Once upon a time, Nasir Jones was just a young kid stealing the show on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque”, self-aware enough to foresee that he’d be a force to be reckoned with in rap’s packed New York scene. Long before he was a household name, he was comparing himself to Spielberg and going to hell for snuffing Jesus, both proof of the grandiose nature of his vision. Over two decades later, he remains one of the preeminent voices setting the gold standard for the genre.
Nas, a product of Queens, has often been hailed as the second coming of the God MC himself, Rakim, but it’s safe to say, given the lifespan of his career and his subsequent impact on the culture, that he tapped into something completely singular and objective. Illmatic stands alone as a timeless exhibition of his skill and established him as a truly exceptional lyrical technician without parallel. Nas was never the second coming of Rakim; he was simply the first coming of a new rap king, the heir apparent.
From the recent Life Is Good to wildly controversial albums like Untitled and Hip Hop Is Dead to God’s Son and The Lost Tapes to the career-resurrecting Stillmatic all the way through ’90s releases like I Am…, It Was Written, and the legendary Illmatic, Nas has amassed an impressive number of singles and classic cuts, enough to retire as rap royalty. Narrowing down the greatest songs in his extensive discography is a task sure to leave some dissatisfied, but it’s nearly impossible to discuss Nas as a cultural staple without these precious gems on our list. Here are our 10 favorite songs from Nas’s illustrious career.