, a generation that has nothing to do with the reality of what's happening now with my generation. ... He's not really on my radar. People like him are supposed to be taught and people like me are supposed to let niggas like him know. I don't take him serious. His shit is all about getting facts twisted or whatever. I wouldn't honor anything Bill O'Reilly has to say. It just shows you what bloodsuckers like him do: They abuse something like the Virginia Tech tragedy for show ratings. You can't talk to a person like that.On July 23, 2008, Nas appeared on The Colbert Report to discuss his opinion of O'Reilly and Fox News, which he accused of bias against the African-American community and re-challenged O'Reilly to a debate. During the appearance, Nas sat on boxes of more than 625,000 signatures gathered by online advocacy organization Color of Change in support of a petition accusing Fox of race-baiting and fear-mongering.
2009–present: Collaboration and Life Is Good2009 Grammy Awards, Nas confirmed he was collaborating on an album with reggae musician Damian Marley which was expected to be released in Fall 2009. Nas said of the collaboration in an interview "I was a big fan of his father and of course all the children, all the offspring, and Damian, I kind of looked at Damian as a rap guy. His stuff is not really singing, or if he does, it comes off more hard, like on some street shit. I always liked how reggae and hip-hop have always been intertwined and always kind of pushed each other, I always liked the connection. I'd worked with people before from the reggae world but when I worked with Damian, the whole workout was perfect". A portion of the profit is planned to go towards building a school in Africa. He went on to say that it was "too early to tell the title or anything like that". The Los Angeles Times reported that the album would be titled Distant Relatives. Nas also revealed that he will begin working on his tenth studio album following the release of Distant Relatives. During Fall 2009 Nas used his live band Mulatto with music director Dustin Moore for concerts in Europe and Australia.
After announcing a possible release in 2010, a follow-up compilation to The Lost Tapes (2002) was delayed indefinitely due to issues between him and Def Jam. His eleventh studio album, Life Is Good (2012) was produced primarily by Salaam Remi and No I.D, and released in August 2012. Nas called the album a "magic moment" in his rap career.
In 2011, Nas announced that he would release collaboration albums with Mobb Deep, Common, and a third with DJ Premier. Common said of the project in a 2011 interview, "At some point, we will do that. We’d talked about it and we had a good idea to call it Nas.Com. That was actually going to be a mixtape at one point. But we decided that we should make it an album." Life is Good would be nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
In January 2013 Nas announced he had begun working on his twelfth studio album, which will be his final album for Def Jam. The album will be released during 2014. In October 2013, DJ Premier said that his collaboration album with Nas, would be released following his twelfth studio album. In October 2013, Nas confirmed that a rumored song "Sinatra In The Sands" featuring Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake would be featured on the album.
ArtistryNas has been praised for his ability to create a "devastating match between lyrics and production" by journalist Peter Shapiro, as well as creating a "potent evocation of life on the street", and he has even been compared to Rakim for his lyrical technique. In his book Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop (2009), writer Adam Bradley states, "Nas is perhaps contemporary rap's greatest innovator in storytelling. His catalog includes songs narrated before birth ('Fetus') and after death ('Amongst Kings'), biographies ('UBR [Unauthorized Biography of Rakim]') and autobiographies ('Doo Rags'), allegorical tales ('Money Is My Bitch') and epistolary ones ('One Love'), he's rapped in the voice of a woman ('Sekou Story') and even of a gun ('I Gave You Power')." Robert Christgau writes that "Nas has been transfiguring [gangsta rap] since Illmatic". Kool Moe Dee notes that Nas has an "off-beat conversational flow" in his book There's a God on the Mic – he says: "before Nas, every MC focused on rhyming with a cadence that ultimately put the words that rhymed on beat with the snare drum. Nas created a style of rapping that was more conversational than ever before".
O.C. of D.I.T.C. comments in the book How to Rap: "Nas did the song backwards ['Rewind']... that was a brilliant idea". Also in How to Rap, 2Mex of The Visionaries describes Nas's flow as "effervescent", Rah Digga says Nas's lyrics have "intricacy", Bootie Brown of The Pharcyde explains that Nas does not always have to make words rhyme as he is "charismatic", and Nas is also described as having a "densely packed" flow, with compound rhymes that "run over from one beat into the next or even into another bar".
In 2006, Nas was ranked fifth on MTV's "10 Greatest MCs of All Time" list. In 2012, The Source ranked him No. 2 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All Time. In 2013, Nas was ranked fourth on MTV's "Hottest MCs in the Game" list.
Business venturesOn April 10, 2013, Nas ventured into the business of magazine publishing. As a businessman and investor, he invested an undisclosed six figure sum into Mass Appeal Magazine, where he will serve as the publication's associate publisher. On the Mass Appeal deal, he will be joined by creative firm Decon and White Owl Capital Partners, an early stage investment firm with business interests in technology, media and energy located in North America, Europe and China. In June 2013, he also announced on Twitter that he was opening his own sneaker store, signalling his entrance into the retail industry. He inked a deal with the company Fila back in 2008, serving as one of its main spokespersons. Nas has also struck a business partner with the annual Rock The Bells music festival and a deal with the online retail company 12Society.com. In September 2013, he invested in a technology startup company, a job search appmaker called Proven. Nas also has a partnership with Hennessy and has been working with their "Wild Rabbit" campaign.
Personal lifeNas is a spokesperson and mentor for P'Tones Records, a non-profit after school music program with the mission "to create constructive opportunities for urban youth through no-cost music programs."
On June 15, 1994, Nas's ex-fiancée Carmen Bryan gave birth to their daughter, Destiny. Bryan later confessed to Nas that she had a relationship with his then-rival rapper and nemesis Jay-Z, also accusing Jay-Z of putting subliminal messages in his lyrics about their relationship together, causing an even bigger rift in the feud between the two hit rap music giants.
Nas also briefly dated Mary J. Blige. In 2005, Nas married R&B singer Kelis in Atlanta after a two-year relationship. On April 30, 2009, a spokesperson confirmed that Kelis filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. Kelis gave birth to Nas's first son on July 21, 2009, although the event was soured by a disagreement which ended in Nas announcing the birth of his son, Knight, at a gig in Queens, NY, against Kelis's wishes. The birth was also announced by Nas via an online video. The couple's divorce was finalized on May 21, 2010.
In January 2012 Nas was involved in a dispute with a concert promoter in Angola, having accepted $300,000 for a concert in their capital city for New Year's Eve and then not showing up. The promoter and his son were detained by the angry Angolan promoter at gunpoint and taken to an Angolan jail[clarification needed]. Only after the US Embassy intervened were the promoter and his son allowed to leave jail—but were placed under house arrest at their hotel. As of the end of the month Nas returned all $300,000 and after 49 days of travel ban the promoter Patrick Allocco and his son have both been released.
On March 15, 2012, Nas became the first rapper to have a personal verified account on Rap Genius where he'll be explaining all his own lyrics and commenting on the lyrics of other rappers he admires.
In September 2009 the U.S. Internal Revenue Service filed a federal tax lien against Nas for over $2.5 million, seeking unpaid taxes dating back to 2006. By early 2011 this figure had ballooned to over $6.4 million. Early in 2012 reports emerged that the IRS had filed papers in Georgia to garnish a portion of Nas's earnings from material published under BMI and ASCAP, until his delinquent tax bill is settled.
In May 2013, it was announced that Nas will open a sneaker store in Las Vegas called 12AM RUN (pronounced Midnight Run) as part of The Linq, a new shopping complex being built by Caesars Entertainment 
In July 2013, he was honored by Harvard University, as the institution established the Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship, which will serve to fund scholars and artists who show potential and creativity in the arts in connection to hip hop.