Nas’ 15 Best Lines From ‘I Am…’

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    It's going to be a big month for Nas. The Queensbridge rhymer is gearing up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his genre-shifting debut album, <em>Illmatic</em>, later in April, while yesterday his third album, 1999's <em>I Am...</em>, reached the 15-year milestone. Originally intended as a double album, <em>I Am...</em> became the first of two albums—the second being <em>Nastradamus</em>—that he would release in 1999, a prolific period for the young rapper, and while musically many thought it failed to live up to the standards he had set for himself, lyrically the Nasty one was still on point. To celebrate yesterday's 15th anniversary of the album, <em>XXL</em> has pulled the 15 best lines from God's Son's third album, straight from the dungeons of rap. <em>—Dan Rys (<a title="danrys" href="https://twitter.com/danrys" target="_blank">@danrys</a>)</em>
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    <h2>"N.Y. State Of Mind Part II"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>DJ Premier<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "Had eight partners growin up, eight turned to seven/Seven turned to six niggas, got two in heaven/Six of us, holdin it, now it's five rollin thick/The sixth one's parole flipped; five niggas, went to four quick"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> An easy flip of the original takes some of the urgency of his introduction out of the beat, but Nas still holds things down lyrically. This particular line, where he counts down number of friends in his crew from eight to an eventual two, is a by-the-numbers dissection of some of the biggest issues facing young black men growing up in the projects—murder, prison, moving away, flaking on friends—that cut crews down in size and number.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/YZSODfefzlE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Hate Me Now" featuring Diddy</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>D Moet, Pretty Boy and Poke And Tone<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "Expandin' more to the big screen, Bill Gates dreams/But it seems you'd rather see me in jail with state greens/Want me off the scene fast, but good things last/Like your favorite MC still makin' some mean cash/First rapper to bring a platinum plaque back to the projects/But you still wanna hate, be my guest"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> "First rapper to bring a platinum plaque back to the projects" is a tough line to back up, but Nas' claim that he'll never get the hood out of him rings it more true than you'd think. The track is set up as one big boast—you want to end me, but I'm just too good—with the Nasty one making Bill Gates moves, it's hard to stop him.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/dKSJN3WWR3E" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Hate Me Now" featuring Diddy</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>D Moet, Pretty Boy and Poke And Tone<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "Took a little time to claim my spot/Chairman of the board until this game stop/And I side with the Lord/Ride for the cause while drivin' niggas shot at my doors/Plottin' I'm sure, to catch me with they Glocks to my jaws"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> "Took a little time to claim my spot" could mean a couple different things—it took him a while to finish making <em>Illmatic</em>, it took him a while to gain commercial recognition, it took him a while to be regarded among the greats—but he'd become the Chairman of the Board by the time this album dropped. Think the music video did enough to get his point across about jealousy and envy?<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/dKSJN3WWR3E" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Small World"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>Nashiem Myrick, Carlos Broady<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "Got large, sign on his door, 'Don't knock hard'/Layin' with his bitch, niggas is rich, is what he told her/Played the block, holdin' cracks inside the baby stroller/Here come his crazy soldier, six shots it's over"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> Nas is so evocative with his storytelling that he can put the entire scope of this man's life on blast in six words—"holdin' cracks inside the baby stroller"—and then justify his death in fewer than 10 more.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/EGIaXHn0U38" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Favor For A Favor" featuring Scarface</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>L.E.S.<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "A killer code, secret untold, how we bury beef with a rose/To his wake we send a wreath that explodes/Beneath us sleep with the Reaper, they sleep eyes closed/That's how real Brad Jordan keep it, to him I owe"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> Whoooo, 'Face and Nas on the same track is a ferocious proposition, and the duo come through for each other here. The two street storytellers trade tales of hitting targets for each other, outlining the rules of the game as they go and the traditions and customs that go mostly untold along with it.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/pHmTUpX-AjQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"We Will Survive"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>Poke and Tone, Jamal Edgerten<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "It used to be fun, makin' records to see your response/But now competition is none, now that you're gone/And these niggas is wrong, using your name in vain/And they claim to be New York's king?"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> Addressing the death of Biggie directly, Nas, within a few short lines, encapsulates his friendship with the Bed-Stuy rapper, claims he's the best rapper around, and dismisses every rapper claiming the throne since Big's untimely death, as if that's not what it's all about. Yeah, I think it's fair to say Jay Z wasn't too pleased with this verse.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Kxxvc4Tk_ug" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"We Will Survive"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>Poke and Tone, Jamal Edgerten<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "Can't believe I heard my name on "the realest shit you ever wrote"/We had words cause the best supposed to clash at the top/But kept it brotherly, when we seen each other and stopped/In NYC, at MTV, people watched/We was both deep/After you left, I got no sleep"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> In the same song, addressing Tupac, Nas took the high road while referencing 'Pac's shots at him in "Against All Odds," saying that they'd still been cool despite the diss records since that was just how MCs should go at each other when fighting for the throne. "We was both deep / After you left I got no sleep" is one of the realest lines connecting the two of them.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Kxxvc4Tk_ug" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Ghetto Prisoners"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>Dame Grease<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "I'm like the farmer plantin' words, people are seeds/My truth is the soil, help you grow like trees/May the children come in all colors, change like leaves/But hold before you, one of those prophetic MCs/With blunted flows, seven hundred souls in me"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> A hell of a track, lyrically speaking, but these lines—where he lays out the mastery of his lyricism and its structure—is one of those iconic ideas, one of the moments where he sums himself up the best he can and identifies why so many follow his flows so closely.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/1X0vEcYLN08" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"You Won't See Me Tonight" featuring Aaliyah</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>Timbaland<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "Caramel kisses of Jezebel's sister/I feel no guilt when I twist ya/Turn the other cheek when I see the next freak wit ya"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> A simple idea, but the way Nas flips the notion of sleeping with women with no remorse or emotion reflects his lyrical dexterity. Who else would have come out with the line "caramel kisses of Jezebel's sister"? The interior rhyme scheme works well.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/06bUoBG4-pg" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Life Is What You Make It" featuring DMX</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>L.E.S.<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "Stared at one face, thought it was beef, he looked familiar/Ready to blast, nigga gave me daps, said I feel ya/Can't believe how my life changed/From the hood, the first time in my life I can say I did the right thing"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> Nas reflecting on past beefs which would have gotten him jacked up, but that now gets him dapped up in his neighborhood. One of those moments where Nas gets reflective, steps back and breathes a sigh of relief for making something of himself. It harkens back to "I Want To Talk To You"—how he wants to make changes to the world he sees around him—but takes it to a more personal level, acknowledging that he can do that because he changed his own life first.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/8o-iGytI8ks" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Big Things"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>Alvin West<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "No competition/I stop and twist 'em/Hit 'em like a mafia proposition/I'm glad y'all stopped and listened/Thinkin' back to when I had no pot to piss in"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> Rarely do you hear Nas rapping this fast, spitting words at a rate that would make Twista nod his head in approval, and using that flow to reiterate how he's untouchable in the rap game.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/VoMhU91MdzQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Nas Is Like"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>DJ Premier<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "As far as rap go, it's only natural I explain/My plateau, and also, what defines my name/First it was Nasty, but times have changed/Ask me now, I'm the artist, but hardcore, my science for pain/I spent time in the game, kept my mind on fame/Saw fiends shoot up and do lines of cocaine/Saw my close friends shot, flatline/Am I sane?/That depends/Carry Mac-10s to practice my aim"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> Nas has always gotten autobiographical in his rhymes, but if all of <em>Illmatic</em> was his thesis statement about his life to that point, "Nas Is Like" brings his listeners up to date on him since then. It's as close to a State Of Nas' Union as you can get, and with Premier on board with the beat, it only makes sense that he updates his story five years later. <br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/VC4ORS5n9Hg" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Nas Is Like"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>DJ Premier<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "I'm a poor man's dream/A thug poet/Live it and I write down and I watch it blow up"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> Of all of the things Nas says he's like, this line is probably the most accurate, and the most succinct. The "thug poet" is a term probably most associated with Tupac and continues the theme that Nas carries throughout the album of aligning himself with the greats of the genre. "Live it and I write down and I watch it blow up" has to be another of the realest lines he could spit, dismissing any others that don't spit the truth in their own lyrics.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/VC4ORS5n9Hg" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Money Is My Bitch"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>Alvin West, Poke & Tone<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "The ho turned me out, green eyes, had a crush on her/Since 5 years old, met her, fell in love wit her"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> The line that kicks off the song's extended metaphor comparing money to women is maybe the most clever of the song, because even though he makes it very clear in the hook that he's not speaking literally, he flexes his lyrical dexterity to spin and swing the comparison all over the place. The closing line—"Promised happiness, but really did nothing for me / I guess bitches like you just grow on trees"—is another that illustrates the complex relationship.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/0WhlhmhIYis" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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    <h2>"Undying Love"</h2><strong>Producer: </strong>L.E.S.<br /><strong>Lyric:</strong> "Sat on the floor near my dead girl, put her in my arms/Pulled her ring out my pocket I was savin'/Put it on her ring finger cocked the Glock/And started prayin'"<br /><strong>Why It's Dope:</strong> Maybe the starkest image from one of Nas' most heart-wrenching stories, where a man comes home from Vegas to find his wife cheating with another man. It's a depressing story—Nas specializes in those when he wants to—but is another vivid example of his storytelling ability, weaving in an entire narrative that spans cities, states, emotional chasms and rash decisions, ending with a gunshot. A heavy end to the album, to say the least.<br /><br /><iframe width="670" height="380" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/_YSpG8yi4hI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Previously: Listen To This Rare 1993 Freestyle From Nas
Nas On Real Time With Bill Maher
Nas Performs At The JFK Center With An Orchestra
Nas Talks About The Current State Of Hip-Hop