Ranking the Best Nas Albums

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 2012’s Life is Good.

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. Of course, Jay and others would soon join Nas in creating more relatable, mature content, but give Nasir props for leading the way.

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 QB’s Finest collaborative album).

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.

16. The Firm: The Album (1997)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: The Firm seemed like the ultimate teamup in 97. A veteran spitter in AZ, blazing-hot new upstart in Foxy Brown, promising newcomer Nature and arguably the rap GOAT Nas, produced under the watchful eye of Dr. Dre? This was the Avengers 20 years early! Unfortunately, this ain’t the movies and things don’t always go according to plan. The Firm’s debut had its moments – “Firm Biz” and “Phone Tap” are still faves – but it was too bloated, too uneven and too unfocused to live up to expectations.

Forgotten favorites: “Desperados,” “Firm Fiasco,” “Five Minutes to Flush”

15. 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 so-called 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 favorites: “Come Get Me,” “Project Windows,” “God Love Us”

14. Nasir (2018)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: Poor Nasir, this album is basically the 21st Century Nastradamus, STILL taking a beating from critics two years later. I get it – when you team Nas with Kanye West, you expect an instant classic. Instead, we got an album that, while honestly is near the bottom tier of Nas’ legendary catalog, still has its high points. Nas’ flow is pretty effortless, bouncing from social justice to stuntin’ in Paris in less than 30 minutes. Its brevity and lack of cohesion make it feel more like a 00s-era mixtape than the classic LP we were promised but, hey, it’s still a pretty listenable mixtape.

Forgotten favorites: “Bonjour,” “Simple Things,” “Everything”

13. 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 favorites: “Just A Moment,” “Remember the Times,” “Nazareth Savage”

12. The Lost Tapes 2 (2019)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: The original Lost Tapes concept, a 2002 compilation of leftover tracks circa 1999, served as a bit of redemption when Nas’ credibility was at its lowest. Likewise, Lost Tapes II is this era’s version of damage control – a chance to prove to longtime fans and newbies that Nas is still one of the greatest to touch a mike. Although most of these tracks were recorded in the early years of the 2010s, their themes still resonate today. Whether rallying against those who attack blackness or speaking on his well-documented marital issues, Nas is never at a loss for words. Call it redemption if you want but one thing’s for sure – the king stay the king.

Forgotten favorites: “Lost Freestyle,” “Tanasia,” “Who Are You”

11. Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)

Soul In Stereo rating:  4 stars out of 5

Edd said: The title of this album alone 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 favorites: “Still Dreaming,” “Black Republican,” “Let There Be Light”

10. King’s Disease (2020)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: The latest entry in Nas’ discography may seem to place pretty low on this list but when your catalog is as deep as Esco’s that’s not a slight – the bar is just that high. King’s Disease is easily Nas’ strongest work in nearly a decade. He finds incredible chemistry with producer Hit-Boy, who provides a beat selection that’s sounds both current and authentic to Nas’ core sound. Nasir embraces his role as rap elder statesmen, proving that he’s got plenty of gas left in the take.

Forgotten favorites: “Ultra Black,” “King’s Disease,” “All Bad”

9. Distant Relatives (2010)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: I certainly had my reservations about this album. While I appreciate the genre, I’m not typically a huge reggae fan and I questioned how well Nas would be able to gel with a drastically different artist in Damain Marley. Never doubt Nas Escobar. This was a fantastic album, using street smarts to fuel social commentary over infectious riddims. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement that defined the past few years, it proved to be quite prophetic and extremely relevant.

Forgotten favorites: “Nah Mean,” “Africa Must Wake Up,” “Patience”

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

7.  Untitled (2008)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: What a time 2008 was – Nas turned the industry upside down when he announced that he’d name his upcoming 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 N***** 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. This one was WAY ahead of its time and would be seen as an instant classic today.

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

6. 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 – after the original concept of this album was bootlegged into oblivion, Nas had to regroup, which included reaching for mainstream listeners. That’s not always a bad thing: Nas injected artistry into MTV-ready songs and gave street bangers a commercial appeal. When the great DJ Premier can give a gritty track like “Nas Is Like” mainstream appeal, 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 favorites: “Favor for a Favor,” “You Won’t See Me Tonight,” “We Will Survive”

5. 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 favorites: “Heaven,” “Book of Rhymes,” “Mastermind”

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 with the advent of Hip-Hop Twitter, it has 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 favorites: “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 favorites: “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 favorites: “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 one large 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. Still.

Forgotten favorites: “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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7 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.

  2. Great list! Nas the best.

    I loved You Owe Me in the 6th grade. hahaha

  3. I agree that Nas is the goat. I Am would be moved all the way down to #14 for me.

  4. I don’t necessarily disagree with the order, but some of those ratings are a little bit too high. The Firm and Nastradamus are in the 2’s at best. Street’s Disciple’s and I Am’s ratings are too high. Untitled is too high. The First Lost tapes is too low, that’s a 4.5 in my opinion and IWW is not a 4.5. Stillmatic and Life is Good are 4.5’s. Illmatic is his only 5. He’s had a remarkable career and he’s one of the greatest ever.

  5. The only thing keeping me from agreeing to life is good being a classic is summer on smash. It left me a really bad taste in my mouth. Nas verse was short and everything else was reapeating the same words.

    • I agree summer on smash was mediocre, but i stll gotra give it a classic. When 18 of 19 songs are amazing, it overshadows that one throwaway. I’m including the 3 bonus tracks.

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