On Second Thought
Nas - It Was Written

ow do you follow up the arguable greatest hip-hop album of all time? Very few, if any, artists can truthfully answer “with another classic”. Nas Escobar is one of the few that would not sound absurd in claiming that he did this. Is It Was Written another classic, or is it a poor follow-up to one of the greatest albums ever?

Some of the songs on It Was Written are just as good if not better than even the best ones on Illmatic, like “I Gave You Power”, which is probably even better than “One Love”, “NY State of Mind” and just as good as “It Ain’t to Hard to Tell”. On this track, Nas takes the unique perspective of a gun, and explores the feelings that a weapon has. “He squeezed harder, I didn't budge, sick of the blood / Sick of the thugs, sick of wrath of the next man's grudge / What the other kid did was pull out, no doubt / A newer me in better shape, before he lit out, he lead the chase / My owner fell to the floor, his wig split so fast / I didn't know he was hit, it's over with / Heard mad niggaz screamin’, niggaz runnin’, cops is comin’ / Now I'm happy, until I felt somebody else grab me / Damn!“. The moody, semi-orchestral and melodramatic track from DJ Premier only accentuates Nas’ depressing street tale. It Was Written also contains one of the best posse tracks of all time in “Affirmative Action”, the world’s introduction the supergroup The Firm, this incarnation consisting of Nas, AZ, Cormega and Foxy Brown. The beat is extremely mafioso, sounding straight out of Goodfellas, with strings and crescendos. Cormega, soon outed from the group, completely lyrically destroys the track, and even though her mathematics training is suspect, even Foxy Brown sounds good, ignoring the fact that Nas wrote her verse, of course. The song is one of the few that fit their theme but surpass the limitations a theme places upon it.

Besides the aforementioned, “The Message” has an awesome sample that befits the update of Grandmaster Flash’s original. The actual message behind the track isn’t clear, but after a few listens, one truly begins to understand the depth behind the song. That’s the name of the game here: depth. All of the songs, both lyrically and production wise, hold up to repeated listens. In this day and age, replay value means everything. And this album is one you can still listen to in 2003.

But what about the singles? Most everyone has heard “If I Ruled the World” and “Street Dreams”, two of Nas’ more criticized songs. For those who haven’t, “If I Ruled the World” is a heartful and peaceful track featuring Lauryn Hill’s wonderful voice, and “Street Dreams” is a reimagining of The Eurthymic’s “Sweet Dreams”. What people forget when they criticize these songs for being commercial is their actual skill. Both songs are similar in that they’re about ambition, drive, and desire to be something greater. Granted, they lead to songs like “Nastradamus”, but for their time, they were some of the first songs to be both commercial and critically successful. This album represents one of the first hip-hop albums to straddle the critical and commercial divide successfully. Anyone who says that this album is “mehhhhh (Jay-Z)” is wrong. It’s a seriously good album with a bit of filler (“Live Nigga Rap” and “Nas is Coming”), worth of almost all of the praise Illmatic got. This is Nas’ second classic, and should be considered one of the best albums of all time.

By: Brett Berliner

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