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The Meaning Behind The Song: The Message by Nas

The Meaning Behind The Song: The Message by Nas

I first heard this song on a warm summer day, many years ago. I remember stumbling upon this song at a friend’s house, and as soon as the beat dropped, I was captivated. The raw and gritty lyrics spoke to me in a way that few songs had before. Little did I know at the time, but “The Message” by Nas would become a hip-hop classic, with deep meanings and powerful storytelling.

Released in 1996 as a part of Nas’ second album, “It Was Written,” “The Message” is considered one of his best songs. The track sets the tone for the mafioso concept of the album, showcasing Nas’ lyrical prowess and his ability to paint vivid pictures with his words.

In the first verse, Nas takes on the persona of a street thug, calling out fake individuals and highlighting his own come-up. He references prominent figures like Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and Vanity from “The Last Dragon” movie, adding layers to his storytelling. Nas’ lyricism shines through as he showcases his knowledge of street life and the harsh realities that come with it.

The refrain, which repeats the line “I never sleep, ’cause sleep is the cousin of death,” adds a deeper layer to the song. It reflects the constant hustle and grind of the streets, where one wrong move can lead to dire consequences. Nas asserts that he is always awake, always aware, and ready to face any challenges that come his way.

The second verse dives deeper into Nas’ personal experiences and the dangers he has faced. He touches upon loyalty, betrayal, and the changing dynamics of friendships. Nas reflects on the changes he has witnessed in his surroundings, where once-close friends have become enemies. It is a raw and honest portrayal of the harsh realities of street life.

What sets “The Message” apart is not just Nas’ lyrical prowess, but also the production value. Produced by Trackmasters, the track features a sample of Sting’s “Shape of My Heart,” which adds a hauntingly beautiful melody to the gritty lyrics.

In an interview with Complex, Nas shared his inspiration for the song, stating that it was a reflection of the intense competition and lyrical battles that were prevalent in the rap game at the time. He saw himself as a voice for those who couldn’t speak up, representing his neighborhood and the struggles they faced.

“The Message” is a timeless hip-hop classic, showcasing Nas’ ability to craft intricate and thought-provoking lyrics. It serves as a reminder of the harsh realities of street life and the challenges one faces while trying to rise above them.


Produced By Trackmasters
Written By Nas, Tone, Sting & Dominic Miller
Release Date July 2, 1996

Samples: “Shape of My Heart” by Sting, “Impeach The President” by The Honey Drippers, “Halftime” by Nas, and “N.Y. State of Mind” by Nas

Despite its release over two decades ago, “The Message” by Nas continues to resonate with listeners today. Its powerful lyrics and storytelling make it a timeless piece of hip-hop history.

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