It Was Written (Expanded Edition)

It Was Written (Expanded Edition)

While Nas’ 1994 classic Illmatic is often hailed as the golden standard for hip-hop debuts, there’s a dedicated sect of his fanbase that prefers his chart-topping follow-up, It Was Written. Nas’ early work had established him as a prodigious street poet with uncanny observational gifts. But Nas was after more than critical acclaim; he wanted superstardom, plaques, and respect. And on It Was Written, released in 1996, he makes a good case for why he’s worthy of them all: “There’s one life, one love, so there can only be one king,” he raps on “The Message.” This is the album in which the rapper adopted the persona of “Nas Escobar”—a mafioso alter ego inspired by drug lords, as well as rap contemporaries like Notorious B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon. The imaginative approach took his career to new artistic and commercial heights. It Was Written is a gangsta flick over speakers, with Nas serving as both Coppola and Brando—he sets the scene as director, and takes on the star role. “The Message” has him scoping enemies and bedding baddies in a Mercedes-Benz wagon; “Watch Dem N****s” questions his crew with suspicions of betrayal; and “Shootouts” narrates a plot to take out a trigger-happy police officer. The storytelling on It Was Written is stark, cinematic, and full of details: No-name extras are rendered as vividly as the album’s main characters, down to their clothes, hair, and facial expressions. Musically, Nas’ flow becomes more spacious, eschewing his multi-syllabic delivery for one that’s light and effortless. And to soundtrack his new approach, he enlisted the Trackmasters, the production team that had already made crossover hits like Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” and Mary J. Blige’s “Be Happy.” The duo supplied Nas with silky smooth beats that veered left of the boom-bap foundation he had laid on Illmatic, helping Nas find the largest audience he’d ever seen. But Nas’ street tales didn’t mean he abandoned substance. He imaginatively personifies himself as a gun on “I Gave You Power,” portraying resentment and helplessness toward the hordes who endlessly use him to destroy communities. “Black Girl Lost,” meanwhile, speaks of a young woman who struggles with self-love as a result of heartbreak and objectification. And “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” imagines a hood-utopia, one free of cops, poverty, and fear. Nas didn’t duplicate the vibes of his debut, but he had bigger dreams to pursue—and It Was Written was his first step toward reaching them.

Other Versions

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada