On this day, July 2, in hip-hop history…
1996: It doesn’t matter who you are. Artists will always be heavily scrutinized once their sophomore effort rolls around. Nas, who two years prior released Illmatic, had all eyes on him—whether he would suffer from the ‘sophomore jinx’ remained to be seen. Music critics praised the honesty portrayed in his debut album, and the overall underground feel was right at home in the East Coast aesthetic. On It Was Written, Nas aimed to move towards a more mainstream sound and it proved to be one of his best albums.
It Was Written found Nas painting vivid pictures through ghetto vignettes over polished production. Gangster and Mafioso rap was growing in popularity, and the Queensbridge rapper was in the forefront by commanding a lyrical expertise. Gathering the likes of Trackmasters, Dr. Dre, Havoc and more, there was enough talent here to deliver an instant hip-hop classic. On the rap side, too, Nas tapped AZ, Foxxy Brown, Mobb Deep and Cormega to add their perspective to his street stories.
While It Was Written received mixed reviews for its crossover appeal, in retrospect fans deemed it his magnum opus. Tracks such as “If I Ruled The World,” “Black Girl Lost” and “The Message” were signs of a hip-hop visionary in the making. Nas’ prolific writing shined through in his verbal dexterity and observational skills, which only got better on other career-defining albums. Like his 1994 debut, It Was Written remains a landmark album in New York rap.