XXL Presents… The 50 Greatest Nas Songs of the New Millennium


Yesterday, Nas released his 10th LP, Life Is Good, earning himself the coveted XXL rating with arguably his strongest body of work since 2001’s Stillmatic. In the time since his critically acclaimed comeback album, he dropped a handful of solo albums, collaborative projects, and even a mixtape found its way into his catalog. In celebrating the release of Life Is Good,the XXL staff perused our respective Nas collections, selecting the strongest cuts from the 21st century, and ranking them. An arduous undertaking indeed, but after serious deliberation, XXL Presents… The 50 Greatest Nas Songs of the New Millennium — XXL Staff

50. Nas featuring Mykel "We're Not Alone," Untitled (2008)

We're not alone

“We’re Not Alone” features singer Mykel, taking a more serious approach into the subject of equality, expressing that no one man or group should be looked at more negatively than another. With a strong message within the song, Nas cuts the beat, leaving us with a moving monologue.

49. Nas "The World," (2009)

The World

A love story doomed from the start, Nas warns against trying to take a woman away from another man. After the song’s leading lady moves into the crib, bringing her 3 year old son along, Nas is forced to cut things off when he comes to the realization she still has baby daddy baggage.“When you make a girl leave a man, you never really know where she stand / How you know she really yours? Somebody could do the same to you?.”

48. Nas "Where Are They Now,"Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)

Where Are They Now?

Nas credits the rappers he grew up on, giving listeners a look at his influences, in an act of paying homage. The song notes everyone from Redhead Kingpin to Craig G, as Esco asks “where are they now?”

47. Nas featuring The Last Poets "Project Roach," Untitled (2008)

Project Roach

Controversy surrounded Nas’s 9th studio album’s title. More controversial than the title of the album, was perhaps the song entitled “Project Roach” featuring The Last Poets. In it, he compares himself and black people to roaches. “How much your roach motel costing? You in the city but yo we everywhere. Check your house ‘cause I bet we there”. However brief the track may be, Nas manages to provoke serious thought regardless.

46. Nas "Legendary," The Nigger Tape (2008)


In Nas’ Mike Tyson themed song “Legendary”, he tips his fitted to one of the most notable boxers of our generation. “Legendary”, which was also featured on the soundtrack to James Toback's 2008 film Tyson, has an adrenaline fueled, pounding beat, similar to that of Tyson’s style in the ring. In a twist of words, it seems Nas is the Tyson of rapping, and Tyson is the Nas of the ring.

45. Nas & Damian Marley "Count Your Blessings," Distant Relatives (2010)

Count Your Blessings

During the 2009 Grammy’s, Nas announced he was in the midst of working with Damien Marley on a joint album. All proceeds from the Distant Relatives project went towards charity efforts in Africa. “Count Your Blessings,” fused hip-hop and reggae roots, while implementing the sounds of African music. The track reminds listeners to be grateful and appreciative for what they have, rather than complain and bicker about what they don’t. Nas and Marley pay homage to the plight from Africa, acknowledging their successes came at the cost of their ancestors pain and suffering.

44. Nas "I Can," God's Son (2002)

I Can

“I Can” was the second single off of “God’s Son.” To this day, the anthem made for the kids, is Nasir’s most successful song in terms of chart positioning and radio airplay. The upbeat vibe for the beat, which samples Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” serves as an inspirational and message for fans of all ages. “I Can” instructs listeners to follow their dreams, and to not let anyone or anything come between the pursuit of doing what they love. Nas exceeds being in an MC in this joint, rather he plays the role of a teacher. While chasing your visions, God’s Son advises his pupils about the trials, tribulations, and tests that surface while along the way.

43. Nas "Esco Let's Go," The Nigger Tape (2008)

Esco let's go

Flexing his lyrical prowess, a snarling Nas talks his shit, quoting the late Elizabeth Taylor as telling Nas, “You the 5th nigga in the Beatles, You the 10th nigga in the Wu Tang, so nigga let yo nuts hand.” He must have been paraphrasing her words… right?

42. Nas "Carry on Tradition," Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)

Carry on Tradition

Nas explains exactly why Hip-Hop is dead on this Scott Storch produced track. “We don’t want niggas to ever win. See, everybody got a label; everybody’s a rapper, but few flow fatal” Featured on the Grammy nominated Hip Hop is Dead, the track serves as a perfect explanation of Nas' controversial album title.

41. Nas featuring Keri Hilson "Hero," Untitled (2008)


Polow Da Don provided the production for this lead single to Nas’ controversial ninth solo album, which also featured Keri Hilson on the hook. Esco viewed hip-hop to be in need of a savior, and he was ready to be that “Hero,” eager to bring lyrics and message back in an age of ringtone and stir up plenty of conversation by calling his album Nigger. But the corporate powers that be wouldn’t let that fly, forcing Nas to relent on the title, but not in the content of his verses: “First L.A. and Doug Morris was ridin' with it/But Newsweek article startled big wigs, they said, ‘Nas why is you tryin' it?’/My lawyers only see the Billboard charts as winnin'/Forgettin' Nas the only true rebel since the beginnin'/Still in musical prison, in jail for the flow/Try tellin' Bob Dylan, Bruce, or Billy Joel they can't sing what's in their soul/So Untitled it is, I never change nothin', but people remember this/If Nas can't say it, think about these talented kids/With new ideas being told what they can and can't spit.” Real shit, son.

40. Nas "Black Zombie" The Lost Tapes (2002)

Black Zombie

This record serves as a sociological reflection on flaws, contradictions, and prejudice. While Nas has always addressed such issues on varied measures, this is his conscious record at its best. He lightheartedly addresses the issues at first with a tone of sarcasm, and then transcends into a more serious voice affirming and directly critiquing what he perceives as ills mostly occurring in African-American communities. Though he could’ve been perceived as preachy or even haughty, Nas balances his points by addressing his own faults and reminds those listening to move with their own intuitions. An empowering record without fancy choruses or rants, this subtle trio of 16s does an excellent job on documenting realism. Truly, Nas had never forgotten hip-hop’s roots as the ghetto’s CNN.

39. Nas featuring Kanye West & Chrisette Michele "Still Dreaming," Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)

Still Dreaming

Two years after first linking up for “We Major,” from Kanye West’s Late Registration LP, Esco and the Louis Vuitton Don got together once again, this time for the soulful Yeezy-produced cut,“Still Dreaming.” Bolstered throughout by Chrisette Michele’s light vocals, each master on the mic puts their storytelling cap on, as ’Ye opens the song and Nas brings home the final two verses. This collaborations was indeed a dream for fans.

38. Nas "Can't Forget About You," Hip Hop is Dead (2006)

Can't Forget About You

Nas teams up with Chrisette Michelle for the sultry melody “Can’t Forget About You”, off of Hip Hop is Dead. Featuring Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” sample, Nas reflects on everything from Jordan’s retirement, to Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince winning the first rap Grammy, and Mr. T becoming a wrestler. This nostalgia inducing track is Esco at his finest.

37. Nas "Everybody's Crazy," The Lost Tapes (2002)

Everybody's Crazy

A paranoid Nas wrecks havoc on this claustrophobic street banger. Wielding his lyrical arsenal, he takes aim at imposters and adversaries, threatening “Whoever thinking coming to my vault for the safe / I got some niggas with acid, get it thrown in your face.”

36. Nas "Surviving The Times," Greatest Hits (2007)

Surviving The Times

Want to find out about Nas’ entrance into the game and early career trajectory? Listen no further than this 2007 joint, which was the only brand new song on his Greatest Hits collection. He tracks rapping on the block, going to Kool G Rap’s crib, searching for a deal, linking with MC Serch, signing to Columbia Records, and more. Plus, former NBA All-Star Chris Webber made the beat—and it’s mean!

35. Nas "Be a Nigger Too," (2008)

Be a Nigger too

Nas not only lived up to the track’s controversial and eye-catching song title, he exceeded all expectations with the initial single released for his 9th studio album, which was at the time titled, “Nigger.” When the project finally dropped, after poor public reception it had been renamed to “Untitled,” and “Be a NIGGER too” was not included on the album, due to sample clearance issues. The song begins with a chilling two-minute piano solo introduction, with Nas coming in a little over a minute in, offering his views on the struggles of blacks in American culture. Escobar’s “Be a NIGGER too” is the epitome of conscious rap, as the Queens native’s propaganda filled punchlines and forward movement flows depict the raw, uncensored, and intolerable inequalities of the still existing struggles of class and race.

34. Nas featuring Busta Rhymes “Fried Chicken,” Untitled (2008)

Fried Chicken

In personifying the southern kitchen staple, Nas and Busta cook up arguably the best cut off Untitled. On an album dictated by political finger pointing, “Fried Chicken,” is a welcomed escape from the serious tone of the album, inviting listeners to take a seat at the table next to these two lyrical masterminds.

33. Nas "Purple," The Lost Tapes (2002)


Nas vents on society and current events, while inhaling and “hallucinating off the hazing” on Track 8 of the XXL rated album, The Lost Tapes. This joint serves as a stoner’s soundtrack. In true Escobar fashion, the Queensbridge MC’s substance stuffed storytelling hits close to home, depicting his dissatisfaction with the dangerous street life culture his audience is forced to struggle to survive in on a daily basis.

32. Nas "Bridging The Gap," Street's Disciple (2004)

Bridging The Gap

“Bridging the Gap” off of 2004’s Street’s Disciple might have been the only buzz Nas got off of this album, but rightfully so. Featuring his biological father, Olu Dara, the two collaborate on this recollective track with samples from Muddy Waters. Nas illustrates just how critical his father pushing him into music was in “Bridging the Gap”. With Olu on the hook and a few ad-libs, it’s clear where Nas’s talents come from.

31. Nas "Testify," Untitled (2008)


Another one of the stronger cuts off of Untitled, “Testify” sees a somber Nas point his finger at suburban white America for failing to take his words and message to heart, despite being the demographic that actually buys his music. “I don’t need y’all, I’ll go gold with it,” Nas responds, asserting his integrity takes priority over any sort of mainstream acceptance or financial gain.

30. Nas "Nasty," (2011)


The first release off of Life Is Good Nas hops on this throwback beat to deliver lightning fast verses of vintage Esco. Though Esco hadn’t released a solo project since 2008’s Untitled Nas has a few select words for any doubters who may have gotten comfortable in his absence. “Sit back and roll a mean swisher / For my Gs, tell these clowns make room for the king, nigga.”

29. Nas ""N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave And The Master)" Untitled (2008)

"N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave And The Master)"

Perhaps the most powerful cut off of Untitled Nas speaks to the black American experience, not condemning or embracing the word “Nigger,” but rather providing an understanding of it’s place in our nation’s history. Acknowledging the inclination to “stunt” when he made it, Nas explains, “They gave us lemons, we made lemonade / But this nigga’s paid, ancestral slaves / Descendent of kings, it’s necessary I bling / Put rims on everything, wear Timbs on every scene.”

28. Nas "My Way," The Lost Tapes (2002)

My Way

Over a key-heavy Alchemist backdrop, Nas boasts foreign cars, marble floors, and models before admitting he still “feels broke with millions in the bank.” Nas’ rags to riches tale is put in perspective when he details the death of his friend, Ill Will, rapping “Never knew murder till I seen my man get popped / No blood soaking, laying there, eyes still open / I got a little closer, put my hand in his palm / He was looking right through me yo, staring beyond.”

27. Nas "Queens Get The Money," Untitled (2008)

Queens Get The Money

Nas opens his controversial album with a roar—in a figurative, lyrically ferocious sense, and in a more literal one, as Jay Electronica’s eerie, piano-driven beat kicks off with an animalistic growl. For the next two straight minutes, Nasty delivers a verbal assault, making political and cultural references, throwing jabs at 50 Cent, and boasting of his own musical potency.

26. Nas "Destroy & Rebuild," Stillmatic (2001)

Destroy & Rebuild

Stepping to Cormega, Prodigy, and Nature, there were no subliminal shots here with Nas making his point clear, “Mega, for the record, you can suck my dick.” Nas’ second verse takes aim at Prodigy, “You’re ain’t from my hood, don’t even rep QB, and dismisses Nature “Nature moved to Marcy, man dick ridin’ Nature, nothin’ else to say.” But in tearing down his fellow Queens emcees, Nas built a second fireball of a diss track to accompany “Ether,” on his 2001 comeback album, Stillmatic.

25. Nas "You're Da Man," Stillmatic (2001)

You're Da Man

Over the classic sample of “Sugar Man” by Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, Nas reinforces to listeners why he’s “da man,” spitting gems like, “Your arms too short to box with God/I don’t kill soloists only kill squads” and later on the track, “Soon as I popped my first bottle, I spotted my enemies tryna do what I do/Came in with my style, so I fathered you/I kept changin’ on the world since ‘…Barbeque.” Yeah…Nas is da man, he’s da man.

24. Nas "U Gotta Love It," The Lost Tapes (2002)

U Gotta Love it

God’s Son cooks up serious heat on this previously unreleased L.E.S.-produced track. The track is smooth. The flow fluid. The rhymes are vintage Nas. The song is a standout in a collection of superior cuts.

23. Nas "Last Real Nigga Alive," God's Son (2002)

Last Real Nigga Alive

Nas declares supremacy on the brooding “Last Real Nigga Alive,” detailing his own rise and the origin of feuds with Rae and Jay-Z. A subdued Esco offers explanation and context here over firing shots, though he closes out the dark cut with the sneering boast, “I was Scarface, Jay was Manolo / It hurt me when I had to kill him, and his whole squad for dolo.”

22. Nas "What Goes Around," Stillmatic (2001)

What goes around

Salaam Remi cues a rainy intro that leads into a five-minute long lesson on society’s ills, injustice, bravado, black pride, and the overall theme that ties together this record: karma. Two features that Nas have always been praised for are his storytelling abilities, and lyrical dexterity. Mr. Jones displays both feats in four verses transitioning between snippets of historical flaws, disputes with his inferior opponents, standard of beauty perpetrated in the media, and wraps it all up in a vignette about a man, whose sexual history sparked the spread of AIDS in his community. The contents are deep; the song’s mood is somber; the sound of Nas chanting anti-capitalism is quite evident; yet its surprisingly catchy bridge and chorus make the record more than appealing.

21. Nas "Heaven," God's Son (2002)


For the final song on his follow up to Stillmatic, Nas balances philosophy, positivity, and realism. Much of this track's opening questions peoples' motives and actions, and wonder how, if at all, they'd shift “if heaven was a mile away," rather than an abstract belief dependent on faith. “That’s when it all hit me. You see the broads and Bentleys is nothing ‘less my niggas spend it all with me,” Nas realizes, prioritizing the things in life that make up his own heaven on earth. Shortly after, he proclaims, "it's a beautiful life." He'd sing a similar tune ten years later.

20. Nas "Poppa Was A Playa," The Lost Tapes (2002)

Poppa was a playa

Nas paints a picture of an early life at home, watching his father’s infidelities firsthand, while appreciating that unlike so many of his peers, he still had a father coming home at night, however late it would be. Ghost produced by an early Kanye West, the charming beat serves as a perfect backdrop for Nas’ tale of his rolling stone father.

19. Nas "Hip Hop Is Dead," Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)

Hip Hop Is Dead

Nas loved the instrumental of “Thief’s Theme” so much, he used it again on “Hip Hop Is Dead.” “Had to flip this track again, ya’ll!” Nas exclaimed in the opening seconds of the track. The title track came as the first offering to Nas’s controversial 2006 album, Hip Hop Is Dead. A funeral service never sounded so good.

18. Nas "Dance," God's Son (2002)


Dedicated to his late mother Ann Jones, who died of breast cancer in October 2002, “Dance” has Nas emotionally wishing he could have one more dance with his mama. “I dream of the day I can go back, to when I was born/Laying in your arms, wishing you was here today, mom.” The song appeared on Nas’s December 2002 album, God’s Son.

17. Nas featuring AZ "The Flyest," Stillmatic (2001)

The Flyest

Even longtime rap duos lack the level of on wax chemistry Nas and AZ hold. One of rap’s truest “bromances,” the two make magic everytime. Sosa holds down the first verse with slick talk of green Lamborghinis while Nas questions “Wonderin’ does Faith think about Big anymore” on the second. The two close it out with a classic back and forth resulting in one of their finest duets ever.

16. Nas "Just A Moment," Street's Disciple (2004)

Just a moment

“Here's another warrior song from Nasty and Quan/It's to him I pass the baton to carry this on,” raps Nas on one of the best songs from his 2004 double disc. Quan did his part initially, carrying this cut with two superb verses and a sung chorus, as he and his brief mentor showed love to the struggling, the working, and the deceased. The Virginia rapper’s run lasted just a moment—not much beyond this song, unfortunately—but it was nonetheless a great one alongside Nas.

15. Nas "Got Ur Self A..." Stillmatic (2001)

Got Ur Self A Gun

While “Rule” was the first single from Stillmatic, it wasn’t until “Got Urself a Gun,” Columbia Records coughed out some greens to promote the single. In the midst of one of hip-hop’s biggest rivalries, with fans whispering how Nas would retaliate to Jay-Z’s “Takeover,” “Got Urself a Gun” served as the perfect pre-game liquor for those who eagerly waited for “Ether.” And it hit all the right spots, swaying from “Nastradamus,” “You Owe Me,” and “Oochie Wally,” the Megahertz Music Group-laced heater had Nas throwing darts of bravado, reminding cynics of his imminent force. Sampling Alabama 3’s “Woke Up This Morning” into such a menacing threat, certainly added the extra texture needed to complete the record.

14. Nas “Book of Rhymes ,” God's Son (2002)


Over an Alchemist gem, Esco peruses through his old spiral notebooks, finding everything from unworthy bars, to the digits of girls from his past. Like the commentary on a DVD, Nas explores his own rhymes while spitting them, even surprising himself when he comes across a particularly intimate verse about his newborn, admitting, “We both need your mother’s attention, I must be crazy, jealous of my own baby infant.”

13. Nas "The Cross," God's Son (2002)

The Cross

After losing his mother to cancer, Nas was in a state of artistic rejuvenation. Whereas Stillmatic rekindled the flame in Nas to deliver a mixture of MC essentials on how rap should be done, on God’s Son listeners were greeted with a more calm, slightly weary, yet equally menacing Nas. The Eminem-produced “The Cross” almost flawlessly sums up those elements. He once again crucifies himself (after “Hate Me Now”) for the sinful R&B antics that the game has engulfed upon, and admits his brief flirtation with the condemned route. His frustration against music industry executives with dollar signs in their pupils, and former female affiliations with greedy agendas (his ex-lady Carmen) are equally noted with disgust. It’s an imposing record that vents, but doesn’t come off as a complaint, which makes it that much more enjoyable.

12. Nas "Doo Rags," The Lost Tapes (2002)

Doo Rags

A nostalgic Nas looks back at his youth on the opener to Nas’ The Lost Tapes. The jazzy, piano driven beat carry Nas as he reflects on the 80s, drawing from his old hairstyles (Imagine Nas with dreads!) to the b-boy era, to the raucous crowds of the Apollo Theater.

11. Nas "Black Republicans," Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)

Black republicans

It’s the collaboration the rap world had been waiting for for well over a decade. Two of members of New York’s holy trinity (Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas) joining forces five years after their heated feud reached its apex in 2001. The two had actually appeared on Lord Tariq’s unreleased, “Analyze This,” but it wasn’t enough. Now that their feud was over, a Jay and Nas joint was mandatory. At last, the two delivered Grade A verses over L.E.S.’s fitting triumphant horns. There was even talks of a Spike Lee video. Unfortunately, the idea never materialized. The track was historic nonetheless.

10. Nas "No Idea's Original," The Lost Tapes, (2002)

No Idea's Original

Produced by The Alchemist, “No Idea’s Original” was actually recorded during sessions for Stillmatic. The song, which samples Barry White’s 1973 hit “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby”, goes inside Nas’ psyche, exploring the idea that even though things have been done before, it’s all about finding new ways to do them and do them better.

9. Nas "Get Down," God's Son (2002)

Get Down

On “Get Down,” the third single off of God’s Son, Nas shines as a storyteller over a funky beat courtesy of Salaam Remi. Between the James Brown Sample, Esco’s intricate narrative, “Get Down”'s throwback vibe brings back vintage Nas.

8. Nas featuring 2pac "Thugz Mansion," God's Son (2002)

Thugz Mansion

Also released on Pac’s posthumous album, Better Dayz, "Thugz Mansion" paints a picture of a perfect place as Esco imagines “A place where death doesn't reside, just thugs who collide Not to start beef but spark trees, no cops rolling by No policemen, no homicide, no chalk on the streets No reason, for nobody's momma to cry.”

7. Nas "Second Childhood," Stillmatic (2001)

Second Childhood

Nas and DJ Premier make magic. There’s no other way to describe their handful of collaborations, and “2nd Childhood” falls right in line (and near the front of it). Premo’s patented chorus scratches and sped up drum and chord sample of Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson “Born To Love” set the tone for the Queens MC’s vivid narrative. He tackles being stuck in a cycle of immaturity, with the first verse a reflection on himself, and the next two about a dude who’s “31 and can't give his youth up, he's in his second childhood,” and a girl that’s “27, argues fights/Selfish in her own right for life, guess she's in her second childhood.”

6. Nas "Daughters," Life Is Good (2012)


Touching and relatable, Nas comes to terms with the difficulties of being the father of a 17 year old girl. “I’m too loose, I’m too cool with her / Should’ve drove more time to school with her,” he admits in an honest and humanizing record where Esco comes off as more of an everyman than a rap star.

5. Nas "Thief's Theme," Street's Disciple (2004)

Thief's Theme

The lead single off Nas’s November 2004 double album, Street’s Disciple, “Thief’s Theme” samples the hypnotic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly. On it, Nas does what he does best, spitting flames and creating visuals like arguably no other. “Rats drink from water drops, in the streets ni—as/Little kids scared of cops, with red dots.” Get the visual?

4. Nas "Rewind," Stillmatic (2001)


Nas is such an ill narrator that he can tell stories backwards. The Queensbridge native did just that on “Rewind,” an album cut off his 2001 LP Stillmatic, in which Esco proceeds to rhyme a story backwards, from end to beginning, over 2:13 of Large Professor-concocted heat. “The bullet goes back in the gun/The bullet hole’s closin this chest of a ni--a” is how Nas starts his backwards narration on “Rewind.”

3. Nas "Made You Look," God's Son (2002)

Made You Look

Nas went ultra hard on this scintillating cut in attempting to show and prove why he’s the best MC the rap game has to offer with plenty of slick talk and lines such as, “Mobsters don’t box, my pump shot obliges/Every invititation to fight you punk asses/Like Pun said, ‘You ain’t even en mi clasa.”

2. Nas “Ether” Stillmatic (2001)


No one knew exactly how Esco would respond to the shots Jay-Z took at Nas on “Takeover.” Would it be the end of Nas? Would he come back with a half-assed response. But Nas delivered “Ether,” a bullet hole ridden diss record where the Queensbridge emcee called out Jigga on everything from his alleged stabbing of Lance ‘Un’ Rivera, to getting out rapped by Eminem, to biting the Notorious B.I.G’s lyrics. Jay’s “Takeover,” was undeniably hot, but “Ether” turned the Jay-Z / Nas rivalry into one of the greatest Hip-Hop has ever seen.

1. Nas "One Mic," Stillmatic (2001)

One Mic

The somber keys and stripped-down drums guide listeners to a narrator named Nas, whose toned-down—almost sighing—voice kicks off a self-reflective narrative (“one girl, and one crib, one God to show me how to do things his son did”). Then the descriptions divert its attention to an escalating violence (“in this life of police chases, street sweepers and coppers”), with the music’s intensifying ambiance perfectly complementing the lyrical context. The song then calms itself as Nas proclaims a manifesto: All I need is one mic.
This record is the highlight of the critically lauded Stillmatic. Released on 2001, during hip-hop’s economic bubble, when flashy singles were direct reflections of the time’s prosperity, the approach Nas took—of going against the grain—was a bold gesture. While it never garnered massive chart success, the song was applauded by critics and fans who thought they lost Nas to the rubbish that was Nastradamus. Its socially conscious elements hinted the stylistic approach Nas would partake throughout the aughts. The song stands out as a landmark centerpiece for Nas and a new generation of fans (who never fully experienced Illmatic) to witness the art of rap at its highest form.