This Saturday, April 19, marks the 20th anniversary of the Nas’ legendary debut album, illmatic. Much has been made of the landmark in time, as last night kicked off the Tribeca Film Festival with the premiere of the Time Is Illmatic documentary. Robert DeNiro introduced the project to the audience; clearly Nas’ influence has branched outside of the expected sphere.
We want to take a slightly different approach to the anniversary. Nas’ unreleased catalog is a behemoth, spanning multiple phases and DJ Clue tapes, so, in an effort to uncover the lesser known gems, we bring you 20 rare Nas songs you probably haven’t heard. They’re “rare,” because anything you can find on YouTube isn’t exactly rare, even if it lacks the hundreds of thousands of views that it deserves. There are, however, a couple secret treasures that we dug up from the vaults, so be sure not to miss them.
“Takes More Than What You Got To Kill Me”
Remember the days of Big Mike mixtapes? He used to have exclusives. This is one of them, a verse that never landed anywhere else. Esco discusses the obstacles in his life in nasty fashion but comes out victorious in the end, despite getting pissed on along the way.
Best Line: I was leading the race and as a child, pops blew his weed in my face/ Results mixing ether with base
“Fear Of The Black Man’s Dick”
You would have remembered hearing this one. It was slated for his Untitled album and in the song he lashes out at the practice of castration amongst slaves in the past. One of the most insightful lines comes when he connects interracial sex with the possibility that a white woman will “pass down [his] grandfather’s crown jewels.” That mixing of the bloods and inheritance of more than just “heirlooms” would probably scare the shit ouf of the white folks Nas is talking about here.
Best Line: They used to barbecue blacks, cut off their genitalia/ Killing off the aborigines in Australia”
Nas sounds like he’s caught up in the rapture of nostalgia as he takes a trip down memory lane to envision a communal utopia. It’s as if you can see him conjuring up these images in front of his own eyes as he rhymes, somewhat wistfully, somewhat triumphantly.
Best Line: Vivid images of ’95, it gives me the chills/ No raw fish, just crawfish, Kool Aid and pig cartilage
“Find Ya Wealth”
The QB’s Finest album is jam packed with dope cuts (Nas and Prodigy both murder “Self Conscience,”) but “Find Ya Wealth” might be the best one. Nas is dropping jewels on almost every single line. It’s one of those songs that reminds you how fulfilling a truly heroic rapper like Nas can be.
Best Line: Different ways to come out the hood, in cuffs or a casket/ Or crazy or shootin’ three pointer baskets
“Watch Dem Niggas” (Alternate 3rd Verse)
You may be familiar with “Take It In Blood 2” featuring all new verses (including a line from the new verse here), but the alternate verse for “Watch Dem Niggas” is not as well known. Nas includes details about getting frisked by police and losing the money in his pockets every time.
Best Line: Rock a iron sweater under soft leather/ Harder like Kenyatta from the Donald Goines saga put forth together
“The Curse” (Snippet)
Nas apparently rerecorded this verse for “Crime Cardinals” with Killah Priest, but it started as a snippet for a song called “The Curse.” It’s classic Nas, with mentions of his mom fighting off bats and a metaphor for his page as “inkaholic” for his pen.
Best Line: My pen’s a paintbrush with coloring books of gangsters/ Hoes who never changes tampons, stinking
Esco updates his It Was Written promo strategy of “Escobar Season Begins” with a new set of beats to jack, including Naughty by Nature and Freeway. Any time he raps over other people’s beats, it’s a bloodbath.
Best Line: Provoke me to allow violence/ But only in words, ‘cause smacking you would be childish
“We March as Millions”
Nas sounds like a lame duck in the first verse, but by the second he’s caught his stride, making slick commentaries about the repressed history of Blacks across the world. He’s not always at his best when he’s serving up historical facts, but when he strings ribbons of rhyme together, he’s in his element.
Best Line: People worship the Madonna in the shrines of Spains/ Or proud to share the same blood type in the veins
“Boss Up” (Feat. Nashawn)
You wouldn’t expect Nas to come off so nice over an Akon beat, but that’s what makes him incredible: he can dismantle any beat thrown at him. This was on Nashawn’s mixtape, hence why you might not have heard it.
Best Line: They servin’ they soul, purple I smoke O’s/ Perverse verses poke holes, nigga I birth flows
“Keep It Raw”
This one-minute verse isn’t Nas’ finest work, but it sounds like free association, as he uses each line to jump to the next one without any clear-cut plan about where the hold thing is going. It highlights a strength in his rhymes: we trust where he’s taking us, even if it doesn’t lead anywhere.
Best Line: Black fly guy, rule the world high, Courvoisier with my gangster consigliore’s, and rappers emulate my life for years
Jermaine Dupri “Turn It Out” (Prod. By Kanye West)
When JD dropped his debut solo album in 1998, it spent two weeks at #1 on the Top R&B Albums chart, so on one hand this isn’t quite as “rare” as I’d like it to be. On the other hand, it was Jermaine Dupri’s solo album, so heads might have skipped out on that one.
Regardless, Nas comes with not one but two exceptional verses, as he weaves “spit” into most of the first one and tailors the second one around a story of robbery in the club. The latter wins out for it’s paranoid level of vivid detail.
Best Line: “Touch the whole global with cold vocals and dark words / vocal cords translate what my drunk heart slurs”
“What You Gonna Do” (Feat. Bravehearts)
In 2000, Cash Money released the Baller Blockin’ movie with a soundtrack produced entirely by Mannie Fresh. Nas an the Bravehearts show up for ‘What You Gonna Do,’ which shouldn’t work on paper but ends up jamming thanks to Nas’ verse. What other rapper do you know that can use the word “suckle” without being phased?
Best Line: Niggas tell they hoes ‘Why you fuckin’ with Nas?/ He just gonna nut on your eyes, have you suckle his guys
“Street Dreams” (Alternate 3rd Verse)
It seemed like there were lots of second parts and alternate verses for songs on It Was Written, and while Nas sounds a little awkward towards the start of this different verse, you can’t really fumble, “Ill designer fleece, studded Marquise.”
Best Line: I creep tinted, park the whip and grab the rented / Seems like a change of my location every minute
What rapper do you know would start a verse by saying that he shakes his third leg in the toilet? Not into the toilet—in the toilet. Talk about a visceral image. The same Jacksons sample from Hova’s ‘P.S.A. Part 2’ backs the beat
Best Line: My daughter gave me a gift, something to hold / a little city in water, when you shake it, it snow
Made Men “A Few Good Niggas”
This is an infamous appearance by Nas, as he fucking smokes it (not that it’s hard to outshine Benzino and his boys). The way he opens his verse is so typical of him, it’s like you’re watching an establishing shot by a renowned director: blunt in his lips, halo of smoke over his head.
Best Line: “Peace to my foes who really took it there with the beef / peace to them hoes who left they pussy hair in my teeth”
“NY State Of Mind Pt. 3” (Feat. Alicia Keys & Rakim)
You may have heard the sequel to his classic illmatic opener on I Am, but have you heard the third part with Rakim Allah? The line below is so cold, it was stuck in my head for days after I first heard it.
Best Line: Of pain I’m like…Saddam Hussein/ Still alive, looking at his dead children’s burnt remains
Mary J. Blige “Sincerity” (Feat. DMX)
This beat sounds like if DJ Screw got his hands on “Nautilus.” Kenny “Smoove” Komegay” killed it, and while it’s not a head splitting verse, Esco over this sample is not to be missed.
Best Line: Chip toothed don, Nasty, blue ice Timbs on / screw face, half moon park, my tattoos dark
Timbaland “To My…” (Feat. Skillz)
In 1998 Timbo released his first solo album Tim’s Bio, featuring the lackluster single ‘Lobster and Scrimp’ featuring Jigga. Also featured was this song with Nas and Skillz, who seems to have lost his job ever since stopping his yearly recaps.
Best Line: I splash out dudes with gats I use/ Ice dangle off my chest ‘cause my cash improved’
Mobb Deep “U.S.A. Aiight Then” (Original Version)
The advance of Mobb Deep’s 1999 album Murda Muzik included tracks that were eventually left off of the retail version, such as the original version of ‘U.S.A. Aiight Then,’ which included a Nas verse tacked on to the end.
Best Line: Push a Bentley, similar game to how a pimp be/ Livin’ the life, throw the dice, head crack me, dimes attack me
Spragga Benz “This Is Way”
Nas stunts flawlessly on this reggae cut. Again, name an MC who broaches subjects like handjobs with such ease. You can’t.
Best Line: Remember Eddie Cheeba, back at The Fever, nigga catch a slob from the best ghetto diva/ A handjob while he smokin’ his reefa, they like ‘Damn Nas, the robbery’s beneath ya’