Nas' 1994 debut album, Illmatic, immediately cemented the Queens MC as one of rap music's most gifted and celebrated lyricists—a scene-painter almost without parallel, delivering an endlessly quotable stream of aphorisms steeped in the traditions of New York rap. During the seven years after Illmatic, however, Nas was known mainly for pop crossover records and club bangers. That all changed in 2001, when Nas and JAY-Z clashed in one of the most explosive dis wars in rap history; “Ether,” the name of Nas' savage song-length diatribe, promptly entered the slang lexicon as a word for completely decimating your opponent. "Ether" is the second track of Stillmatic, Nas' fifth album and full-length return to hungry, introspective, non-commercial rhyming. Here, Nas is back to what made him adored in the '90s: snapshots of his youth, vivid visions of crime, boasts that paint him as no less than one of the all-time greats—and the lyrics to back it up. The powerful "One Mic"—based on the quiet-loud dynamics of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"—is a tongue-twisting ode to his own art in the shadows of hood life and beef. "Rewind" tells a story in reverse, while "Destroy and Rebuild" is built with some Slick Rick-styled flows. Like Illmatic's grab bag of collaborators, the beats come courtesy of friends old and new. On single "Got Ur Self A…," producer Megahertz flips the Sopranos theme into an icy track; on "You're da Man," Large Professor utilizes the voice of Rodriguez years before Searching for Sugar Man; and DJ Premier uses Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack for the partially nostalgic "2nd Childhood." All in all, a triumphant return to form from a rap great.

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