Beginning with his classic debut, Illmatic (1994), Nas stood tall for years as one of New York City's leading rap voices, outspokenly expressing a righteous, self-empowered swagger that endeared him to critics and hip-hop purists. Whether proclaiming himself "Nasty Nas" or "Nas Escobar" or "Nastradamus" or "God's Son," the self-appointed King of New York battled numerous adversaries for his position atop the epicenter of East Coast rap, none more challenging than Jay-Z, who vied with Nas for the vacated throne left in the wake of the Notorious B.I.G.'s 1997 assassination.
Such headline-worthy drama informed Nas' provocative rhymes, which he delivered with both a masterful flow and a wise perspective over beats by a range of producers: legends like DJ Premier, Large Professor, and Pete Rock; hitmakers like Trackmasters, Timbaland, and will.i.am; street favorites like Swizz Beatz, Megahertz, and the Alchemist; and personal favorites of his own like L.E.S., Salaam Remi, and Chucky Thompson. Nas likewise collaborated with some of the industry's leading video directors, including Hype Williams and Chris Robinson, presenting singles like "Hate Me Now," "One Mic," and "I Can" with dramatic flair.
Throughout all the ups (the acclaim, popularity, and success) and downs (the expectations, adversaries, and over-reaching), Nas continually matured as an artist, evolving from a young street disciple to a vain all-knowing sage to a humbled godly teacher. Such growth made every album release an event and prolonged his increasingly storied career to epic proportions.