Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, aka Nas, is one of the most popular and influential American East Coast hip-hop rappers of all time. He was born on September 14, 1973, in Brooklyn, New York. His name, Olu Dara, is adapted from the Yoruba people in Nigeria. Nasir is an Arabic name meaning “helper and protector,” and bin means “son of,” while Jones is his father’s last name.
Nas comes from an artistic family; his father, Charles Jones III, aka Olu Dara, is a jazz and blues musician from Mississippi. His brother, Jabari Fret, is a rapper and member of the hip-hop group Bravehearts and raps under his stage name, Jungle. His cousin, Yara Shahidi, is a famous actress and model in America. Sayeed Shahid, Nas’s other cousin, is also a young American actor.
Nas’s family moved to Queens, New York, when he was a little boy. His parents later divorced, and he dropped out of school. Willy “Ill Will” Graham, Nas’s neighbor in Queens, influenced his interest in hip hop by playing him records. He wrote his own lyrics and played the trumpet when he was young. Nas’s initial stage name was “Kid Wave,” and his friend “Ill Will” was his DJ.
At 16, Nas met Large Professor, an American record producer and rapper. They often went to the studio with fellow rappers Rakim and Kool G Rap to record their albums. He loved hip-hop so much that he was always in the booth or at the recording studio recording his rhymes. Nas signed his first record deal with Columbia Records in 1992 with the help of MC Serch, a music executive and rapper. That year, his solo single, Halftime, debuted, and his rhyme skills attracted lots of attention in the rap industry.
Nas released his album, God’s Son, in 2002. The album’s lead single, Made You Look, charted at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, and no. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. Time Magazine named God’s Son the best hip-hop album of the year. In 2003, Nas released his second hit single, I Can, which reworked the elements of Beethoven’s most popular composition, Für Elise. This single became his greatest hit of all time, garnering a lot of radio airplay.
In 2012, Nas released his eleventh studio album, Life is Good, through his record label, Def Jam Records. Rappers Large Professor and Rick Ross, as well as singers Amy Winehouse and Mary J. Blige, are all featured on the album in different studios. Life is Good was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards. In 2020 Nas’s record company, Mass Appeal Records, released his 13th studio album, King’s Disease. Rappers Hit-Boy, Big Sean, and singer Charlie Wilson are all featured on the album. King’s Disease was Nas’s first Grammy; it won Best Rap Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards.
Nas has been widely recognized for his skills as an artist. Freelance music journalist Peter Shapiro said that he was able to make “a devastating match between lyrics and production” and “a potent evocation of life on the street.” In Adam Bradley’s book, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop (2009), the writer notes, “Nas is perhaps contemporary rap’s greatest innovator in storytelling. His catalog includes songs narrated before birth (Fetus) and after death (Amongst Kings), biographies (UBR [Unauthorized Biography of Rakim]) and autobiographies (Doo Rags), allegorical tales (Money Is My Bitch) and epistolary ones (One Love), he’s rapped in the voice of a woman (Sekou Story) and even of a gun (I Gave You Power).”