Last week was a big one for Nas Escobar, as he celebrated the 20th anniversary of his hip-hop classic, his debut album illmatic. But the Queens rapper has been making some major business moves on the side by investing in the reboot of Mass Appeal and signing artists to their Mass Appeal Entertainment.
Nas doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean record as a businessman. He’s ran two record labels in the past, Ill Will Records on Columbia and The Jones Experience on Def Jam, and none of them have spouted much incredible talent (although the former did release the dope QB Finest compilation). With Boldy as his newest signee, we looked back at some of the artists Nas took under his wing in the past.
The guy who allegedly beat Cam’ron’s ass at a nightclub after his “Hate Me Now” dis, Nashawn (a.k.a. Millenium Thug) first came to light when he was featured on “Last Words” from Nas’ Nastradamus LP. He was an auxiliary member of The Bravehearts (in an interview with AllHipHop, Wiz said Nashawn was an “upcoming soloist”) before replacing Wiz in the group, but he was perhaps best known for the 2002 Dipset dis “Write Your Name,” produced by Alchemist.
In 2006, he released the Napalm mixtape, and a year later he released an official project, Mass Destruction. Neither made much noise, but he was still known as the most talented one of the Braveheart crew. Though many confused his last name, Jones, for a kinship with Nas, Nashawn was appreciated for verses on songs like “My Country” and “Level 7” and made an appearance on “The Operation” from Screwball’s Y2K album. Other notable tracks of his include “Gangsta” and “In Jail.”
Virgina rapper Quan is best known for his show-stealing guest verse on “Just A Moment” from Nas’ 2004 album, Street’s Disciple. The song that was originally Quan’s until Nas heard it (Quan ended up gifting it to him). That verse sent hip-hop into a frenzy as many crowned him rap’s new messiah (this happens every couple years) and led to Nas signing Quan to his Ill Will imprint via a one-off deal with Atlantic Records. In 2005, Quan was supposed to drop his debut, Until My Death, but it never materialized.
Things were looking up for Quan (who also sings; an impressive feat pre-Drake) at one point, between Ill Will mixtapes with Nas and appearing on Funkmaster Flex, but later in 2005, he would be arrested for gun and drug charges, thereby ceasing his relationship with Nas. Quan would go on to appear on another dope song, “Can’t Fade Me,” this time with Cassidy and Nas. In 2009 he released Walking Testimony and two years later he dropped a mixtape called The Struggle, but he never quite managed to capitalize on the buzz that “Just A Moment” generated for him.
Tre Williams was a Florida-born R&B artist who moved to Yonkers and was discovered via “Amateur Night At The Apollo.” After recording “I-95” with LOX in 2005, Nas caught wind of him and signed him. He released a mixtape called The Street Gospel and the year after was featured on “Let There Be Light” from the Hip Hop Is Dead album.
His debut album was supposed to be called The Depth Of My Soul and was allegedly set to feature Styles P, Kanye West, Nas and others, but it was shelved and Tre was eventually dropped. He would go on to form an R&B group called The Revelations with Bob Perry and onetime Roc-A-Fella singer Rell.
Nas’ posse, consisting of little brother Jungle, Wiz, and Horse hit it big in 2000 with “Oochie Wally.” They were supposed to be the expected tag-alongs that superstars put on once they get big, but the Bravehearts had a hit and they’d later show some consistency on “Quick To Back Down” with Lil’ Jon. “Situations” from their 2003 debut album also got some Hot 97 play at the time.
The Bravehearts basically stuck around because they superseded the low expectations that many had for Nas’ obligatory group of rapping homies. Horse ended up marrying Heather B following the Roc-A-Fella beef (and actually was Nas’ bodyguard at one point) and the group would go on to get involved with the Dipset beef that pitted Nas against Cam.
After replacing Cormega in The Firm, Nature established himself as a QB favorite on DJ Clue tapes alongside Nas. For a short period he was supposed to drop his debut on Ill Will Records, but some say Nature felt that the album was taking too long, so he split and got with Tone and Poke’s Trackmasters Entertainment via Columbia. His first album For All Seasons dropped in 2000 but didn’t make much of an impact.
Still, Nature is considered the most respected MC to ever come up under Nas. Whether it was a killer verse on “I Wanna Live” or his devastating feature on AZ’s “Love Is Love” with the late great Half A Mil, Nature commanded a respect that still reigns over listeners to this day.
Boldy James is the first artist to “sign” with Nas since the tumultuous Ill Will/Jones Experience days. Nas recently invested six figures into the reemerging Mass Appeal magazine, which lives under the same roof as record label Decon. Boldy James released his proper debut last year, My 1st Chemistry Set, on Decon, and Boldy recently tweeted about not having any deal finalized, so it’s a bit confusing.
Boldy is from Detroit but has often drawn comparisons to early Prodigy, so the Queensbridge connection was probably a no-brainer for Nas. It seems like the announcement to “sign” Boldy is less of a major move than it is a matter of semantics. Perhaps Nas wants to attach himself to the somewhat underground cool that Boldy has cultivated in recent years, but either way, we need to hear these two ona track ASAP.