July 02, 2022

Nas "It Was Written" (July 2, 1996) + Daily News Interview

Although it's only 20 minutes from midtown, most New Yorkers have probably never been to Queensbridge. But for hip-hop fans, the projects on the edge of Long Island City are a musical landmark. Queensbridge is where old-school stars Marley Marl and MC Shan (who immortalized it in 1986's classic "The Bridge") got their start. More recently, Queensbridge has been home to the critically acclaimed hard-core group Mobb Deep. But in 1996, the undisputed king of Queensbridge is a soft-spoken 22-year-old who was born Nasir Jones but who's known as Nas. Right now, he's also known as the rapper with the No. 1 album in the country for the past three weeks. Standing near an entrance to the projects, Nas remembers the many friends he lost to prison and random violence while he lived there. His younger brother was shot, but lived. "It was a survival game, growing up out here," he says. "Me just still being here (alive) is a blessing." Even though Nas left Queensbridge more than four years ago for the 'burbs in Nassau County, he's been making the 20-minute ride from Manhattan an awful lot these days, bringing with him camera crews and reporters. The media have come to the projects because Nas is the rapper of the moment. His sophomore CD, "It Was Written," hit stores July 2, debuting at No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200 after selling more than 60,000 copies in one day. Even more remarkable, Nas has stayed at No. 1 for three weeks, beating out more established acts like Metallica. Cont'd + revisit It Was Written by Nas while reading below....

Modesty is not a strong suit for most rappers, but Nas is amazed. "I never thought this would happen. I never cared about being No. 1 on the charts; I was just concerned about 'Was the street gonna like my music?' But when all this..." Nas exhales. "Man! That turned on a new light in my head. It was a good feeling." To some, Nas seems like an overnight sensation, but the hip-hop community anointed him a few years ago, when, as a teenager, he cameoed on Main Source's "Live at the BBQ." That guest spot led to his hooking up with yet another kid from Queens, 3rd Bass' MC Serch. Nas kicked rhymes on the "Zebrahead" soundtrack and then landed a solo deal. Filled with edgy, complex lyrics, 1994's "Illmatic" went gold after being hailed by both the rap and mainstream press as one of hip-hop's most important albums. Where that album dealt more with the violence of the streets, "It Was Written" deals more with the solutions. The LP is more mature lyrically and has a more commercially viable sound, thanks to the presence of guest musicians like Lauryn Hill of the Fugees and producers like Dr. Dre.  To some, the presence of the lead singer for one of '96 hottest acts may seem like a savvy career move, but in fact Nas was better known at the time "It Was Written" was being recorded. Still, in retrospect, it seems like Nas has had a flair for networking. Asked about his music-biz strategy, Nas says: "I want my career to look like something that gradually grew from rags to riches. I want my thing to look like a story. You have a lot of rappers that are here today, gone tomorrow..." ... "It Was Written" chronicles the struggles of young black men and the choices they make. Choices that Nas made, as well. "All the time," he says. "But I always knew that the ghetto world was small and that there was so much happening outside of it that I couldn't limit myself. I always wanted to be more than just a lowlife. I mean," he squints as the sun beams down on Queensbridge," life is what you make it. There's no excuses." - NY Daily News (July 25, 1996).