How do you follow-up a classic hip-hop album? How do you balance commercial appeal with artistic ambition? Is there a way to be mainstream while still having one foot in the streets? Those were questions that weighed heavily on the minds of Nas, his manager Steve Stoute, and producers Trackmasters as started making Nas' sophomore album, It Was Written.
Although Nas' debut album Illmatic is still considered one of the greatest rap albums ever recorded, it was initially a commercial flop that failed to go gold in it's first year. In the interim between his first two albums, Nas connected with a young go-getter named Steve Stoute who began managing the young rapper. Fearing Nas would end up like Kool G. Rap—an acclaimed rapper who never sold a ton of records—Stoute had a grander vision for God's Son and saw him a Billboard force as well as a street poet.
To help bring their plans to life, Stoute teamed Nas up with Poke & Tone a.k.a. Trackmasters. Although the perception was that Trackmasters would water down Nas' sound—they were after all known for producing big hits like Mary J. Blige's "Be Happy" as well as The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy"—their roots were firmly in hardcore hip-hop with production credits for Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, and Kool Moe Dee. Plus they had a plan; they'd put hard hooks on melodic records or they'd give their beats a hip-hop block party feel.
In the end, all parties were vindicated once the album was released on July 2, 1996, debuted at #1, and went on to become Nas' best selling album while also featuring some of his best songs. So in order to wrap up Nas' week here at Complex, we got down with all of the major players involved with the album to put together The Making of Nas' It Was Written. Find out how Nas originally wanted to make the album with Marly Marl, how The Notorious B.I.G. influenced Nas' album in more ways than one, and how Nas was still very much in the streets when he made this album.