Nas is a son of jazz musician Olu Hara and postal service worker Fannie Ann Jones. He was born on September 14, 1973 and raised in the Queensbridge housing projects in New York City. He started playing trumpet at age four and began writing rhymes at age nine. From learning jazz music, he slowly switched his direction to Hip-Hop after a neighbor Willy "Ill Will" Graham introduced him to such genre.
His parent got divorce when he was just twelve years old and he was dropped out of school in the eighth grade. He traded classroom with rough life on the streets of Queensbridge and learned a lot of things from there. He even educated himself by reading books about other countries' cultures. His experience of flirting with danger on the streets combined with his dedication not to stop learning had helped him characterizing his rhymes.
As a teenager, Nas whose original name is Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones first went by the nickname Kid Wave before adopting a more common alias, Nasty Nas and then dropping the word Nasty. He performed and produced songs as a street artist and secured a deal with Columbia Records in 1992 with the help from MC Serch of 3rd Bass.
Nas got an opportunity to showcase his talent as an artist to a broader audience when he was tapped to perform "Halftime", a soundtrack for movie "Zebrahead". Through this track, he received attention from Hip-Hop community. In 1994, the same year his ex-fiancee Carmen Bryan gave birth to his first daughter Destiny, he released a debut album called "Illmatic" which rose to No. 12 on Billboard Hot 200 and garnered positive review from music lovers.
With such a good start, he continued making music and dropped another effort "It Was Written" two years later. With this record, he soared higher on the U.S. albums chart, peaking at the No. 1 position. Beside becoming his first chart topper, this album was also his platform to showcase his rap supergroup which was signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath label and consisted of AZ, Foxy Brown and Cormega.
April 1999 was the time when Nas came out with his third set "I Am...The Autobiography". Already embraced by Hip-Hop community due to his talent, he had an access to acclaimed musicians and used the advantage to hire some of them for his collaborators. The result was he had P. Diddy, DMX, Aaliyah and Scarface on the hook. Like its predecessor, this album ruled Hot 200.
Due to its huge success, he planned a re-release of "I Am..." materials under the new title "Nastradamus" but after a while he scrapped the plan and decided to fill the effort with all new tracks. The album was rushed to meet a November release date. Only seven months in the making apparently was not enough to make a hit and it proved as the effort could only peak at No. 7 on albums chart.
Learning from his mistake, Nas who got married to Kelis after two-year relationship took his time when it came to his fifth record "Stillmatic". While waiting for the album to be ready for purchase, he dropped mixtapes and various freestyles. During this period of time, he was involved in a feud with Jay-Z. The two rap moguls exchanged harsh criticism toward each other before making amends in October 2005.
Released in December 2001, "Stillmatic" still couldn't surpass the success of his two previous chart toppers. But, it managed to have better chart performance than "Nastradamus", peaking at No. 5 on Billboard Hot 200 and ruling R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart. This album lined up Mary J. Blige and Amerie as collaborators.
Exactly one year after the arrival of "Stillmatic", Nas released "God's Son" and explored such themes as religion, violence and his own emotional experiences in its lyrical content. Kelis, Tupac Shakur and Alicia Keys lent their vocal. Although it reigned the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, the set could not crack the Top 10 of Hot 200, climbing to No. 12 only on the list. Some critics blamed the failure on the production chops, and the others criticized it for its more commercial feel.
Nas apparently took the criticism of "God's Son" seriously as he returned to his roots in his next album "Street's Disciple". In this 2004 effort, he included a song called "These Are Our Heroes" which ironically slammed those so-called American heroes like Kobe Bryan and O.J. Simpson. The critics poured him with positive feedback on this work. Featuring Amerie, Busta Rhymes and Maxwell, it performed higher than "God's Son" on the chart, peaking at No. 5 like "Stillmatic".
One success after another with minor obstacles in between, Nas did not slow down as he returned to studio soon after "Street's Disciple". He dropped "Hip Hop Is Dead" in 2005 and it became his first project which had his then-foe Jay-Z. Additionally, will.i.am, Kelis, Kanye West, Chrisette Michele, Snoop Dogg and The Game were listed on it. The album ruled Hot 200, becoming his first taste on the top spot after 1999 "I Am...The Autobiography". The critics described it as a collection of songs which "is impossible not to admire, but hard to love."
After compiling his most popular songs in a 2007 "Greatest Hits" compilation, Nas drew controversy when he planned an album titled "Nigger", a word which was usually used in a pejorative context for black people. Left wing people were outraged and called on him to change the title. The controversy even brought Def Jam's parent company Universal's funding in jeopardy as one of its investors planned to withdrew its multi-million dollar investment if the title was not changed. The result was Def Jam threatened to drop him.
With all those pressures, Nas finally gave it up and was willing to drop the controversial title. "It's important to me that this album gets to the fans. It's been a long time coming. I want my fans to know that creatively and lyrically, they can expect the same content and the same messages. The people will always know what the real title of this album is and what to call it," he said in a statement.
The title was scrapped but he was not intended to replace it with another word, so the album was dropped in 2008 under "Untitled". The artwork featured him turning his back on people and it was claimed by many as his silent protest after he was not allowed to use word Nigger. The album received positive reviews and peaked at No. 1 on Billboard Hot 200 in addition to R&B/Hip-Hop and Rap Albums Charts.
A year later at the 2009 Grammy Awards, he announced plan to release a collaborative album with reggae musician Damian Marley. "I always liked how reggae and hip-hop have always been intertwined and always kind of pushed each other, I always liked the connection," he commented on the duet project.