On this day, Dec. 18, in hip-hop history...

2001: Eight years after the release of his classic debut album, Illmatic, legendary Queens, NY rapper Nas re-established himself as one of hip-hop's top tier MCs on Dec. 18, 2001, when he dropped his fifth studio album, Stillmatic.

Even though the three certified platinum albums that followed Illmatic, It Was WrittenI Am... and Nastradamus, were all commercial successes, critics widely considered each project mediocre at best based on the standard that Nasir Jones had set for himself. In fact, at that point in time, many fans began to seriously doubt the Queensbridge MC. That was until the release of Stillmatic, when Nas proved to the game that he had a whole lot left in the tank.

Thematically, Stillmatic was similar to his 1994 classic debut in that Nasty Nas put a lot of focus into the more socially conscious, storytelling style that he had been revered for on Illmatic. This was a welcome contrast to the more mainstream style that Nas had adopted throughout his three previous albums. "It’s just growing. From my first album, it was like telling stories with the album covers," The legend told XXL when asked about getting the Illmatic vibe back. "First, it was a boy, then a man, then a king, then to great knowledge and spirituality, dropping that album Nastradamus in ‘99 to come out before the year 2000. I ended off my era right there and now it’s a whole new beginning."

The seemingly reinvigorated lyricist put his next-level skills on display throughout the LP, with incredible attention to detail on tracks like "One Mic" and "Rewind." But aside from the album's philosophical subject matter and descriptive hood storytelling, Stillmatic would also go down in the history books for another reason. "Ether," the album's second track, would become known as the tanker truck full of gasoline thrown on Nas' feud with Brooklyn superstar Jay-Z, a fire that had been smoldering for some time leading up to that point.

"Ether" came as a response to Jay's song, "Takeover," a venomous diss track featured on Hov's massively acclaimed album, The Blueprint. As soon as Jay-Z debuted "Takeover" at Hot 97's Summer Jam earlier that year, the rap world anxiously awaited a response from the QB legend, and were not left disappointed. "Ether" landed hard, seemingly attacking everything Jigga stood for at that point in his career. In between lines that poked fun at the Roc-A-Fella boss' appearance, Nasty Nas claimed that Jay bit rhymes from Biggie Smalls, questioned his street cred and called out his love life. "Ether" was so scathing, the song's title has actually become a verb in hip-hop circles, used as a slang term synonymous with ruthlessness.

Stillmatic was met with wide-spread critical acclaim, with most critics across the board voicing their excitement that the Nas of old was back. The LP reached peak positions of No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and became certified double platinum by the RIAA.

Stillmatic undoubtedly served as a pivotal point Nas' storied career, and ensured that the legacy of the Queensbridge MC was etched in stone as one of the greatest that the game has ever seen.

Ill Will/Columbia
Ill Will/Columbia

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