Nas was born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones on September 14, 1973, in Brooklyn, New York. Nas grew up in the Queensbridge Houses in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens. His brother Jabari Fret (best known as "Jungle"), is also a rapper and a member of the hip-hop group Bravehearts. Nas inherited his love of hip-hop from his best friend and upstairs neighbour, Willy "Ill Will" Graham. After his parents divorced in 1985, he dropped out of school after the eighth grade, but nurtured his love of music through learning to play the trumpet and developing his rap skills.
Late 1980s-1994: Career beginnings and Illmatic
Nas originally rapped under the name "Kid Wave" before adopting his more commonly known alias of "Nasty Nas", performing and recording with Willy "Ill Will" Graham as his DJ. He met and befriended the producer Large Professor, who took him to the studio where Rakim and Kool G Rap were recording their albums, and Nas cut his teeth by recording in the booth in between their sessions, although the material was never released.
In 1991, he featured on Main Source's track "Live at the Barbeque", which drew the attention of MC Serch of the hip-hop group 3rd Bass. Serch became Nas' manager and landed him a record deal with Columbia Records in 1992. He made his solo debut under the moniker "Nasty Nas"on the single "Halftime" from MC Serch's soundtrack for the film Zebrahead. His debut was praised by many in the hip-hop community and he was hailed as the new Rakim.
1994 brought the released of Nas' debut album, Illmatic. Named "Album of the Year" by the Source, it received rave reviews from many music critics. The album featured production from Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, LES and DJ Premier, as well as guest appearances from Nas's friend AZ and his father Olu Dara. Debuting at number 12 on the Billboard 200, Illmatic launched several singles, including "The World Is Yours", "It Ain't Hard to Tell", and "One Love". It was initially certified gold by the RIAA, reaching platinum certification in 2001. In subsequent years, Illmatic has been regarded as a landmark album in East Coast hip hop that contributed to the revival of the New York City rap scene and influenced myriad newer hip-hop artists. Many regard Illmatic as one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time, and it has ranked on numerous best album lists by critics and publications. About.com ranked Illmatic as the greatest hip-hop album of all time and Prefix magazine praised it as "the best hip-hop record ever made".
Nas also recorded the song "One on One" for the soundtrack to the film Street Fighter, which came out later that year.
1995-1997: It Was Written and The Firm
1995 saw a change in musical direction for Nas, who embraced a more commercial sound, appearing on the albums Doe or Die by AZ, The Infamous by The Infamous Mobb Deep, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx by Raekwon and 4,5,6 by Kool G Rap. He parted ways with MC Serch and hired a new manager, Steve Stoute.
He released his follow-up album, It Was Written, in July 1996. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, staying in the top spot for four weeks, and launched the singles "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)" (featuring Lauryn Hill of The Fugees) and "Street Dreams", as well as a remix of "Street Dreams" featuring R. Kelly, that all became instant hits. It was certified double platinum by the RIAA, and "Street Dreams" was certified gold. The album marked the debut appearance of the Firm; a supergroup consisting of Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown, and Cormega.
The Firm collectively signed to Dr. Dre's label Aftermath in 1996. During the recording of the group's debut album, Cormega was fired from the group and replaced with Nature. The album, titled Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Nature Present The Firm: The Album, was released in 1997 and went platinum. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and also topped the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album's lead single, "Firm Biz" peaked at number twelve on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay and number eighteen on the UK Singles Chart. Later that year, The Firm disbanded and its members went their separate ways.
Nas was also involved in another hip-hop supergroup in the mid-1990s, Group Therapy (alongside B-Real, KRS-One and RBX ), who appeared on the song "East Coast/West Coast Killas" from Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath.
1998-2000: I Am... The Autobiography and Nastradamus
In 1998, Nas diversified from music, co-writing and starring in Hype Williams's feature film Belly, alongside DMX, Taral Hicks, Method Man, and TLC's T-Boz.
He released his fourth studio album, I Am... The Autobiography, in April 1999. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts, and was certified double-platinum by the RIAA. It was well-received by both critics and fans alike and launched two singles, "Hate Me Now" and "Nas Is Like", which both hit the top 10 of Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart.
I Am... The Autobiography was originally intended as a double album, but much of the tracks Nas had recorded leaked online, forcing him to record replacement material and release the record as a single disc. Originally, Columbia had planned to release the material that had leaked as a new album – Nastradamus – but as the release date got closer, Nas decided to record an album's worth of new material for Nastradamus. The resulting album was released in November 1999, debuting at number seven on the Billboard 200. It was a commercial success, receiving platinum certification and launching two hit singles, but did not find favor with critics.
Nas founded his own label imprint, Ill Will Records, in 2000 and that November released the compilation album Nas & Ill Will Records Presents QB's Finest, which featured Nas and several rappers from the Queensbridge housing projects, including Mobb Deep, Nature, Nashawn, Littles, Bravehearts and Cormega, as well as guest appearances from Queensbridge hip hop legends Roxanne Shanté, MC Shan and Marley Marl.
2001-2003: Stillmatic and God's Son
Stillmatic, Nas' 2001 album, was both a critical and commercial success and is considered by many to be his comeback album, after a somewhat patchy reception to Nastradamus. Certified platinum, the album peaked at number five on the Billboard 200 and topped the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album launched three singles, including the hit "One Mic", and explored Nas' beef with Jay-Z, incorporating the diss track "Ether".
In September 2002, Columbia released The Lost Tapes, a compilation of previously unreleased or bootlegged songs from 1997-2001, which debuted at number 10 on the Billboard 200 and garnered rave reviews from critics.
Nas released his sixth studio album, God's Son, in December 2003. Another platinum-selling record, God's Son was a more introspective album from the rapper, and also furthered his feud with Jay-Z over who was the King of New York Hip-Hop. It peaked at number 12 on the Billboard 200 and, once again, hit number one on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It also spawned three hit singles: "I Can", "Made You Look" and "Get Down".
That year, Nas was featured on the Korn song "Play Me" from their album Take a Look in the Mirror, and also gave a live performance in New York City that featured guest appearances from Ludacris, Jadakiss, and Darryl McDaniels (of Run-D.M.C. fame), which was released on DVD as Made You Look: God's Son Live.
He also helped his younger brother record the debut album of his hip-hop duo, The Bravehearts. Braveheart was released in December 2003 and featured guest appearances from Nas, Nashawn (Millennium Thug), Lil Jon, and Jully Black.
2004-2006: Street's Disciple and Def Jam
A double album, Street's Disciple, was Nas' next project. It was released in November 2004 and became his seventh consecutive platinum-certified album. Well-received by critics and fans alike, it debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 and launched three singles, including "Bridging the Gap", which was a Billboard Hot 100 hit.
The following year brought an end to the feud between Nas and Jay-Z, and Nas made a surprise appearance at the latter's "I Declare War" concert. The reconciliation brought Nas to Def Jam Recordings, which Jay-Z was president of at the time, and he signed a $3,000,000 deal with the label in January 2006.
2006-2008: Hip Hop Is Dead and Untitled
Nas' first album with Def Jam, Hip Hop Is Dead (2006), featured guest appearances from Kelis, Kanye West, will.i.am, Snoop Dogg, The Game and Chrisette Michele, among others, as well as a much-hyped collaboration with Jay-Z: "Black Republican". His eighth consecutive platinum album, it topped the Billboard 200 immediately and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album at the 50th Grammy Awards in 2008.
That year, Nas's 2004 song "Thief's Theme" was featured in the film The Departed (2006) and Columbia released an album of his greatest hits.
His ninth studio album was originally titled with the "n-word", but was eventually left without a name due to controversy and fears over a potentially lack of distribution. The album was released in July 2008 and features guest appearances from Chris Brown, Keri Hilson, Busta Rhymes, and The Game, among others. It is Nas' fifth number one album and was certified gold.
2008 also saw Nas work on Dr. Dre's later-cancelled studio album Detox and also win 'Emcee of the Year' in the HipHopDX 2008 Awards for his latest solo effort and his exemplary appearances on other albums.
2009-present: Collaborations, Life Is Good and Nasir
2010 brought a collaboration between Nas and Damian Marley, titled Distant Relatives. The album received positive reviews and features appearances from K’naan, Stephen Marley, Dennis Brown, Junior Reid, Joss Stone and Lil Wayne. Distant Relatives debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 and entered at number four on Billboard's Digital Albums, and at number one on its R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, Rap Albums and Reggae Albums charts.
Life Is Good, Nas' eleventh studio album, was released in 2011 to rave reviews. With guest appearances from rappers Large Professor and Rick Ross, and singers Mary J. Blige, Miguel, and Amy Winehouse, among others, it launched three singles—"Nasty", "The Don", and "Daughters"—and five music videos. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, appeared on several critics' top album lists and received a Grammy Award nomination in the category of Best Rap Album for the 2013 Grammy Awards and a nomination for Album of the Year at the 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards, while "Daughters" won the Impact Track award at the 2012 BET Hip Hop Awards.
2014 brought the release of a documentary, Nas: Time Is Illmatic, which was based around the time leading up to the recording of 1994's Illimatic. That October, he released "The Season", produced by J Dilla, and appeared on Justin Bieber's album Purpose.
In 2016, Nas worked as one of the executive producers of the Netflix original series, The Get Down, narrating the series and rapping as one of the characters. He appeared on DJ Khaled's album Major Key and received the Jimmy Iovine Icon Award at 2016 REVOLT Music Conference for his lasting impact and unique influence on music. That November, he also collaborated with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dave East and Aloe Blacc on a song that appears on The Hamilton Mixtape, called "Wrote My Way Out".
As part of the soundtrack for The Getdown, he released the 2017 song " Angel Dust". That July, he also made a universally acclaimed appearance performing several songs in the award-winning 2017 documentary The American Epic Sessions, which were also released on Music from The American Epic Sessions: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.
Nasir, his twelfth studio album, was executive produced by Kanye West and was released in June 2018. It features appearances from West, Puff Daddy, 070 Shake, Tony Williams, and The-Dream, and hit number five on the Billboard 200. It is considered to sit alongside Pusha T's Daytona, West's ye, Kid Cudi and West's collaboration Kids See Ghosts and Teyana Taylor's K.T.S.E. As the fourth of five seven-track albums that West produced and released weekly in what has become known as the "Wyoming Sessions".
The Lost Tapes 2, a compilation album and sequel to The Lost Tapes (2002), was released in July 2019 and features unreleased tracks from Nas’ last four studio albums: Hip Hop Is Dead (2006), Untitled (2008), Life Is Good (2012) and an album that was unreleased in favor of Nasir (2018). It charted at number 10 on the Billboard 200, number seven on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums char t and number one on the Billboard Digital Albums chart.