In 1990, a 17-year-old rapper named Nasir Jones shopped his demo tape to nearly every record label in New York. They all rejected him. Thanks to 3rd Bass' MC Serch, though, the tape found its way to Columbia Records' A&R Director Faith Newman, who offered Nas a deal that day. That tape would eventually become 'Illmatic,' the rapper's 1994 debut widely hailed as one of the best hip hop albums of all time. To celebrate the release of Nas' 10th album 'Life is Good,' Fuse takes a look back at the rapper's mercurial, unique career.
Always the Award Bridesmaid...
Nas, pictured here at the 1998 MTV VMA Party, has been nominated for six VMAs and eight GRAMMYs, but has yet to win. Judging by his reaction, he doesn't seem to care too much. Nas scored a Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY nom for "If I Ruled the World," from 1996's 'It was Written,' and later snagged a Best Rap Video nom for "Hate Me Now," from 1999's 'I Am...'
At Tommy Hilfiger's "Young, Loud & Sexy" Fashion Show
In 1999, the rapper immediately went back to the studio after 'I Am...' and later that year released his fourth album 'Nastradamus,' which debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200.
Nas in London, circa 2000. He does not look happy.
Nas followed 'Nastradamus' with 2001's 'Stillmatic,' a return to the more thoughtful and conscious rhymes of 'Illmatic.' Strengthened by the publicity of a heavily hyped-up beef with Jay-Z, Nas used 'Stillmatic' to revive a teetering career. Here, a 2002 shot from the big-budget Stillmatic tour.
Nas in South Africa
Nas performs in the Soweto riots scene at his "One Mic" video shoot.
2002 saw the release of 'God's Son,' Nas's sixth album.
'God's Son' was partly inspired by Nas' mom, who died in the rapper's arms after a battle with breast cancer, and whose lessons would later factor into the song "Heaven."
The Murder, Inc. Connection
Nas' association with Ashanti and Ja Rule, pictured here in 2002, endeared him to fans of pop-rap but turned off his hardcore base.
Performing at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards
Nas, Ashanti and Ja Rule perform at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
For the Children
Nas backstage at the first annual Hip Hop Youth Summit in 2002 to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. in Queens, New York. That same year, the rapper released "I Can," a youth motivational song featuring children performing the chorus.
Nas with Russell Simmons and Minister Benjamin Muhammad at the Hip-Hop Youth Summit.
"Bridging the Gap" With Pops
At 2004's VH1 Hip Hop Honors in New York, Nas performed "Bridging the Gap" from his seventh album 'Street's Disciple' with his father, cornetist Olu Dara. Dara had appeared with Nas a decade earlier on "Life's a Bitch" from 'Illmatic.'
Onstage at 2004 VH1 Hip Hop Honors
Notice the 'Pac t-shirt, an homage to one of Nas' lyrical idols.
With Bride-to-Be Kelis
In better times, as in this 2004 shot, Nas and girlfriend Kelis were inseparable. The two would marry one year later and have one child—son Knight—in 2009. They would not always be this friendly.
The Bottom Drops
Shortly before Knight's birth, Kelis filed for divorce. The pair would engage in a series of lengthy public arguments and court battles over child and spousal support. On the cover of 'Life is Good,' Nas can be seen holding Kelis' wedding dress. Cold.
Making Up With Jay-Z
In 2005, after years of battling, Nas and Jay-Z officially ended their beef at Jay's ironically named "I Declare War" concert in New Jersey. "That was a beautiful thing for everybody to see, to show that you could be bigger than the beef," said producer DJ Premier. "To this day, one of the illest moments in hip hop."
Hangin' Out With Diddy
At the 2007 launch party for Diddy's Unforgivable cologne, Nas reunited with the hip hop mogul who provided the hook to one of Nas's most memorable songs: 1999's "Hate Me Now."
Shooting a Video with Natalie Cole
2006's 'Hip Hop is Dead,' the rapper's eighth album, featured the will.i.am-produced track "Can't Forget About You." The track featured R&B singer Chrisette Michele and a sample of Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable." Cole's daughter Natalie appeared in the 2007 video.
Celebrating His 34th Birthday in Vegas
Nas arriving at his birthday dinner in 2007 at TAO at The Venetian in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nas and Kelis Make a Statement
Nas and then-wife Kelis arrive at the 2008 GRAMMY Awards displaying the original title of the rapper's ninth album. The title would be changed to 'Untitled' after intense controversy.
Nas vs. Bill O'Reilly
'Untitled' included the anti-FOX News track "Sly Fox," which predictably came under fire from Bill O'Reilly. Nas appeared at this 2008 MoveOn.org protest to deliver a petition against what he saw as racist attacks by FOX against then-candidate Barack Obama.
Back on the Mic
The rapper at 2009's Rock the Bells concert in Wantagh, New York.
Jay-Z and Nas perform at Carnegie Hall earlier this year to benefit the United Way of New York City and the Shawn Carter Foundation.
The King Holds Court
Nearly 20 years after his debut album, Nas continues to be one of the most influential, controversial and galvanizing figures in hip hop. 'Life is Good' combines the rapper's earnestness, as heard on "Daughters," with his continued gangsta bravado, evidenced by "The Don."