Nas: “It some of the greatest times of my life and Steve’s life. We saw so many people come about and then vanish from the business and we knew we were here to stay. We knew if we got in a little bit, we were here to stay. We’d kick the wall down and we’d stay. The record kicked the wall down for us.
“That album was one of my proudest accomplishments. I’m very proud of that album. It’s been hard for me to compete with that record because times have changed and I’ve changed through the years. I just wanted to do different things but that record right there was one hell of a record.”
Poke: “What really took it over is that when the album was actually released and the numbers came back. That’s when it dawned on everybody that this wasn’t a crossover system. This is the system of selling as many records as possible.
“[When the numbers came back we felt] beyond vindicated but still scared. I remember being in the house and I got this phone call, and Steve was like, 'You know how much he did the first week?' and I was scared to hear the number. I was just like, 'Don’t even tell me. We bricked.' He said, 'Yo we did 268,000.' I was like, 'What!?' It was just an amazing feeling.”
Steve Stoute: “When It Was Written came out, it stayed at #1 for four weeks in a row. We beat Alanis Morissette for four weeks in a row and she was the hottest thing on the earth. We sold three million albums. I still have those plaques.”
I remember being in the house and I got this phone call, and Steve was like, 'You know how much he did the first week?' and I was scared to hear the number. I was just like, 'Don’t even tell me. We bricked.' He said, 'Yo we did 268,000.' I was like, 'What!?' It was just an amazing feeling. - Poke
Poke: “I remember driving up 125th Street and every car was bumping 'The Message.' I was like, 'Yo I’m hot, right now!' [Laughs.] It felt good because we always wanted people to feel like we were the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis of hip-hop. Like, we create stars. We create big movements. We’re not just fly-by-night producers.”
Tone: “We needed each other at the time. Nas gave us that official stamp, like, 'These guys are real producers. They’re doing an entire album. They can really make it happen for somebody who has already had success.' And what Nas needed was someone that could take him to the next level to cement Nas the icon and not just Nas, the rapper with street credibility. So it worked out well.”
Poke: “That was always our goal and we tried to keep that concept in people’s minds, where we could go and do a Will Smith, then do a Nas, then go do big R&B records, and then big pop records. Not many producers can say that they can do the full spectrum.
“Doing It Was Written, it was a milestone in our careers because we wanted to feel accepted. When you have other rappers saying, 'Yo they’re about to fuck Nas up,' and they’re rappers that you look up to, it’s like, 'Oh my God, we’re about to be finished.'
“People feel like Nas is almost like their baby, like he’s the rapper of all rappers and you don’t want to see that tarnished. Now he’s in the hands of the Trackmasters? 'Oh my God. They’re going to fuck him up. These guys make pop records.'
“Nas and Big were my favorite rappers. We had the opportunity to work with both, which was an amazing thing for us. Not many people can say, 'I worked with Nas and worked with Big and gave them smashes.' So when we had that opportunity, we tried our best not to fuck it up. [Laughs.]
We needed each other at the time. Nas gave us that official stamp, like, 'These guys are real producers. They’re doing an entire album. They can really make it happen for somebody who has already had success.' And what Nas needed was someone that could take him to the next level to cement Nas the icon and not just Nas, the rapper with street credibility. - Tone
“That album is a classic. It stands up against any other classic hip-hop album. It was the benchmark for what Nas is capable of.
“He could also make big pop records that are also still considered hood records, and it’s hard to paint that picture. It also opened so many doors for him because it allowed him to express himself and nobody would look at him crazy for trying things.
“It allowed Nas to breathe and it gave him room because now you have a new audience that didn’t know anything about Illmatic, he got those fans, too. Those crossover fans were like, 'Illmatic? What the hell is that?' They went back after It Was Written to buy Illmatic. There were spikes in Illmatic’s record sales because of It Was Written.
“Illmatic sold 500,000 units, It Was Written sold 3.5 or 3.6 million. He gained five-times his audience with It Was Written. So he became Nas, like, 'Oh my God.'
“After that, people started giving us a little more respect, like, 'Oh these guys aren’t fly-by-night. They know how to create albums.' We never wanted to be the guys that if you want a hit single go to these guys. We wanted to be the guys that executive produce your album and you’re going to sell five million records. We’re better at painting big pictures. It’s hard to paint a big picture with just one single.
“Prior to that—even though we worked with Biggie, Mary, Soul For Real as well as Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane—when we started making big records, everybody started thinking, 'Oh, these guys make pop records, not hip-hop records.' So after that people saw that we could do both sides of the spectrum and they started accepting it.”