Nas's Albums Ranked by Greatness

As the Queensbridge legend tours North America with the Wu-Tang Clan, we're celebrating his discography

Photo: Kevin Jones

BY Antoine-Samuel Mauffette AlavoPublished Oct 4, 2023

Nasir Jones is a Queensbridge legend who is a fixture in the ever-evolving GOAT rapper conversation and is a non-negotiable permanent staple in any reputable "Top 10 of all time" list. After setting the game ablaze with one of the greatest debut albums ever, Nasty Nas has faced mixed reaction to his prolific album output early on in his career, but is now considered one the most active rap veterans.

In a year in which Nas has released two new projects with long-time collaborator Hit-Boy, and as he tours North America with the Wu-Tang Clan (making several Canadian stops), we're marking the occasion by ranking Nas's albums and following his career path from Rookie of the Year to MVP.

19. Street's Disciple (2004)

Nas has always been consistent with his wordplay, flow and delivery, and these attributes can often salvage his lesser albums. However, much has been said about the MC's wonky production choices, and Street's Disciple is a perfect example of an album that would have benefited from a more critical ear and a tougher final edit. Where other albums on this list have standout singles to save them, this is the biggest dud in Nas's illustrious discography. It remains a notable record for the final song, "Thief's Theme," and the collaborations with father (jazzman Olu Dara) and future wife Kelis.

18. Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)

Much like Street's Disciple, the production lets down Hip Hop is Dead, which benefited from a controversial title that led to an open debate in the hip-hop community at the time. The undeniable strength of the "Black Republican" single with JAY-Z helps it rank marginally higher than Street's Disciple, but it remains a forgettable project in Nas's storied discography. Hip Hop Is Dead hasn't aged as gracefully as some of Nasty Nas's other output. 

17. Untitled (2008)

This untitled record was marked with controversy upon its release, but was more cohesive in its execution than the album it followed. Solid artistic direction, an interesting collaboration with spoken-word legends the Last Poets and a good opening set of tracks meant the project had potential. "Queens Get the Money" is a dark song marked with Escobar's murky delivery, but this is not the first time fans would purchase a Nas opus off the strength of a single and then be disappointed by the overall project. Nas seemed to want to address broader topics and get into his grown-man bag, but was lacking Hit-Boy's foundational sonic structure, leaving fans with yet another less-than-memorable album. 

16. Nastradamus (1999)

The final year of the millennium was a transitional year for hip-hop production, and the keyboard-driven sound that would define the 2k beat era had not fully matured when Nas released Nastradamus. The title track finds the right balance of jigginess, and DJ Premier strikes gold as usual on "Come Get Me." While the poor production choices keeps this album close to the bottom of this list, the feistiness in Nas's rhymes and notable collaborations with Ginuwine, Ronald Isley and Mobb Deep make it a few notches above his worst. That being said, this is the time when fans started to question Nas's artistic decision-making and his sales started to drop; he was no longer a surefire success.

15. The Album (1997)

This collaborative album from supergroup the Firm (Cormega, Foxy Brown, Nature, AZ and Dr. Dre) was sunk by a mixture of too much anticipation and too many artists. With a Hollywood-level budget for blockbuster music videos and marketing, this is certainly Nas's biggest flop — especially considering the relationships that were ruined while making it. Each MC can more than hold their own, and all have great chemistry with Nas, but he was meant to carry the project himself — and the result is a letdown. Dr. Dre had worked wonders with Nas in the past, but the full album didn't pan out. That being said, a few club bangers (notably "Firm Biz") and an undeniable NYC classic ("Phone Tap") help propel this ill-designed project higher on this list.

14. NASIR (2018)

This mini album made waves at the time of its release, as it featured impeccable artistic direction and soulful Kanye production. This was just before West's full fall from grace, but he was already showing signs of erratic behaviour as a producer. Nas was ready to embark on his outstanding run with Hit-Boy, and his subject matter and elder-statesman status were locked in. His impeccable writing, coupled with the short nature of the project and Kanye's sampling Midas touch, makes for a solid lesson in retrospect. 

13. Magic 2 (2023)

When reviewing Nas's collaborative projects with Hit-Boy, we are not solely ranking in terms of quality, as the collaborators maintain a high standard throughout. Rather, we need to compare them amongst each other, and this is a subjective question of taste, like your favourite flavour from a world-class chocolatier. Magic 2 is a solid set of perfectly executed songs, blessed by Nas's seemingly unstoppable array of verses; it simply has the least impact out of the bunch and is outshone by other projects.

12. King's Disease II (2021)

KD2 is a solid project from start to finish, and while it's not his all-time best work, it towers over other mature rap albums from the era, marking another solid entry in Nas's recent renaissance.

11. Magic 3 (2023)

The most recent release from Nas and Hit-Boy nearly cracks the Top 10. After a decade of disappointment, fans are now blessed with an avalanche of quality releases from the rapper. The variety of production styles and Nas' versatility with his pen and flow make this standout project sound fresh. Even after closing out two trilogies, Nas doesn't sound tired, and has firmly established his comeback as one for the hip-hop history books. With Hit-Boy fuelling his delivery and a lifetime of experience nourishing his bars, Nas has now successfully restored balance to his discography.

10. Life Is Good (2012)

After releasing nine albums at consistent two-year intervals, Nas took time to reflect on his life and career on this introspective project. Working with more collaborators than usual, the album was not so much of a departure from his modus operandi as it was the start of an entirely new era, as well as marking the end of his run with Def Jam. Nas maintains a steady hand over the creative direction of the album, showing impressive restraint as he reboots his career and moves on to the next phase.

9. Distant Relatives (2010)

Initially planned as an EP, Damian Marley and Nas expanded their project to collaborate on a full-length project that perfectly melds reggae and hip-hop, two genres have that long had adjacent histories. Distant Relatives is much more melodic than Nas's usual work, with numerous African samples tying the project to its thematic anchor in the mother continent. "As We Enter" is an instant classic, and many deeper cuts make this a successful fusion album that was met with a very favourable global reception, charting in many international markets.

8. I Am... (1999)

When "Nas Is Like" arrived on MTV, the DJ Premier beat and Nas's verses seemed to announce a return to form for the prodigal son of Queens. "N.Y. State of Mind, Pt. II" harkened back to the Nas of old, while "Hate Me Now" (and its record-breaking video budget) with Diddy was full of braggadocio from the rejuvenated Nasir Jones. The rest of the album doesn't follow through on the promise of those top-notch singles, and while it remains one of his stronger works, had it been combined with the best tracks from Stillmatic, we would certainly have another classic on our hands.

7. King's Disease III (2022)

This project stands out from the others in the King's Disease trilogy because of its subject matter. It's aimed at the aging hustlers with an old tracksuit who are still involved in corner politics. From nightclub nostalgia to child support drama, Nas effortlessly blends serious messages with current events and never comes off as preachy. Hit-Boy's impeccable production is more than consistent, as this grown-era project features a few bangers and DJ-friendly songs. KD3 is much more than a successful album from a mature artist, and holds up as a fascinating, creative and original album.

6. Magic (2021)

The artwork announces this album as one of Nas's grimier releases from the get-go. With outstanding pacing and dazzling beat selection, Hit-Boy masterminds the perfect platform for Nas to let loose. The result is a project that feels like it could have been released in the mid '90s, when Nas was in his prime, but is also refreshingly modern. If some fans had not already jumped on the King's Disease bandwagon, Magic certainly convinced the doubters and sparked a series of close-to-classic releases.

5. Stillmatic (2001)

Simply considered par for the course at the time of its release, Stillmatic reveals itself as a hidden gem when revisited within the context of his loaded discography. The strong tracks hold so much weight that they catapult the album into the elite category. There is no denying that the JAY-Z vs. Nas beef captivated the entire game in the late '90s, and Nas can claim victory with "Ether" — a song that may be the most vicious diss track ever officially put on wax. "Rewind" displays classic Nas penmanship by masterfully telling a story in reverse, and "You're da Man" is a timeless melancholic slow-burner. Finally, the banging "Got Ur Self a Gun" is the cherry on top of this impressive array of standout tracks, which allows Stillmatic to firmly establish itself in the Top 5 of Nas's discography.

4. God's Son (2002)

As we inch closer to the Top 3, we can pause and appreciate that some of the criticism that Nas faced was more the result of impossible expectations rather than truly mediocre output. With God's Son, a more mature Nas was finding his footing, and even if he didn't prepare his best front-to-back album, the project is ironically bigger than the sum of its parts. The album is made up of outstanding songs, like "Get Down" and the undeniable heater "Made You Look," which was blaring from every jeep in every borough for a whole year. In retrospect, it's hard to criticize Nas for his production choices when he made the most of his major label sample clearance budget and also created one of the only tasteful posthumous 2Pac songs with "Thugz Mansion." Longtime partners in crime Kelis and Bravehearts make great contributions, but it's the Beethoven sample and inspiring intergenerational message of "I Can" that puts this release over the top. Countless music school programs and rap writing workshops use it as an example to this day, and there can be no greater legacy than that.

3. King's Disease (2020)

The fans waited decades for Nas to truly re-establish himself as one of the top MCs in the game, and with King's Disease, their wish was finally granted. Hit-Boy's sample-laden but modern approach to production lit a fire under the Queens MC that delivered some of his best work. It would have been one thing to drop an incredible comeback record, but this was only the beginning. Given its quality, the impact it had and the timing of its release, this album ranks in Nas's Top 3 for what it ultimately represents. Given the magnitude of the artist and the level of anticipation, King's Disease represents one of the greatest comebacks in music history, and certainly the greatest in hip-hop.

2. It Was Written (1999)

How do you follow up a universally heralded classic record? Nas chose to embody his new gangster persona Escobar, and even though it was not a popular move with purists who saw him as rap's saviour, it worked wonders musically. The grimy yet lavish production hit hard like a shot of Hennessy, and Nas shone through, giving us a glimpse into his newfound stardom. Storytelling mode was in full effect on POV tracks like "I Gave You Power" and "Black Girl Lost." The streets could relate to Nas's lyrics in "Suspect" and "Shootouts," yet the mainstream audience would also tap in. The posse cut "Affirmative Action" may have been the Firm's best song that Nas kept for his own album. Finally, the Lauryn Hill-supported "If I Ruled the World" got Nas a Grammy nomination, and helped propel It Was Written to commercial success. The change of persona and perspective was the beginning of a journey of musical identity that would eventually come full circle in 2023.

1. Illmatic (1994)

Illmatic is an undeniable hip-hop classic that propelled Nas into legendary status almost instantly. Rumours of a young phenom hailing from Queens were confirmed when the era's greatest producers joined forces to create one of the most impactful debut records of all time. Illmatic is more than an amalgamation of non-skippable songs — it's also a profound body of work in which Nas's storytelling and mood-setting transport the listener into a NY state of mind. The poetry, wittiness, cadence and points of views expressed in the record are unmatched, and for them to have emanated from such a young artist is astounding.

With an uncanny skill to be both relatable and mature, Nas foreshadowed his own longevity with a timeless classic that makes us reminisce and represent. A true desert-island record that should be put into a time capsule as a representation of what hip-hop means, it's almost impossible for any artist to surpass this perfect album.

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