By the time It Was Written was released Nas was being heralded as the best MC in modern rap music after only one album. Illmatic was Nas�s masterpiece, thoughtful, heartbreaking and powerful as well as raw and scary. It Was Written was a turn in the wrong direction, but the right way in the wrong direction (if this makes any sense). Nas was beginning his transition from the underground�s story teller to the mainstream�s urban link. The album is full of classic cuts, but the grime lacing every beat on his first album was gone. The lyrics were there, but some of the emotion was gone. Maybe it was the world around Nas changing, or maybe it was changing in himself, but no one can listen to this after Illmatic and not see a change. The lyrics to �Nas is Coming� are the first sign of the major change, the song begins with a skit (something absent from Ill) about two men, one Nas and the other Doctor Dre, making/smoking drugs. They talk about Nas�s place in the growing east/west battle and decide it�s all dumb. They talk about how Nas is the only sane rapper out there, the only original guy, when ironically enough the song is more of a gangsta, mainstream tune than anything Nas has ever recorded. The song peaks it�s cheesiness with the chorus, a woman singing a faux sample �Nas is coming/ Nas is coming/ Nasty Nas is coming�. Nas is Coming does feature some incredible wordplay, but trips on its own squeaky clean Dre production.
On the other side of things Nas has some of his best work with I Gave You Power. It�s a brilliant tale from the mind of gun,
I might have took your first child
Scarred your life, crippled your style
I gave you power
I made you buck wild�
The song is as true as anything, not only for the urban culture, but for the country and the suburbs.
Always I'm in some ***, my abdomen is the clip
The barrel is my dick, uncircumcised
Pull my skin back and cock me, I bust off when they unlock me
Results of what happens to niggaz shock me
I see niggaz bleedin runnin from me in fear, stunningly tears
fall down the eyes of these so-called tough guys, for years
The song is set to a soulful boom-bap beat, the kind we miss from Ill. The song is very reminiscent of older Nas, a very depressing journey through the life of the ghetto, every day, every night, Nas was there. Songs like this show a frustrated young man, seeing his culture around him die. For some, Nas�s brand of smart, hardcore rap is the most potent of any music. Anything this deep, dark and dreary that can still inspire hope is a truly great piece of art.
As with Illmatic, this album has a main theme. With Ill it was urban life, but in It Was Written, Nas takes a more fantastical Mafioso theme. And the more fantastical Nas gets the more detached his music becomes. Affirmative Action is the perfect example of this, a tale of three characters, all with mob connections, and Nas dealing with a robberery. The lyrics are there, the delivery is there, but the power and heartbreak is not. For Nas It Was Written is the beginning of the end, he takes one step forward and 4 steps back. Luckily, for a mainstream rap album, the singles are great. The first, Street Dreams, rewrites the Eurhythmics hit �Sweet Dreams� into a gritty tale from Queensbridge, NY. Though it pales in comparison to the gigantic tracks before and after it, Street Dreams is a great single, with a spot on beat and intelligent gangsta lyrics. The second single is an instant Nas classic, If I Ruled the World (Imagine That), an uplifting duet with Lauren Hill and Jay-Z (before the beef). Neither songs are amazing, but they are refreshing breaks from songs like Black Girl Lost (a horribly over-produced cheese-fest). Overall the album is far from Ill, but better than most rap at the time. I guess when DJ Shadow said Hip Hop sucks in �96 he knew what he was talking about. If Illmatic was the kind of nightmare you can�t wake up from and don�t really want too, then IWW is a regular dream, not quite �real� but enjoyable all the same. 3.5/5
"Nas is Coming", "Black Girl Lost" stink. But there are a lot of good songs here that are slept on like "Live Nigga Rap" and "Take It In Blood". But, personally "If I Ruled the World" comes off preachy and a liitle awkward.
i think this is better than illmatic actually - controversial as that may sound. i have rated illmatic 5 and this 4.5, but the sole reason for that is down to luck..illmatic came out first, revolutionised hip hop, and set the benchmark. it was written is technically better, more fun, more well produced, better lyrics. in fact everything about it is better - except for the fact it wasn't his first album. if that makes sense, i hope that doesn't make me sound a twat, i do love both these albums. even got a bit of love for i am...