15 Reasons Nas is the Greatest MC of All Time

Who is the greatest rapper of all time? Queensbridge MC Nas has my vote. Here are 15 reasons why I consider Nas to be the greatest rapper of all time.

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He's the Greatest Lyricist Alive

N-A-S are the letters that spell... © Andy Sheppard/Getty Images

Nas has bars for days. Whether kicking a song in reverse or rapping from the perspective of a gun, he's always in beast mode. He put on a lyrical clinic on Illmatic, spazzed out on Stillmatic and went ham on Life Is Good.

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He's a Brilliant Storyteller


Storytelling is a poetic device that separates the greats from everyone else. Scarface, Slick Rick, The Notorious B.I.G. and Nas are arguably the greatest storytellers in hip-hop. Nas' greatest strength is his window-view style--the ability to put the listener on the scene.

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He's the King of Street Anthems


During my freshman year of college, my roommates would tease me about listening to Eminem. "The streets don't listen to Eminem," one roommate would say. You know who's good in the hood? Nasty Nas. He may not have the pop hits or chart-topping singles, but what Nas does have is an album's worth of street gems. "Made You Look," "One Mic," "One Love," "Nas Is Like..," "NY State Mind" and "Nasty" are just a few of Nas' wildly cherished street hits. 

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His Body of Work is Incredible

Nas - Lost Tapes
Nas - Lost Tapes. © Columbia

Nas has an enviable discography. His albums are critically lauded and commercially successful. His music inspires other rappers. For example, Lupe Fiasco's The Cool was inspired by It Was Written. That's priceless. And even without a Top 10 hit single, every Nas album has been certified gold or platinum.

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He Bodied Jay Z

Jay Z
Jay Z. (Photo © Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Nas battled a peak-form Jay Z and won. Jay Z proved to be a formidable opponent and "Takeover" would have ended other people's careers. In the end, Nas emerged from the fires virtually unscathed. In fact, he only grew stronger and reasserted himself as a hip-hop great.

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He's a Style Icon

(Photo © Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

His style evolved over the years, but no discussion of 90s hip-hop fashion is complete without mentioning Nas. Esco inspired streetwear with his signature leather jackets and Timbaland boots. The QB MC recently took it back to the streets by relaunching his HSTRY line with New York style arbiter Grungy Gentleman.

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He Commands Respect


The greatest reward in art is the admiration of your peers. And Nas has that, too. He's commonly referenced in a positive light by other rappers. When MTV asked hip-hop artists to name their all-time greatest emcees, many of them mentioned Nas. Even past foes Jay Z and 50 Cent named Nas as one of the greatest. Perhaps the highest form of adulation came from Detroit rapper Elzhi, who paid tribute to Nas' debut with his own version of Illmatic. (Elmatic is a very solid album in its own right.)

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He Called out Def Jam for Pete's Sake


Nas is famous for his raw honesty on wax. He once took the same approach in his dealings with Def Jam Records. In an email addressed to Def Jam execs a few years back, Nas described the company as a "rap label that doesn't understand rap."

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There's a Movie About His First Album


Some people will never have a movie made about their life. This dude had a movie made about his first album. The Erik Parker movie, Time Is Illmatic, peels back the curtain on Esco's creative process. It chronicles his childhood, his influences--from his jazz musician dad to the crime-infested NYC scene that served asthe backdrop for his groundbreaking debut.

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He Made a Reggae Album with a Marley

Nas and Damian Marley
Nas and Damian Marley.

 In 2010, Nas teamed up with Damian Marley for Distant Relatives, a sprawling, genre-mashing album about global connectivity. They donated proceeds from the album sales to charity projects in Africa.

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He Outlasted His Peers

(Photo © Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

According to Kool Moe Dee, longevity is one of major factors that determines greatness. Kool Moe Dee is a wise man, and I believe him. Nas has been here for two decades and he's still a pivotal figure in rap. Check off a list of artists who arrived with Nas and see how many of them are still at or near the top of their game, or even somewhat relevant. (Remember Akinyele?) 

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He Influenced a Generation of MCs

(Photo © Theo Wargo/Getty)

 "Name a rapper that I ain't influence." - Nas, "Ether"

Nas has influenced a host of MCs, including: Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Fashawn, Elzhi.

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He Gives Back


Nas once dreamed about the changes he would enact on "If I Ruled the World." Last year, he put his money where he made dreams come true by sponsoring minorities in the tech industry. "Education, careers and opportunities in technology should not be limited to any one demographic," says Nas. "And I'm happy to support minorities who will see doors open to them as a result of participation in this program."

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One Word: Illmatic


Nas helped shape hip-hop history with his debut, Illmatic, arguably the greatest hip-hop album of all time.

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Angels Whisper in His Ears

Nas. © Def Jam

How else do you explain his string of ingenious concept songs?