June 19, 2007

Nas - It Was Written (July 2, 1996)

I remember mentioning about seventeen posts ago that my "next" review was going to be It Was Written. Whoops! Oh well.

Anyway, Nasir Jones's second album was the beginning of his uphill climb to reach Illmatic heights. The first album had sold zero copies (literally), yet was critically acclaimed all over the world, and by "the world", I mean New York. Nas approached his sophomore album much like any artist signed to a major label would: with unnerving fear that if the album didn't move units, his ass would be dropped from Columbia Records without a second thought.

So he switched management, going from MC Serch (of 3rd Bass and Ego Trip's The White Rapper Show) to Steve Stoute, who is only really famous now for having a bottle broken over his head by, of all people, Puff Daddy. Nas also aligned himself with the most radio-friendly producers of the era (next to Puff Daddy's own Hitmen), the Trackmasters, in an effort to cross over to a different crowd (read: white chicks). The first single featured a guest vocal from Lauryn Hill of The Fugees, who were still red-hot from their successful sophomore effort The Score. The famed neurosurgeon Andre Young was tapped to provide a beat, making Nas the first east-coast based rapper to collaborate with the good Doctor. And he even found a way to get his friends (at the time, anyway) to appear on a group track. The stars seemed to align for Nas.

It Was Written was destined to be compared to Illmatic, if for no other reason than because Illmatic was the older album, and to the hip hop bloggers out there, the older a rapper's material is, the better, usually because they were hungry the first go-round, and now they're just wasting food and mocking poor people. Nas did everything he could to appeal to both the chicks at the club and the backpackers who appreciated lyrics as much as they did watching a chick dance at the same clubs.

Anyway...

1. ALBUM INTRO
Wow, a self-important skit to open the album. Nas rising up against slavery? Unnecessary, pretentious, and dull. Nas probably could have just skipped to the second part of this intro, where he seems to ignore comrade AZ's relentless yammering while attempting to play it cool, kind of like those older Warner Brothers cartoons with the huge pit bull and the scrawny wiener dog that keeps hopping alongside.

2. THE MESSAGE
First thought: the first time I heard this song was during the intro of the "If I Ruled The World" video, and the one-verse teaser presented there was enough to make me like this song. Second thought: the Trackmasters produced this??!!

3. STREET DREAMS
Uses the same sample as 2Pac's "All Eyez On Me", but Nas rocks it better. Interpolates the chorus of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)". Now that part is pretty questionable. The video is entertaining in a Hype Williams-was-overplayed-as-shit-at-the-time kind of way.

4. I GAVE YOU POWER
DJ Premier, one of only two production holdovers from Illmatic (the second being L.E.S.) provides a track that starts off really fucking boring, but if you wait until the drums kick in, you will be rewarded with a damn near brilliant narrative told from the point of view of a gun. Easily one of the best things Nas has ever done.

5. WATCH DEM N----S (FEAT FOXY BROWN)
And he follows that up with this shit.

6. TAKE IT IN BLOOD
Not horrible, since Nas sounds good over old-school drum beats. Never thought I would ever hear Kool Keith on a Nas album, though, even in sample form.

7. NAS IS COMING (FEAT DR. DRE)
I'm prepared to take the hate for this if needed. I don't see what the big deal of Dr. Dre working with Nas is. This song sucks. And in reality, every fucking song Dre has done with Nas has sucked. Yes, even the one with The Game. (I will concede that the "East Coast West Coast Killas" Group Therapy track from that Aftermath album is actually pretty good.) The beat is boring, the chorus is annoying as shit, and Nas sounds like he's coasting, in a bad way. Terrible track.

8. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION (FEAT AZ, FOXY BROWN, & CORMEGA)
The beat is on the weak side, and Foxy was always a questionable choice for The Firm, but I guess the guys needed a chick to walk around half-naked for them at all times. Cormega, of "I used to be in The Firm, yeah it was a good time, did you know that for a quarter more you can get a large soda?" fame, comes off alright, leaving fans (fans of Cormega's, anyway) wondering what went wrong.

9. THE SET UP (FEAT HAVOC)
Nas shakes his Queensbridge family tree and Havoc (of Mobb Deep) falls out with a beat CD. Nas and Mobb Deep usually work well together, so this song is okay.

10. BLACK GIRL LOST (FEAT JO-JO HAILEY)
My timeline may be a little off, but I'm pretty sure K-Ci and Jo-Jo (of Jodeci) were hot around the time It Was Written was released. As such, this. Meh.

11. SUSPECT
One of the most boring songs ever put out by Nasir Jones, and remember, I listened to The Firm's album.

12. SHOOTOUTS
Not bad, but my interest in this album is waning.

13. LIVE N---A RAP (FEAT MOBB DEEP)
Oh, wait, it came back. This song is fucking great. May have fit in better on a Mobb Deep album, though.

14. IF I RULED THE WORLD (FEAT LAURYN HILL)
The aforementioned first single. As radio-friendly efforts go, this song is actually pretty fucking good, even today. Kurtis Blow should be proud.

FINAL THOUGHTS: It Was Written is a solid second effort from Nasir Jones, and a ton of people went out to purchase it, and I'm sure that some of them even picked up Illmatic in their haste. However, unlike Illmatic, this album includes some horrible fucking songs, a problem that would continue to plague Nas even through today. In this instance, though, the good outweighs the bad.

BUY OR BURN? I recommend you buy this, but don't pay more than five bucks for it. The great songs are fantastic and deserve multiple listens; the bad songs are destined to be set to 'repeat' in the ninth circle of Hell.

BEST TRACKS: "The Message"; "Live N---a Rap"; "I Gave You Power"; "If I Ruled The World"

(Don't agree with the above review? Leave a comment below! Don't be shy!)

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Nas - Illmatic
Foxy Brown - Ill Na Na
Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown, and Nature Present The Firm: The Album

36 comments:

  1. And to think, this album was released about a week after some guy named Jay-Z's debut album "Reasonable Doubt". Most of my friends copped It Was Written but only a handful of them picked up "Reasonable". Max, while I respect your opinions about the Nas/Dre collaborations, it does show that Nas made some footprints in the game that certain so called "legends" would soon follow or dare I say imitate? Overall, I enjoyed It Was Written though the overblown, overused Mafioso approach stretched it for me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Most Felonious Vocalist In The Wide World Of ShowbusinessJune 19, 2007

    Good review. Nas still has strong rhymes on the weak tracks but some of them, especially Nas Is Coming, should be skipped. I like Phone Tap from The Firm album but you're right about Nas and Dre. Anyway, what I really want to say is that Cormega is one of the best rappers out there, in my top 3 Nas & Ras Kass. You should do a review of The True Meaning or The Realness. He also has some excellent tracks on Legal Hustle which is a weak album overall. Keep writing please.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Man how can you not say that "Affirmative Action" and "Nas is Coming" were good tracks. Nas is Coming is brilliant. I know you mean by the "I Gave You Power" being boring at the beginning, because I didn't give it a chance until a few weeks ago.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your opinions on some songs are way out there. Take it in blood is recognized as a classic track, shootouts is some of the illest rhymes nas has ever spit.

    ReplyDelete
  5. AnonymousMay 07, 2008

    yeah I dont know how you forgot about take it in blood

    ReplyDelete
  6. AnonymousJuly 27, 2008

    Shit like black girl lost would carry over production wise into the rest of his work, but his rapping was decent all over. I mean, look at him now--can't rap and half his lyrics are dimestore philosophy.

    Shootouts really was mindblowing. Instead of diet plans, it's crack, 200 grams? Yes yes.

    ReplyDelete
  7. i love this album i have listened to it start to end too many times ever since i got it, which was a while back

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Nas is Coming" was always extremely boring. In fact, I'd say it's wack considering the hype. Max called that shit well.

    SirBiatch

    ReplyDelete
  9. take it in blood is lyrically insane, one of my favorite nas tracks. that being said, cant stand the end of this album except for i ruled the world (yea the radio single, doesnt mean its not one of the better songs on the album)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I might be late to the show, but fuck it. My dude you haven't a clue on why this album is, dare i say it, better than Illmatic. What you don't realize that its a pretty well connected conceptual album. The album purposly represents the angst of young 23 year black male; from his aspiration for the "Casino" life on "Street Dreams", to the depressing the realization of the concequences for those aspirations in "I Gave You Power". And you forgot about "Silent Murder", what about that family. Ur sleeping bro forreal.

    ReplyDelete
  11. terrible review. you lose all credibility for not feeling the tracks you slandered. I'll give you a pass for Nas Is Coming even though I thought that was dope, but EVERY track on IWW was dope. it's a classic album and a strong followup to illmatic, period.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I disasgree with your review for the most part though i gotta admit by the end of the album i start losing interest as well. I still listen to this cd regularly, mostly for the lyrics. The beat choices are a bit suspect but most every song sounds good because nas' flow carries the track. If they cuts this to 10 tracks, (minus 7, 9, 12, 13) i'd prolly like it more than illmatic

    ReplyDelete
  13. AnonymousMay 08, 2009

    It Was Written is a sick album, it was an ok review, I diasgree about Take It In Blood and Shootouts, two of the strongest tracks on there.

    ReplyDelete
  14. You could not be more off on Take it in Blood and Black Girl Lost. You're sleeping forreal.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Shootouts always sounded like it should be a Wu track.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'll compliment you and cut u slack by saying yu know how to review hip-hop records.. there was a couple in there i thought otherwise for this record but please people.. illmatic set the standards.. funny to think it literally only sold 0 copies in it's first week?? i remember in a movie called "12 monkeys" i saw advertisements and posters pinned up all over new york city when bruce willis was tryna find the source. I think that movie was made a year after this album came out so this album must have had an immediate cult following... i acutally remember around the time of the anticipated "It was written" "Illmatic" was being pushed to promote it... but anyway again good review u need some compliments.. sheez people!!! peace!

    ReplyDelete
  17. It sucks when you shit on some of my favorite songs on this album. By the way, "the older a rapper's material is, the better, usually because they were hungry the first go-round, and now they're just wasting food" is put perfectly. That quote alone saved this review for me.

    -Keeshawn

    ReplyDelete
  18. Wu-Tang ForeverDecember 29, 2010

    I'll actually comply with most of your comments here Max (although pretty much passing on reviewing "Shootouts" kinda annoys me, it's my 2nd favorite song).

    Does anybody else think that "If I Ruled the World" might be just a TAD overrated? The beat was decent at best and Lauryn's hook always sounded uninspired to me... Good (not great) song I suppose.

    ReplyDelete
  19. If you don't like the song shootouts then maybe you shouldn't review hip hop. The things that you hate about certain rap songs are actually what makes them good. It's almost like you are backwards. The worst song would be ur favorite. In shootouts when he says the bitch try to say she's earth, you wouldn't know what that means. As such you should understand that there ARE those who know what that means and those are the ears it was made for. And that beat sounds ill like a Wu beat. You don't know shit but I DO like to read your blogs. Hilarious. You are a true hater. Good shit!

    ReplyDelete
  20. not a bad review overall, but what about "Suspect" being boring??? don't understand your statement on this one, shit got a pretty good beat, some typical nasir complex rhymes schemes, a great storytelling so wassup wit that...

    ReplyDelete
  21. u forgot silent murder bonus on cassete

    ReplyDelete
  22. Yeah, I forgot to mention it like I normally would, but I don't have the cassette tape version, so it must have slipped my mind.

    ReplyDelete
  23. you shouldn't be listening to rap if you can't appreciate the CLASSICS on this album.. take it in blood is one of the greatest hip hop songs of all time, but to you it's "not terrible"? kill yourself

    ReplyDelete
  24. You suck at reviewing

    ReplyDelete
  25. wow. this review was fucking horrible.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Your comment on 'Live n***a rap' ("May have fit in better on a Mobb Deep album, though.") is weird, as originally it was going to be on Hell On Earth but Nas liked it so bought it off the Mobb for this. Nice bit of trivia. I really like this album (and Hell On Earth, a LOT).

    ReplyDelete
  27. What if Nas had made another Illmatic? How would people have accepted it? would it have been just another New York album? Was it not for Steve Stoute, Nas would probably not be around today.

    ReplyDelete
  28. The people that say this is better than Illmatic is the stupidest shit I've ever heard. Seriously. Songs like "Watch dem Niggas" make this better than Illmatic? Snap out of Candy Land, Kids.

    ReplyDelete
  29. AnonymousJune 12, 2014

    The album has no three good tracks in a row until track 11 and it's a great problem for a listener. Once you start diggin great songs the next moment you got completely off the track with some bullshit.

    Suspect is cool! And I've never felt neither IIRTW nor Street Dreams (hook ruined it, remix with R. Kelly is way better and Pac's track is better too)

    The Message, I Gave You Power, Take It In Blood, Suspect, Shootouts and Live Nigga Rap make this album, but it's only 6 of 14, people.

    ReplyDelete
  30. AnonymousJune 12, 2014

    Silent Murder was a bonus track for Europe.

    ReplyDelete
  31. AnonymousJune 14, 2014

    I feel my grandsons' kids will be still asking for Das EFX review)

    ReplyDelete
  32. AnonymousJuly 13, 2014

    Seeing as your opinion of this album & others is fucking irrelevant, I'll be nice and tell your readers that this is a quality mafioso rap album.

    So, if Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Reasonable Doubt, Hell On Earth, Doe or Die & Life After Death are your shit,

    ReplyDelete
  33. AnonymousJune 20, 2015

    What the fuck suspect isnt boring, one of the best tracks on that album

    ReplyDelete
  34. AnonymousJune 22, 2015

    I see why you wouldn't like this album Max, but honestly you're just flat out wrong. This album has classic mafioso rap album written all over it. As such, it also ranks among the best this sub-genre had to offer. Although, no mafioso rap album can touch the original, OB4CL.

    One more thing, to every single hip hop purist in history who's ever compared Nas & Jay together, this album and Reasonable Doubt are where the comparisons start AND end, in my opinion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. An opinion can't be "wrong". Especially one of mine. And everyone needs to stop comparing Jay-Z to Nas. They travel in entirely different lanes and that shit just doesn't make any sense.

      Delete
    2. Not in 1996, they didn't. You must've seen the similarities, then.

      Delete