Tag Archives: hip hop

A Tribute To Nas’ Not-So-Secret Weapon, ‘It Was Written,’ 20 Years Later

20 years ago this week, one of the most unknowingly important days in hip hop shaped me into the rap nerd that I have become. July 2nd of this year marks the 20th anniversary since Nas’ sophomore studio album, It Was Written, was released to the public.

This particular anniversary is a bit more important to me as a fan than majority of the hip hop community celebrating the day of April 19, 1994.

Here’s why.

Although the Queensbridge MC has obtained countless accomplishments within his lengthy career since then, this particular project is arguably one of his most significant. Yes, today, Nas is now a two-decade veteran, and is still high in-demand amongst the rap community, but without some expertly calculated moves, impeccable bars, an eye for the truth, and room for growth, different beginnings could have solidified a shorter ending.

When the hip hop community discusses the “classic” category amongst album conversations, there’s almost no question that Illmatic will always be within that conversation. Nas’ debut held heavy power, stamping his place as one of the most impactful in the game as hip hop made its transition into the “golden era.” Releasing his first official project with no major features, the backing of a major record label, and some of the top producers in the game, it was the perfect alley-oop to let a young Nasir Jones take the rap baton and run ahead of the game.

But after providing such an explosive entrance into the mainstream hip hop spotlight, the doubts started coming in strong, and frankly, as expected. The questions are still raised today for those who push out magnificent debuts: How will they keep this dominant reign up? Is there room or time to grow before attention spans fade? Is this already the peak? Back in 1995, the year following his Illmatic release, these run-on whispers circled Nas’ name amongst rap fans all over.

The room for substantial growth introduced itself politely to Nas, and he wasn’t shy of diving deep into it face first. Fans were already well aware of the extraordinary wordplay Nas was capable of, but this sophomore release saw a significant upgrade. With lines such as, “Diamonds I flaunt ‘em. Chickenheads flock, I lace ‘em, fried, broiled with basil, taste ‘em. Crack they legs way out of formation. It’s horizontal how I have ‘em,” off of “The Message,” fans were re-introduced to a newly advanced quick-witted MC.

It even saw the birth and peak of The Firm, with Foxy Brown, AZ, and Cormega dispensing some of their best bars on the infamous collaboration, “Affirmative Action.”

His picture-painting skills remained in tact as well, as he continued on with his gritty New York street tales that were displayed on Illmatic. Tracks like “I Gave You Power” and “The Set Up” told some cringe-worthy stories that flaunted Nas’ gift for detail. “Beat up and battered, they pull me out. I watch as ni**as scattered, making me kill, but what I feel ain’t never mattered,” Nas rhymed with a tone of wince on “I Gave You Power.” The entire project takes on a consistent flow that brings light to hustling through a broken system that is still relevant amongst society today.

Although the album is deeply appreciated by loyal Nas admirers, it still doesn’t see a proper positioning within rap conversations of the present. When the hip hop community pulls the rapper’s name into the classic albums conversation, it’s inevitable that all signs point to Illmatic for majority involvement of his royal status. However, It Was Written can easily be argued as his best work, along with being validation of his higher pedestal in the rap game. It’s no easy feat to release a solid debut album that makes the history books, but annihilating the sophomore slump is an even larger triumph.

In the words of Mr. Jones himself, “There’s one life, one love, so there can only be one King.”

This anniversary may not be viewed to be as worthy of a dedication to this body of work such as the 20-year marks of an Illmatic, or even a Reasonable Doubt, or the launch of Bad Boy Records, but it’s still worthy of a celebration. Nas came, saw, conquered, and was able to do it all over again a second time around after one of the greatest debuts in hip hop history. His growing style, caidence, wordplay, and story-telling ability helped set the tone for rap over the next decade. It’s time for hip hop to rip the band-aid off and recognize the mark that was made from Nas’ second studio project.

So, I raise you one question rap stans. At the 20-year-mark, can we finally include It Was Written into the classic mainstream rap albums conversation?

Nas It was Written Tribute
Source: Columbia Records

Unfinished Ramblings: How Hip Hop Actually Really But Seriously Saved My Life

I know what you’re probably thinking by the title. This is the story of another human being finding the light at the end of their depression tunnel through music, and being “brave enough” to write about it.

Well, it is, but it also isn’t. This article is going to go up unfinished, just like my story is. All I can promise is that I won’t claim to love music any more than you (You know that kind of person I’m talking about). I can explain.

My name is Lindsey, and I suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Firstly, why does that seem like the most unsettlingly fitting way to describe myself within society? Because society has categorized us this way, by our mental state, without even flinching for a second. I once heard that the best way to describe having anxiety is to tell someone to imagine that every small decision they make has life or death consequences. This could not create a better image of the clutterfuck that is my emotions on a daily basis in any aspect. On the surface, and underneath, I’ve suffered from anxiety practically my whole life, having heard “Stop worrying” every single day, but it wasn’t until just about 7 years ago that I actually took some sort of control of it.

Of course, this may seem like the ordinary story of a person coming to a self-realization with a borderline mental illness. This may be what you read every other day in most health magazines or throughout those spontaneous mental health op-eds, but my story isn’t one of just learning to overcome it or defeat it. In fact, I would say that there is no solution to my problem, but rather how I learned to stop looking at it LIKE it was a problem. It’s still here, however, and kicking my ass unapologetically. My “success” story took years of denial, self-abuse, nearly 10 misdiagnosis cases, and 40 different kinds of wrong medications, leading to three cases of actually trying to take my life. Some of that came even after I accepted what my mind’s fate was.

When people say it’s a battle, those who do not suffer anxiety disorders don’t even know the half of what comes with that. They don’t know that just waking up and opening our eyes can be terrifying. Walking out of our doors every day and seeing someone we’re not fully comfortable with can build the adrenaline of watching a horror movie. Even sending the slightest risky text message here and there can make our hearts pound just as hard as bungee jumping off of a bridge. Portraying any type of confidence can be the most unnatural and uncomfortable situation we put ourselves in.

Anxiety doesn’t become important to your life until you are forced to have that open and honest conversation with yourself. “Okay, so what the fuck are we really doing here with this mind of yours, miss?” is probably something I’ve asked myself twice a day since I was maybe a sophomore in high school. I was in my first true state of confusion in all components of my life. It’s hard to admit these issues to yourself, or anyone who may be able to help, as even the slightest disorder can be treated like a legitimate disability in the world around us. That’s what hinders so many people from accepting themselves, seeking help, and learning to cope.

For me, the solution was actually right under my nose, and had actually been helping me deal with my day-to-day before I even knew it was there to do so. Yes, hip hop saved my life, and countless times for that matter, but to me, it didn’t become my therapy or escape until I was deep in debt with my depression. As a former dancer, I had a producer’s ear, rather than an MC’s when I started listening to the greatness at around 10-11 years old, and would constantly be checking for the beats to fit my mind’s scattered choreography in the years following. Eventually, I gave up my love for dancing professionally sometime after high school, and found myself drowning in my own thoughts. The distraction was long gone by that point, and the anxiety was coming on like a tidal wave after facing many unexpected downfalls in my life.

That’s where hip hop came in to give me a fair rescue. I always felt like something in my breath deeply breathed my love and admiration for the culture and sound, but I didn’t feel that I would fit in very smoothly. Being a small town girl from Connecticut, I was used to being inside of an ignorant and naive bubble, but something never felt right about being there. It wasn’t that I could so much relate to the likes of a Nas, a Biggie, a duo like Outkast, or even an LL Cool J, as I lived a nearly opposite life growing up, but something about their hunger to escape into bigger and better things went straight into my ears, and sank deeply into my veins. It pressed a button in me that said something wasn’t right about where I was, who I was around on a daily basis in that town, and the life I would be living if I attempted to stay.

Even just particular projects single-handedly shaped me into being able to accept my anxiety and depression over the years. When I say an album like God’s Sois extremely meaningful for me, it’s hard for people to understand why, and that’s perfectly fine. I don’t expect them to comprehend why I stay stuck on one of Nas’ more lackluster projects in comparison to his best works. To me, I felt every aspect of the darkness spit on that album, and it resonated so highly with my own. Even Common’s Be helped me to feel like my emotional roller coasters, and desire to find authenticity in people, was more of a normalcy for a human being than the pretentious and judgmental tone that swept through my hometown. I came to my own zen, one way or another, thanks to one of the most criticized cultures in society.

If hip hop had never touched my ears, and brushed so hard against my soul, I probably wouldn’t be here today, let alone even writing this. While not everyone is going to be a fan of me wanting to be part of the culture, or contributing to it, going after my vision to do so has done more for my life than anything else can. I would have been nothing, and I mean seriously nothing, without it, and it’s unbelievable to me that I can even just be part of conversations about it, let alone helping to spark some. Hip hop culture truly is one of the most special aspects of society, and if you get a chance to be part of it, make sure you go ahead and let it change your life graciously.

I know, I know. I’ve been mostly rambling, but this piece will remain unfinished as most of my rants tend to, and I hope it opens some hearts up. My battle with anxiety is never over, and it’s not something that will be “defeated” at any point, but it’s one of the many intricate pieces that impacts my every move.

This is the introduction to diving into my mind. Thank you, hip hop. Genuinely.

-Lindsey India