Nas' 25 Favorite Albums

Nasty Nas talks about his favorite albums from John Coltrane, Scarface, Jay-Z and more.

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Image via Complex Original
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Ask the average hardcore hip-hop fan to name their favorite albums and chances are, they’ll mention NasIllmatic. That's almost too obvious. But over here at Complex, we can't help but wonder what some of his favorite albums are.

Although he did speak about the music he’s been listening to in our new cover story, his appreciation of music is so deep, we felt it was only right to get God's Son back on the horn for a more in-depth conversation. Nas told us about what album changed his life, which rapper he thinks all new rappers should listen to, and what Marvin Gaye album is a lot like his new album, Life Is Good...

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Miles Davis Kind of Blue

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Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (1959)

Label: Columbia Records

Nas: “Miles and Coltrane made the ultimate jazz albums; there’s a lot of others too. Miles also got commercial success from a jazz album and if you play it, it sounds like it was supposed to be made. That album was supposed to be made. This world wouldn’t be the same without that album.”

John Coltrane A Love Supreme

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John Coltrane, A Love Supreme (1965)

Label: Impulse!

Nas: “It’s probably my favorite record of his but I love so many other records by him. It just exists on a planet by itself. It’s just a different thing. It’s mature, it’s grown, it’s timeless, it’s sexy, it’s classy, it’s unorthodox. I’ll stop there.”

Bob James One

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Bob James, One (1974)

Label: CTI Records

Nas: “That’s certainly up there as one of my all-time favorites. It takes you someplace new every time you listen to it, that’s the craziest part about it. If a record can take me somewhere, like really take me somewhere effortlessly, that record there is no joke.”

Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key of Life

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Stevie Wonder, Songs In The Key of Life (1976)

Label: Tamla

Nas: “Stevie literally heals the soul.”

Marvin Gaye Here, My Dear

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Marvin Gaye, Here, My Dear (1978)

Label: Tamla

Nas: “When I first heard it, no one I knew ever heard it. It’s funny that so many people love Marvin Gaye but never knew about this album that was so personal. It’s crazy how my new record has a little bit of that. Motown only put out limited copies and it was a risky record. I think the music industry wanted a more hitting album but that record he did was his expression. I’m sure he caught a lot of slack from it.

“I feel like I’m in the same place that he was at when he made that album [because he was getting divorced and I’m getting divorced]. I feel like Life Is Good is my Here, My Dear. They’re similar in a lot of ways. I relate to him as a human being, as a star.

“It made me like him a lot more because he was an artist enough to just say what he had to say. I like when he’s talking about Anna Gordy, who he was married to. I know what that’s like. I know what he’s singing. I’ve lived it myself. I really relate to that record.”

Michael Jackson Thriller

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Michael Jackson, Thriller (1982)

Label: Epic

Nas:Thriller was me being introduced to great music with the total package, which means the artist is cool but he also looks like how he’s supposed to look. His history from the Jackson 5, all the soul added to the whole thing, and the record of course was groundbreaking and took over the world.”

Run-D.M.C. King of Rock

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Run-D.M.C., King of Rock (1985)

Label: Profile/Arista Records

Nas: “That’s one of the first rap albums. The commercial success with a different sound—it had rock, they were of a next phase, next plateau from the Furious Five and the Treacherous Three. They were the next thing so they personified the next thing. And then Raising Hell showed how they evolved as hip-hop superstars. The greatest moment of my life being a rap fan was probably when King of Rock came out.”

Anita Baker Rapture

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Anita Baker, Rapture (1986)

Label: Elektra

Nas: “It’s just amazing. Rapture was just around the time of my little hustler days. Not just me as a hustler, but everyone around me was a hustler. If you had a girl back in those days what she was singing to you made you really appreciate that girl and made you understand the love that you had with for each other when you listen to her. It made you wonder if you really liked that person because the love she’s singing about is not what you have for this person. She was a guide to love during that time.”

Boogie Down Productions Criminal Minded

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Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded (1987)

Label: B-Boy Records

Nas: “KRS-One is someone that artists need to study. The artists today are spoiled and they want to go from nobody to the best who ever did it. It’s foolishness. Criminal Minded, KRS-One was the streets coming after the empire of rap, the Juice Crew, without the major backing that the Juice Crew had. You know this takes a lot for me to say because The Juice Crew was founded in my projects, but I gotta keep it real and give credit where credit is due.

“When KRS-One made the classic Criminal Minded—he didn’t need Warner Brothers, he didn’t need MCA records. He did it with an independent label. That’s why I say people show study him because here you are coming out with a classic album on an independent label, so did MC Shan. Cold Chillin’ was not a major label when Shan put out Down By Law.

“Artists today don’t see that entrepreneurship, they don’t live it. They claim to be the streets yet they’re looking for superstar record deals. If you have the talent and you’re a hustler, why don’t you go independent without the superstar record deal? If you’re not a superstar, then what are you looking for a superstar record deal for? Like I said on ‘The Genesis,’ I’m doing this like this even without a record contract. That meant I went to sign with an independent label and I just so happened to stumble upon Columbia Records.

“I feel like young artists should study KRS-One because here he is, a strong voice in hip-hop and he started off independent. I just feel like that’s a real street movement. I don’t see real street movements like that in New York anymore. I see people claiming to be the streets but I don’t see real street movements like that anymore. Big up to KRS.”

Eric B & Rakim Paid in Full

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Eric B. & Rakim Paid in Full (1987)

Label: Def Jam

Nas: “Eric B. and Rakim epitomized and personified the street culture of New York and the rest of the nation. They wore Gucci before Gucci [was popular in the streets], they were counting money on the album cover and they made it look cool. The style of the music was built for the streets. Rakim’s lyrics were the streets put into music.”

MC Shan, Down by Law

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MC Shan, Down by Law (1987)

Label: Cold Chillin’/Warner Brothers

Nas: “That album changed my life. A big reason is because Shan is from Queensbridge. But still, his rap style, it helped me craft my rap style. The production with him and Marley opened my head to what I wanted to sound like, what I think I should sound like, and what I can potentially sound like.”

Big Daddy Kane Long Live the Kane

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Big Daddy Kane, Long Live the Kane (1988)

Label: Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros. Records

Nas: “I’m a big time fan of Big Daddy Kane. ‘Ain’t No Half Steppin’’ and ‘Raw’ are great songs.”

Slick Rick The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

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Slick Rick, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988)

Label: Def Jam/Columbia/CBA

Nas: “It’s a musical storybook. It’s from a New Yorker with an English accent with an imagination that’s never been heard of before in music. He’s just amazing.”

Public Enemy It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

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Public Enemy, It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)

Label: Def Jam

Nas: “It was something like I’ve never heard before. Chuck D’s voice and what he was saying made me think. Flava Flav’s voice, his attitude, and how he supported Chuck [was dope]. And the beats by the Bomb Squad were out of this world. Public Enemy took a strong position as a leader in the music community. They were brave.”

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo Wanted: Dead or Alive

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Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Wanted: Dead or Alive (1990)

Label: Cold Chillin’/Warner Brothers

Nas: “Kool G Rap is a major influence. What he did with rapping was he took the lyric level to the highest level it can go. Rakim was scientific, Big Daddy Kane was acrobatic, but Kool G Rap was bloody chainsaws fighting each other lyric style. He took it to a level where it can’t go no further. He took it to the highest level.”

Main Source Breaking Atoms

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Main Source, Breaking Atoms (1991)

Label: Wild Pitch/EMI

Nas: “It’s one of my favorite albums. Definitely. I’m on it so... [Laughs.]”

Ice Cube Death Certificate

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Ice Cube, Death Certificate (1991)

Label: Priority/EMI

Nas:Death Certificate is one of the albums that changed my life along with Down By Law, Criminal Minded and a few others. Death Certificate hit me at a time when I was hustling, when I was hanging with hustlers, when I was making life-changing decisions in my life. Death Certificate spoke to me. To this day, it’s one of the boldest, bravest, realest rap albums that will ever be made.”

A Tribe Called Quest The Low End Theory

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A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory (1991)

Label: Jive Records

Nas: “I felt like People’s Instinctive Travels was a crazy album. But they evolved on The Low End Theory. It was already dope shit on the first album but the second album took it to a broader audience and they stepped it up even higher which I didn’t even think could be possible. It’s just one of those records that just took everybody by storm.”

Scarface Mr. Scarface is Back

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Scarface, Mr. Scarface is Back (1991)

Label: Rap-a-Lot

Nas: “Back in my little hustling days, I was trying to do my one, two thing. Scarface’s record spoke to me and my crew. Here we are in Queensbridge, New York City and a guy from Houston is talking that talk. His voice, his words, he’s still one of my favorite MCs in the game to this day. I don’t buy many rap albums but I’ll buy Scarface records every time he puts them out.”

N.W.A. Niggaz4Life

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N.W.A., Niggaz4Life (1991)

Label: Ruthless/Priority

Nas: “They had already caught the controversy and in Niggaz4Life, it was like, ‘What do you do now?’ People want to ban you, people want to censor you. The group probably single-handedly made the government invent the censor logo advisory stamp on rap albums. That was a challenge and I like to see people grow and how are they going to manage now that Ice Cube had left. It’s just a lot on their backs and they rose to the occasion and they killed it.”

Dr. Dre The Chronic

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Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)

Label: Death Row, Interscope, Priority

Nas:The Chronic was a psychedelic, funkadelic, California hip-hop genius piece of work. It lifted rap music as a whole to its next stage. That album single-handedly lifted the whole culture higher, made it stronger, kept it street, and it’s just beautiful. It’s a beautiful-sounding album and hardcore at the same time.”

Snoop Dogg Doggystyle

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Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle (1993)

Label: Death Row, Interscope, Atlantic

Nas: “At that point, Snoop was the most anticipated person in music. How could you do it twice was the question. You did The Chronic which was out of this world and then it was like, ‘What’s going to happen with Snoop?’ The whole world was waiting to know and they delivered.”

Jay-Z Reasonable Doubt

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Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Label: Roc-A-Fella

Nas: “I seen this kid Jay, I already knew he was nice. I’m watching him come into the game and he delivered a lyrical album, a street album, and he grabbed his spot. A lot of people couldn’t do that. A lot of people that were putting out albums around the time Reasonable Doubt dropped are no longer around.

“He staked his claim. He showed everyone he was nice with his lyrics, he was nice with it. He came in the tradition of the New York streets, the way I did, the way Biggie did. He came in that way and he’s been holding it down ever since. If you listen to Reasonable Doubt, he made it happen.”

The Notorious B.I.G. Life After Death

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The Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death (1997)

Label: Bad Boy

Nas: “It was ahead of its time. He rapped from a perspective of someone who lived a full life. He rapped from a perspective of someone looking ahead, someone who was looking to move on from one phase to another. It was a double album which was a bold move. It also showed that he was an artist of substance, so much that one album would not be enough. He’s honestly one of the greatest to ever do it.”

Outkast Aquemini

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Outkast, Aquemini (1998)

Label: LaFace/Arista

Nas: “I think I like great artists and they’re in that category. Outkast is the dopest shit in the world.”

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