The Classic: "Project Windows"

“Project Windows” stepped away from the bombast of I Am…, and returned to the memories of the Queensbridge projects. As Ronald Isley provides an eternally tender murmur in the background, Nas delivers a verse that captures the simultaneous affection and horror that artists experience when they revisit their places of origin: “At night the windows were speakers, pumpin' life out/A fight, people screamin' ‘cause somebody pulled a knife out/So I look at this room, I'm hooked to this tune/Every night the same melody, hell sounded so heavenly/But jail was ahead of me, speeding like amphetamine.”

The Stinker: "Big Girl"

“Big Girl” deals with horror of a different kind. It’s the horror of having the person you most admire in the world walk into the room wearing the most lamentably trendy outfit imaginable. “I’mma wear this out,” says Nas to his listeners. “Please don’t,” we say in return. “Naw,” he says to the mirror. “I look good.” But he didn’t. “Big Girl” jumps on so many trends at once—a double-time Jay-Z flow, the off-kilter Ghostface-like crooning on the chorus—that it’s nearly impossible to locate Nas among all the personalities he’s trying to emulate. This was one of those moments where it felt like our most talented rapper might have given up on everything he was good at.

The Buried Treasure: "Shoot 'em Up"

Thankfully, the album also contained “Shoot ‘Em Up,” one of the best Nas songs of any era. Produced by Havoc—a fellow chronicler of Queensbridge—the song contains one of Nas’ classic accounts of a crime scene, full of details that flash by in an instant. It contains one of the best climactic closings to any rap song ever recorded: “My nine on his lips, his fifth on my chin, I start whispering/‘Put your gun down, we can skip town’/ Rocked him to sleep, pushed back his meat, lift off his chain/Took his shit, emptied out close range.”