Trackmasters Tell All: The Stories Behind Their Classic Records (Part 1)

Nas "Street Dreams" (1996)

Album: It Was Written
Label: Columbia

Poke: “At the time, Tupac had come out with the same sample. We had no idea he was doing that. Some people ask, 'Did Tupac take that idea from Nas, or did Nas take that idea from Tupac? What’s the deal with that?' They were just being creative on the West Coast and we were being creative on the East Coast, it just so happened to play out like that. That was a total coincidence.”

Tone: “You’ve got to understand, Nas is used to dealing with producers like Large Professor, Q-Tip, Premo, where they’re giving him raw hip-hop. Our whole thing was raw hip-hop is good—and we love it—but it has to have enough of an appeal to get the people in the stores to buy your record. Not just your homeboy on the block.

 

A lot of people don’t realize that Nas was really one of the first rappers who opened that door and made it okay to sing. On Big’s very record, he was singing the hook. Nas opened the door for that. - Tone

 

“One of the main things that we thought about was producing Nas and making it so that he doesn’t lose credibility. The word ‘sellout’ was a big word, back then. If you got labeled with that word, as a rapper, you were finished. So we had to make sure that we could get him stuff that was middle-of-the-road—that radio could understand and that the hood could understand.

“Once Nas got comfortable and we had a gameplan on how to make this album, things started to magically come together. We knew that, in doing this album, we were going to have to bring in other people, like DJ Premier, to make it a broad enough album so that people don’t say that we tried to make this guy a commercial rapper.

"A lot of people don’t realize that Nas was really one of the first rappers who opened that door and made it okay to sing. On Big’s very record, he was singing the hook. Nas opened the door for that. Nas is a very melodic guy. He always loved to do things like that. Even on 'Black Girl Lost,' that has nothing to do with us or Steve Stoute, that’s just him being creative and bringing out who he really is.

“We also tried to incorporate original hip-hop. If you listen to original hip-hop—like Crash Crew and all those guys—they were all singing. So we tried to incorporate that type of feel on record. It isn’t that they’re trying to be Luther Vandross, they’re just harmonizing. They’re giving melody to the record. So you can sing along when the hook comes, as opposed to just being on stage and pointing the finger and trying to just rhyme. You get the audience interaction when they can sing the record along with you.”

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