All Nas Needs is One Mike

There is a never-ending debate over who's the best rapper of all time. The arguments always change, but the names somehow remain constant. Rakim, 'Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nasir Jones -- a.k.a. Nas -- are consistently considered rap's lyrical upper class. Of these five emcees, though, Nas is probably your safest bet as a winner -- especially since he orchestrated the second-most anticipated resurrection in history, after Dr. Dre's late-Nineties comeback.

Nas entered the game a decade earlier with Illmatic, a lyrical and conceptual shot heard 'round the world. He was quickly labeled a legend and dubbed "the next Rakim." With its refreshing, introspective look at urban Americana, Illmatic not only changed the way rappers rapped; it changed the way listeners listened. Nas's sophomore offering, It Was Written, was also a gem, thus solidifying his position atop the rap world. Then he encountered what many believed was an unconquerable obstacle: an identity crisis, during which he presented himself as a remorseless drug kingpin, rather than the boyishly charming street poet the world had grown to idolize. In the next six years, Nas released subpar efforts such as The Firm Album, I Am, and Nastradamus. Add a couple of untimely beefs with other rappers, and there was enough evidence to plead the case that Nas had officially fallen off.

Last December he came back with Stillmatic, an eye-opening return to his essence: raw rhymes and clever concepts. The album features Nas's classic street narratives -- and even boasts a lyrical barrage aimed toward Jay-Z ("Ether"). Nas's lyricism, revitalized delivery, and anti-Jay-Z sentiment have instantly won back the hearts of fans. Suddenly the streets are singing the praises of Nasty Nas again.

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