27. Nas, It Was Written (1996)
Illmatic was an impossible act to follow, but Nas stubbornly forged his own way ahead by adopting a different strategy here. Moving on from the purist approach of his debut, Nas explored a slicker sound with The Trackmasters without compromising his verbal accuracy. That's not to say that he went pop by any means. "If I Ruled The World" was an old school dedication that interpolated hits from Kurtis Blow and Whodini, while "Street Dreams" was smooth without being soft.
His Queensbridge roots were also well represented, with Mobb Deep joining him for "Live Nigga Rap" and "Affirmative Action" introducing us to the original incarnation of The Firm. "Shoot Outs" and "I Gave You Power" demonstrated that his verbal sword was as sharp as ever, with the only real misstep being the overblown dramatics of Dr. Dre's "Nas Is Coming." Otherwise, It Was Written served as a blueprint for future Nas releases—everything done on his terms, for better or worse.