Nas Remembers the Impact of It Was Written, 15 Years Later

What a difference 15 years make. Upon its release on July 1, 1996, Nas’s It Was Written was met with mixed reviews. The complaint was that the Nasty MC—who now fancied his Escobar nickname—had traded his gritty sound in favor of the Trackmaster’s more radio-friendly backdrops. The approach worked, commercially at least. Featuring the Lauryn Hill-assisted “If I Ruled the World” and “Street Dreams,” the record sold 2, 557, 455 and stands as Nas’s best-selling album to date. Now, a decade and a half later, It Was Written is considered one of Nas’s best works. Rolling Stone Magazine, who initially rated the LP two stars, re-graded it with four stars in 2004. XXL recently sat down with Nas to discuss going platinum for the first time, working with Dr. Dre in the middle of the East Coast/West Coast feud, the song that caused his issues with Tupac Shakur and being the first rapper to work with Lauryn Hill and R. Kelly.—Carl Chery (@cchery)

XXL: Illmatic eventually went platinum, but at the time It Was Written was your first time going platinum.

Nas: Unreal. Unreal. It was like, I got that platinum. I can get out the game or I can do whatever. That’s that.

That’s also you transitioning into becoming a superstar, a new level of fame. How was that adjustment for you?

It was good. It was perfect because it was perfect timing for me. I had a lot to say. I had a lot of things I wanted to express. I had a lot of styles I wanted to put into the game. I had a lot to give the game and I was ready to give it to ‘em. So it was perfect timing.

Was it at a point where you couldn’t walk down the street without causing a mob?

The first album, funny enough, was that way. The first album and second album was like that. Yea, definitely.

You worked with Dr. Dre in the middle of the East Coast/West Coast feud. What was the response on the East Coast?

It was unbelievable ‘cause Dre had The Chronic, he had Doggystle. And really that was it. So it was unbelievable. It was crazy.

So nobody was like, “Why you working with dude?”

Nah, they thought, “Wow, it’s amazing. It fucked ‘em up. Then Biggie had him and Bone Thugs. Nice move. I was like, “Wow, nice move.”

Do you feel like the Lauryn Hill has gained even more value over the years considering she doesn’t work with rappers anymore?

Yeah, yeah. That’s one of the reasons. All records gain value through the years, but definitely that. Lauryn’s one of those. True to the core at this shit. Everything about her, from her performance… she’s last of a dying breed.

How did you go about getting Kellz on the “Street Dreams (Remix)?”

We was the hottest shit in America so that was easy. We probably could have got Mike [Jackson]on the phone back then. So Kellz was cool with it, he was ready. That made the introduction with him and Trackmasters probably right around that time and then they started working together and shit. So it was just good times. Everybody was happy.

For “Street Dreams” what was the process like to clear the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” sample?

Oh, they took everything. They took everything. Word. For real.

Did you ever get a chance to meet Annie Lennox or did you get feedback from what she thought about the song?

Not really. You know, that song is such a huge record. I’m glad that it did get cleared, that’s all. I admire them. I admire her. It’s all love. I don’t think… I may have met her years later in passing, but it’s all love.

That song also partially led to ‘Pac taking issue with you ’cause he had the same track on All Eyez on Me that he released that same year. What was your reaction when you heard that ‘Pac accused you of taking the same track?

See, I was always into ‘Pac early before his controversial side blew up all over America and the world. I was already into his music. I saw him as a kindred spirit, I saw him as a brother, so it was like beefin’ with your brother. Not even beefin’, it felt like, your brother over there’s a little mad. This is an issue right now, so you gotta deal with it.

What was your inspiration for “I Gave You Power?”

A Premier beat. Just a beat from Premier… in the studio. Back then I was around a lot more guns and my reality was that. There was no armed security back then, it was just us moving around so that was a lot more in my world.

I remember you had “Silent Murder” on the cassette. What made you put a bonus track on cassette at a time where things were moving to CDs?

Well, the cassette still wasn’t dead. They was still sellin’, so we figured, the cassette is what we grew up on. CDs is takin’ over so we need an extra attraction to get people to not buy the CDs, and also try to keep the cassette alive. We needed something to help keep the cassette alive so that’s what we did with Stretch and that was his last works, that was his last works with me. I miss him. I do. I think about him from time to time. Great dude. He was a real good dude.

  • http://facebook.com/242dt D. Tucker

    Nice read, beautiful article! I didn’t know he was the first rap artist to work with Lauren Hill. Now I do!

    -
    D. Tucker
    Miami, Florida | Nassau, Bahamas | YachtLife

  • http://artofglenthomas.blogspot.com/ GT

    To me “It Was Written” was better than ‘Illmatic’….and still is.

    • oskamadison

      Yo, you know what? When that joint first dropped, me and my dude was burning some trees listenin’ to it and he was like “This joint is better than Illmatic” and as dope as it was, I thought he laced the weed, lol. Turns out, umpteen years later, I came to the same conclusion. As much as I love Illmatic, truthfully the only thing Illmatic has on IWW is aura. Where Illmatic was built mostly from old rhymes, IWW captured Nas perfectly at that moment and as an album felt more complete.

  • http://facebok overdose

    True hiphop story. Truly, Nas is a legend.

  • http://facebook.com overdose

    Philippines salutes you. So as Pacquiao.

  • boldunderlinedWTefff

    ^^^

    WTeffffffff??!??

    “phillippines salutes you”? nigga, u on dope? cause yo bitch ass definitely doesn’t speak for all of the phillipines.

    GTFO of here.

  • land lord

    Another Nas CLASSIC

  • canadasmost

    this album blew me away when i first heard it . it was so creative and intellegent . on the track suspect nas says . the wedding of the freak and the beast with seven heads got the rightous threatened like it was written the plot comes from behind the setting . hes talking about the bible revelations . nasir jones is the true G.O.A.T.

  • BossHimself

    When I bought this album I was at the height of my drug dealing career. Every hustler in the hood was bumpin this album from Sony and Panasonic radios! This was the soundtrack to niggas getting that bread back then. One of the greatest albums of all time. Its still in my I pod!!

  • Big Kev C

    Did you do this interview via text message, What’s up with the 1 line responses. Where are the probing follow-ups. This interview sucked. Step up your journalism game XXL! You sold this Album and artist short

  • mike

    wacky article. rookie columnist. NAS brought hip hop back to the east coast. All Biggie had to do innovate with ready to die. Second album Nas went commercial, Biggie and puff followed and went commercial. It was written was big for hip hop. Jay Z had been the industry for 7 years was irrelevant until 98 two after biggie died and Nas semi retired for two years. Reasonable doubts was great, but it was dated by the time it dropped. All of Nas albums are legendary. He is Miles Davis to hip hop, everybody else are in the Kenny G class. Popular, no longevity. Nas has the best collection in the rap industry. Jay Z only got hot because of his relationship with Biggie. Initially people bought reasonable doubt to hear Foxy brown. Do your research.

    • The Greatness

      Yes. Yes. I definitely must agree. It Was Written was basically an LP stemmed from the Rae and Ghost chamber (OB4CL) and just carried on from that. It took on his Nas Escobar persona from Verbal Intercourse and just told the story from that. Man I remember hearing If I Ruled The World and The Message before the LP dropped and was just mesmerized at the content and most definitely the sound. The songs were crisp and definitely had the boom bap element to it. Rolling Stone was stupid as ever giving it a 2 and everyone who said this LP was wack definitely needed their brains blown out their heads. This wasn’t better than Illmatic because Illmatic is the GOAT hip hop LP; however, this LP sets Nas into the superstar stratosphere and had everyone follow and reach the plateau that he set so effortlessly.

  • Fireforreal

    Mike I agree Nas has the best collection of hip hop albums as far of how diverse they all are from each other but to say Jay’s shit was dated when it dropped is a sorry comment. You must be Jaz-O Reasonable doubt still sound fresh 15 years later to the point I wish all rappers would make albums that good so hip hop would be in such a better palce right now. And to say people only copped because of biggie is maybe a reason but who knwe other than niggas in the street who already heard the album because his features weren’t even listed on the back of the cd. And Foxy was up in coming due to the fire verses Jay wrote for her back then(just look at the credits to the best songs on her first album) And if you know your history why say everybody else are in the Kenny G class with no longevity ? do you know how long of a career Kenny G had ? were talking 20 plus I think YOU need to do your research.

  • http://xxl eddyg

    illmatic was the best then it was written we need more of that nas would of killd pac

  • Pingback: Nas spricht über "It Was Written" | HYPES ARE US | hypesrus.com

  • Dumi

    Live niGGa rap!! Nas is da true God emcee,ilmatic,it was written,stilmatic,the lost tapes,god’s son,distant relatives,hip hop is dead!! Nasty da villain! Respect hs hustle! Much love boi,

  • Lou

    It Was Written was a rare gem in rap…black girl lost is one of the illest songs I ever heard…alot of ppl don’t know the significance of this album they might go off Jay saying it was half ass in Takeover but even he knows this album would be one of the few that’s timeless

  • Vic Petro

    Take It In Blood…still one of the best tracks I’ve ever heard

  • munya

    i was suprised when dudes were dissing this album. Not better than illmatic but prob more complete. If the source and others had been objective they probably would have given it 5 mics same as god’s son. Honestly i don’t get all the NaS hate.

  • protoman

    can’t blame the interviewer. yea, he’s the greatest but he gives terrible interviews.

  • clos1881

    @Mike Nas is my favorite rapper but your bugging if you think Resonable doubt sounded dated that shit sounds great til this day. One of the big things Nas started on this abum was the hip hop crew ie the firm the commision and so forth

  • http://waycool247.com DaddyPlugin

    Yeah nice article and a skillful interview. The thing I like about Naz is he gets deeper into raw truth then most rappers. Going back 15 years ago is a deep thing to do. This brother remains to be some what of a wonder to me. He keeps a smooth profile and speaks on important issues

  • Lucas

    Another classic from Nas! My favorite rapper of all time, please Nas give us a new album in 2012! Thanks God! From Brazil with much love… Peace!

  • sparkcity911

    CONDO’S IS TUNE PROOF—-WHILE LOOKING AT THA SKYS MOON ROOF——–SHITTIN LIKE GIN AN PRUN JUICE….

    YO DA GOD USE TO ROCK THAT HEAVY…..ILLMATIC IS UNTOUCHABLE,BUT THIS ALBUM GOT NEXT AKH////////

  • Angelo

    I always felt like after Pac & Biggie passed away, that a big part of Nas died too! It’s like he lost his competitive spirit, and never regained it. When Nas was at his peak & performs at his peak, he’s in a whole nother class & league than the guy everybody tries to compare him to: Jay-Z. You have to tip your cap to Jay for taking notice of everything, and running with it. B/c he has had the best career of any MC. He’s just not the best in terms of skill, talent, creativity.

  • http://xxlmag.com Live1ne

    The interviewer asked some bogus questions because the beat issue was only part of Pac’s problem with Nas at the time. On the 1st song of It Was Written Nas Is Telling a story about getting shot going 2 the hospital and checking out super quick and all that. He basically is telling what happened 2 Pac in the 94 Quad shooting so I think we can all understand y Pac would take offense 2 that shit. All y’all need 2 listen 2 Against All Odds again if u think I’m off base with what I’m talking. Pac ain’t say shit bout no fucking beat he was pissed cuz he felt like Nas was profiting off his real life drama. “This lil nigga named Nas think he live like me talking bout he left the hospital took fire like me, u living fantasies nigga I reject your deposit . . .”. Put the real story out there not some lazy made up shit. I fuck with Nas and Pac though I got most of their catalogs respectively just tell the truth that’s all I’m saying.