The 25 Greatest Nas Songs

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Nas is one of the greatest rappers ever to breathe on a mic. His catalog runneth over with street anthems, cinematic flair, conceptual prowess, and poetic sorcery. Here are Nas' greatest songs:

25
of 25

'You Wouldn't Understand'

There are many reasons to love "You Wouldn't Understand." It's a love note to the old school, and the beat knocks. More than anything, though, "You Wouldn't Understand" is worth it if just to hear the voice of the streets say "f*ck it" once in a while. Nas invented YOLO.

24
of 25

'Surviving the Times'

"Surviving the Times" is a veteran doing his victory lap after a ribbon-breaking marathon. Nas chronicles his journey, from unsigned emcee who "didn't even know what a record advance meant" to elder statesman who inspires a new generation of poets.

23
of 25

'Black President'

A cautiously optimistic Nas captures the enthusiasm behind Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, especially in the hip-hop community. The song's power lies in how Nas flips 2Pac's skepticism ("We ain't ready to see a black president") into a statement of hope.

22
of 25

'Queens Get the Money'

Jay Electronica's brooding piano serves as the perfect setting for Nas' stream-of-consciousness flow on this excellent intro to the Queens rapper's "Untitled" album.

21
of 25

'Nasty'

"Nasty" takes Nas back to early '90s New York, opening with an announcer querying the crowd of spectators: "Queensbridge, y’all ready to see Nasty Nas?" The guitar drops. The drums breathes. Nas takes the stage and it's on.

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20
of 25

'Hate Me Now'

Every great artist has a moment of rage. "Hate Me Now" was Nas' "I've had it up to here!" soundtrack. You can hear the anger in his voice as he bullies the beat. Not even Puff Daddy could ruin the moment.

19
of 25

'Blaze a 50'

"Blaze a 50" is Nas showing off his cinematic flair. In under three minutes, he weaves a movie-on-wax tale: sex, drugs, betrayal, murder. You're not sure what the plot is, yet you can't look away. 

18
of 25

'Take It in Blood'

"Take It in Blood" is one of the highlights on Nas' underrated second LP, "It Was Written." It pays tribute to the song's original producer, Stretch of the Live Squad, who died after working on the song. “Stretch dropped me off at home and went home and he was killed," Nas recalled in an interview.

17
of 25

'Second Childhood'

Nas and DJ Premier go together like peanut butter and toast. It might have been worth donating a pinky to be a fly on the wall and see the pair catch this lightning in a bottle.

16
of 25

'Last Real N***a Alive'

In the aftermath of their beef, Jay-Z tried to have the last word with the title track from "The Blueprint 2." But Nas quickly brushed him aside with "Last Real N***a Alive," a descriptive history of New York feuds showing reverence to Biggie, Diddy, and Wu-Tang while reducing Jay-Z to a back-stabbing upstart.

15
of 25

'Doo Rags'

A nostalgic treatise on bygone eras, "Doo Rags" finds Nas getting misty-eyed and pondering the fate of Stacy Lattisaw tapes and ear-peeling door knockers. As a gentle piano loop lulls, Nas takes it back to the essence. His vicious flow deflects the pain in his testimony.

14
of 25

'I Gave You Power'

Like many artists with the gift of gab, Nas conceives new ways to say what's been said before. Rapping about gun violence wasn't groundbreaking in the '90s; what's fresh is Nasir's raw, detailed gun metaphor on "I Gave You Power." He gave away the plot in the beginning, but he still had us hanging on every word.

13
of 25

'Get Down'

James Brown has long been a looming figure in rap production. A funky slice of Brown is the driving force behind the "Get Down," the opening track from "God's Son." Nas darts his eyes through the hood and reports on drug deals gone awry, tragedies, and funerals. Producer Salaam Remi's old black dude impression is a fresh touch.

12
of 25

'One Mic'

The Jay-Z beef brought out the best in Nas. "One Mic" makes this case perfectly. Even though Jay isn't referenced directly, it's safe to speculate that he was on Nas' mind. Nas is hungry and vexed and ferocious throughout "One Mic," which isn't what you might expect from a song built on a Phil Collins sample. A quiet storm swiftly explodes into a ball of flames, Ali punching a bag while visualizing Frazier's face.

11
of 25

'If I Ruled the World'

Even at his most radio-friendly, Nas offers a message of hope and peace. Lauryn Hill's supple vocals helped make "If I Ruled the World" a surefire summer smash.

10
of 25

'Ether'

You know how people introduce esteemed speakers by saying "This next guest needs no introduction"? That's one way to look at "Ether," which needs no introduction. If you've never heard it, go listen to it right now.

09
of 25

'The Message'

"The Message" has one of the most memorable opening lines in rap history: "Fake thugs, no love, you get the slugs, CB4 gusto, your luck low, I didn't know till I was drunk though," Nas barks on the sassy opener to the album "It Was Written." 2Pac felt the shots were directed at him and fired back at Nas on "Bomb First." This entire song was a message to Biggie, as Nas later revealed. The line "There's one life, one love, so there can only be one King" was a warning shot to Biggie, who had dubbed himself King of New York. Biggie promptly replied on "Kick in the Door": "Your reign on top was shorter than leprechauns."

08
of 25

'Rewind'

Do you know how much focus it takes to kick a story backward and still have it make sense? People who have tried this technique find their brains hurting years later.

07
of 25

'One Love'

"Illmatic" accounts for many of Nas' greatest songs. It's such an incessantly enjoyable album that you could justifiably include all 10 songs here. One of the highlights is "One Love," which finds Nas writing a letter to an incarcerated buddy over producer Q-Tip's jazz loop.

06
of 25

'The World Is Yours'

Nas connected with Pete Rock on this hot rock from "Illmatic." The song's message of self-belief is as much directed to himself as to his future seed:

"Thinkin' of a word best describin' my life
To name my daughter my strength
My son, the star, will be my resurrection
Born in correction all the wrong s*** I did
He'll lead a right direction."
05
of 25

'Made You Look'

Salaam Remi's spin on the classic "Apache" set up Nas for the post-battle smash, "Made You Look." "Ether" was Nas at his most combative, "Last Real N***a Alive" was his release therapy, and "Made You Look" was the perfect victory lap: Usain Bolt taunting his rivals at the finish line.

04
of 25

'Life's a B***h'

"Life's a B***h" is as much a win for Nas as it is for then unknown AZ. The song benefits from the friendly competition among the two New York upstarts. AZ would go on to score a record deal after his deft turn on "Life's a B***h."

03
of 25

'It Ain't Hard to Tell'

The ingredients that make "It Ain't Hard to Tell" one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time are the same ones that make Nas a candidate for hip-hop's Mount Rushmore: vivid metaphors, poetic prowess, and a terrifyingly self-assured flow. Large Professor concocts a neck snapper from Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," while Nas touts his street smarts, tossing stray jewels like confetti.

02
of 25

'Nas Is Like'

"Nas Is Like" is songwriting perfection. Nas spiffs up his nasty flow and makes his word dance harmonize with DJ Premier's slick composition. It's a song so good it would fit right in on "Illmatic."

01
of 25

'N.Y. State of Mind'

Not your typical tribute, "N.Y. State of Mind" paints a nightmarish picture of a city enveloped in darkness and paranoia: guns, fiends, blunts, and stick-up kids. No pretty hooks, no guests, just Nas perched on the corner, painstakingly documenting the mayhem.