The Best Nas Albums

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1. Biggie. 2. Jay-Z. 3. Nas.

For years, whenever I got into the “who are the greatest rappers of all time” argument, that was by standard answer. I wouldn’t budge. And I never though that list would change.

Till last year.

1. Biggie. 2. Nas. 3. Jay-Z.

How did Nas finally leapfrog Jay-Z? Consistency. After a 20-year-career, while his peers coast on past glories, Nas continues to innovate and push himself. Need proof? Listen to him on the remix to J. Cole’s “Let Nas Down.” Not only is it one of the best performances we’ve heard all year, he also gives young Cole a much-needed pat on the back for his progression.

I wouldn’t call it a “passing of the torch,” but Nasir Jones is happy to share the limelight.

Nas’s legendary career continues to grow, but which albums are his best? Let’s look at Nas’ solo catalog, ranking his works from worst to best (excluding his Distant Relatives, The Firm and QB’s Finest collaborative albums).

This was a tough list to craft. Nas’s best and worst albums are pretty easy to identify but things get subjective quickly, especially near the top of the list. Check ’em out and see if you agree.

I’m sure you’ll let me know if you don’t.

11. Nastradamus (1999)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Ah yes, the infamous Nastradamus with the Skeletor album cover. Time hasn’t been kind to this one. Its wackness has become almost legendary, with many pundits claiming it’s one of the worst rap releases of all time.  Playa please, it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s better than most of the albums I’ve reviewed this year. Still, blatant radio cash-ins and sloppy lyrics make it a very underwhelming showing for a legendary artist. But I bet if you give it another listen it’s not half as bad as you might remember.

Forgotten treasures: “Come Get Me,” “Project Windows,” “God Love Us”

10. Street’s Disciple (2004)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Much like Jay-Z’s Blueprint 2, this is a perfectly good album that was stretched into a double-disc set for no other reason than, well, for Nas to have a double-disc set in his catalog. There’s a lot of excess and the album’s themes bounce all over the place (“Our country sucks!” “Our kids need better role models!” “I’m getting married!” “I’m still that dude from the streets!”). But Nas’ potent lyricism and frank honesty still makes this a worthwhile set.

Forgotten treasures: “Just A Moment,” “Remember the Times,” “Nazareth Savage”

9. Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)

Soul In Stereo rating:  4 stars out of 5

Edd said: The title of this album had half the rap community up in arms in 2006. It was a wise marketing ploy – not only did the project get a ton of buzz, Nas capitalized on it with a rock-solid release. Nas used the album as his personal pulpit to preach about the waning state of hip-hop. Of course, many sensitive thugs had their feeling hurt along the way. The lack of mainstream appeal makes it the odd man out in Nasir’s legendary catalog but conceptually it’s a huge triumph.

Forgotten treasures: “Still Dreaming,” “Black Republican,” “Let There Be Light”

8. The Lost Tapes (2002)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: When I first heard about The Lost Tapes, essentially a collection of leftover tracks from the late 90s-early 00s, I wasn’t very excited. But what I expected to be a glorified mixtape cash-in wound up blowing me away. The beats were very minimalistic; the lyrics raw and visceral. For a lyric junkie like myself, it was a dream come true. The album is pretty short and most tracks sounded kinda dated even back then, which knocks it down a few pegs. Regardless, this album was like Christmas come early for Nas Stans.

Forgotten treasures: “Drunk by Myself,” “Blaze a 50,” “Doo Rags”

7.  Untitled (2008)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Paula Deen’s favorite album! Nas turned the industry upside down when he announced that he’d name his 2008 album after the dreaded N-word. Eventually, he relented, going Untitled instead. But I don’t care about controversy, I care about content, and this album was an outstanding examination of black culture. From what we eat to who we are, and most importantly, WHY we’re that way, Nas shed light on the pain and beauty of black life. And yeah, yeah, I know what you’re gonna say: “‘The Nigger Mixtape’ was better!” Yes, the precursor to the album was amazing and is more universally loved, mostly because it sounded more like a traditional album. But that shouldn’t discredit what was accomplished here.

Forgotten treasures: “Queens Get the Money,” “Breathe,” “N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and The Master)

6. God’s Son (2002)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Nas Esco enjoyed quite the career revival in the early ’00s and God’s Son was the final segment of his comeback trilogy. Nas has never been shy about opening his heart to his fans and he does so expertly here. Nas balances the pain of losing his mother with the anger of the rap beefs that revitalized his career. Sometimes he furious, sometimes he’s heartbroken. And sometimes, he’s even jealous of his own baby girl. Nas bares his soul like never before.

Forgotten treasures: “Heaven,” “Book of Rhymes,” “Mastermind”

5. I Am… (1999)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: While working on this list, I realized that Nas has a lot of haters. This is yet another album that, at least back in the ’90s, got a ton of undeserved hate. It’s understandable, though – Nas clearly were reaching for mainstream listeners here. But unlike the lazy tracks of Nastradamus, Nas injected artistry into MTV-ready songs and gave street bangers a commercial appeal. No disrespect to the great DJ Premier (arguably the greatest producer of all time) but when he produces a track as gritty as “Nas Is Like” yet Nas can make mainstream listeners embrace it, you know a master is at work. It’s one of the best examples of an album remaining true to its roots while also pricking the ears of new listeners.

Forgotten treasures: “Favor for a Favor,” “You Won’t See Me Tonight,” “We Will Survive”

4. It Was Written (1996)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Nas’ sophomore album is a curious case of revisionist history. When it was released in 1996, many saw it as a disappointment, especially since it proceeded such a monumental piece of work. But in recent years, it’s soared to legendary status, with some proclaiming it Nas’ greatest album. Um, no. But don’t misunderstand me, It Was Written is a near-classic in its own right. It became the template for many of Nas’ future releases, using his own life experiences as cautionary tales. They lyrics are so vivid they could be on the big screen. Nas’ best? No way, but it’s amazing.

Forgotten treasures: “I Gave You Power,” “Black Girl Lost,” “Affirmative Action”

3. Life is Good (2012)

Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5 (read our review here)

Edd said: Rap is a young man’s game. After nearly 20 years in the game, it’s a miracle that Nas is still releasing albums at all. But 18 years after his debut, Esco still had enough gas in the tank to drop one of the best albums of the past decade. Life Is Good isn’t a bunch of braggadocious fairy tales or an attempt to cash in on the current rap craze. It’s an open book of Nas’ journey, from his boom-bap roots and climb to stardom to crushing losses and, of course, his failed marriage. The soulful backdrop makes it even more mature, more relatable – more human. A masterful piece of work.

Forgotten treasures: “Accident Murderers,” “You Wouldn’t Understand,” “Stay”

2. Stillmatic (2001)

Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: By the year 2000, after some questionable releases and a changing landscape, Nas’ career seemed in jeopardy. But by the end of 2001, every doubter was proved dead wrong. Nas’ comeback album roared with a ferocity we hadn’t heard in years. Nas wasn’t just hungry, he was angry, and that fury fueled some of the best songs of his career. When hip hop was wallowing in cash and bling, Nas grabbed the industry by its throat and dragged it back to the dark project hallways of its inception. Esco wasn’t done, he was just starting. Don’t call it a comeback, call it a classic.

Forgotten treasures: “2nd Childhood,” “You’re Da Man,” “The Flyest”

1. Illmatic (1994)

Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: You knew this was No. 1, and there’s a simple reason for that: it’s the greatest rap album of all time. Before Illmatic, many rap albums were just a random collection of tracks. Sure, those individual songs told powerful stories but Nas took that concept to the next level, using every single song to paint a picture of inner-city life. It wasn’t just his story, it was our story. That’s why it meant to much. Illmatic changed the way rappers approached their craft. It revolutionized the game.

It’s the best rap album ever.

Forgotten treasures: “Memory Lane (Sittin’ In The Park),” “Life’s A B*tch,” “Halftime”

Is this list ranked flawlessly or did I shortchange your favorites? Speak out in the comments.

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2 Comments

  1. Although I hated Nastradamus I hated Street’s Disciple more. Because it was a double disc there were waaay too many mediocre and forgettable songs. The sheer amount of suck outways all the commercial overload of Nastradamus.

    Also I would have had I am… lower. That was a good album but not better than God’s Son (which was a great follow up to Stillmatic) or Untitled. The album had some memorable tracks but it had a couple that made you go “WTF was that?” and turn my snobbery 18 year-old nose up at it.

    All this is subjective but you’re wrong. Lastly I would argue that there are no forgotten treasures on Illmatic. That’s unpossible. That must have been hard to throw any songs on that part.

    • Truth, it was next to impossible to pick forgotten songs from Illmatic. I just threw up three that get mentioned the least.

      I still don’t think I Am gets proper respect.

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