Rap Music historians and aficionados routinely say that Nas is the greatest rapper and Hip-Hop emcee ever, and it’s difficult to disagree. From the moment his first studio album, Illmatic, was released in 1994, it became an instant classic. Over the years, he has cemented his legacy and place at the pinnacle of the rap food chain.
He’s a killer whale or lion on the mic, and if you don’t agree, you need to go back to Hip-Hop school for some attitude adjustment. It is quite difficult to nail down the Top 10 Nas songs because there are so many.
With a career that now spans over three decades and still going strong, Nas has longevity, street cred, immense lyrical content, and unbeatable emcee skills. So, here is handpicked selection of the best Nas songs that are like a journey through Hip-Hop history.
Top 10 Nas Songs
#1 If I Ruled the World (feat. Lauryn Hill)
“If I Ruled the World” was a single that was released from his second studio album, It Was Written, in 1996. It’s widely regarded as one of, if not the greatest Nas song of all time.
It featured Lauryn Hill vocals on the chorus, who, at the time, was making big waves as part of The Fugees. Although the beat might appear a bit minimalist and stripped-down, it was perfect for his flow. And, boy, did Nasty Nas flow on this track.
The lyrics are essentially Nas talking about what he would do if he ruled the world. Off the back of his first album, Nas was the hottest thing in rap music at the time. And, when this track dropped, everyone lost their minds in the best possible way. It’s just a shame that It Was Written didn’t quite live up to the quality of his debut album. But not many rap albums by anyone ever came close to that classic.
#2 N.Y. State of Mind
This is the first track on the classic Illmatic album and was, for many, the first time they heard Nas. It’s one of the greatest rap tunes ever conceived in terms of the beat and the unbelievable lyrical content and flow.
“N.Y. State of Mind” was produced by the legendary DJ Premier. It’s a street track where Nas skillfully weaves his way through an entire story about a day in the life of the harsh Queensbridge ghetto in New York.
If you are a real rap music fan from the boom-bap era…
Then, you can probably recite at least the first verse word for word. “I never sleep because sleep is the cousin of death” is quite possibly one of the best rap lyrics and anecdotes ever written by a Hip-Hop emcee.
This song is even considered a true literary work to be held alongside the greatest poetic works in Western history. It’s the sort of track that is studied in college. If you’ve never heard it before, you are doing yourself a disservice.
#3 Nas is Like
“Nas is Like” might not be from his first couple of albums, but it stands up against any track he ever made. Again, DJ Premier was on the production, and, boy, what a memorable track this is.
Listening to Nas rap is like taking a course in street poetry. When younger rap fans try to say that Lil Wayne or Drake is the greatest rapper ever, just play this track because it’s on another level. Furthermore, it’s like a completely different sport to rap music in the 2010s, so it shouldn’t even be compared.
It was the first single from his 1999 album, I Am, which did very well in a commercial sense. But the truth is that Nas is not particularly a commercial artist. When the track dropped, it was like the rapper was back to his very best after being quiet for a couple of years. The king came back to claim his throne.
#4 One Love
When I think about the best songs by Nas, I simply cannot overlook “One Love” from the Illmatic album. It’s one of the most real and heartfelt Hip-Hop songs ever, bar none.
It was produced by Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, who also sang the famous chorus hook. The dreamy and atmospheric jazz-style beat with its soothing xylophone sample touches me somewhere deep in my soul. Everyone says “one love” nowadays, but before Nas, I’d only heard it said by Bob Marley.
The concept of the track is Nas writing a letter to a friend locked up in prison. He tells his friend about what’s going on back at home in the ghetto and even warns him about his girl talking shit about him behind his back. The lyrics are so deep and meaningful. Nothing like this had ever been done before. And even today, I still get goosebumps when it’s played.
#5 The World is Yours
“The World is Yours” was the second single from his Illmatic album. It was produced by another legendary New York Hip-Hop producer, Pete Rock, who also sang the hook on the chorus.
The song title was inspired by the legendary words seen on a Goodyear blimp by Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in the infamous gangster movie Scarface. The movie and the track are now both cemented in the annuls of popular culture history, so that should be an indication of its greatness.
Nas once again flexed his lyrical genius and earth-shattering flows on this track. It’s one of the most memorable Nas songs from one of the most memorable rap albums of all time. The praise and kudos don’t get any bigger than that. It’s a boom-bap rap classic that is up there with all the best rap songs from the 1990s.
#6 Got Ur Self a Gun
If you loved the title track from the ground-breaking HBO series “The Sopranos,” you’ll love “Got Ur Self a Gun,” which sampled that exact song for its chorus hook. When Nas spits street poetry over hardcore rap beats like this banger, it can cause power outages in Central America. It was released in 2001 from his Stillmatic album and was the standout tune, in my opinion.
The spooky piano sample, the hard snapping beats, and the picture-perfect rhymes made this an instant favorite with rap music fans. Even today, it’s still considered one of the best songs written by Nas. Should it be this high on a list of the top 10 Nas songs? Maybe not, but I had to break the monopoly of Illmatic tracks to balance things up a bit.
#7 It Ain’t Hard To Tell
“It Ain’t Hard To Tell” was one of the original singles from Illmatic that informed the world of his talent. It famously sampled Michal Jackson’s “Human Nature” and even has a cameo from his dad playing the horns on the outro part of the track.
The swirling jazzy beat makes you drift off to another dimension while Nas flexes his emcee skills in unbeatable fashion. “I drop that ancient manifested hip-hop straight off the block” is one of my favorite rap lyrics ever.
The beat was produced by Large Professor from Main Source fame. In my opinion, he is one of the most underrated and influential rap beatmakers of all time. If you were unsure about Nas at the time, when this single dropped just before Illmatic, we quickly realized that we had a rap prodigy on our hands. And, boy, were we correct.
#8 Verbal Intercourse (feat. Raekwon and Ghostface Killah)
If you are a true Nas fan like me, you will already know about “Verbal Intercourse” from Raekwon’s classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album in 1995.
The track featured Nas, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah and is known as one of the greatest rap songs of all time from the boom-bap era. Nas is first up on the track, and he kills it like Jeffry Dahmer. Some even think this is not only the greatest Nas verse ever, but the best rap verse ever spit, and I won’t argue that.
The beat is grimy, as you would expect from the Wu-Tang Clan. And the verses from these three legendary rappers are Hip-Hop porn of the highest caliber. The things Nas says in this verse are iconic, and the entire tune is already considered a classic. On a side note, this Raekwon album is also considered a Top-10 Rap album of all time if you are in the mood for a bit of Hip-Hop history.
#9 I Can
“I Can” is #1 on most people’s top 10 Nas songs ever. But, in terms of greatness, it only just makes this list, in my opinion. Sure, it was probably Nas’s biggest song in terms of commercial success. And I can see why it’s usually placed in the top spot.
However, I am a true Nas super-fan. And, in terms of lyrical content, flows, and production, it’s great but not his greatest. The instrumental uses a famous piano sample from Ludwig Van Beethoven’s classic “Fur Elise.”
The lyrics are truly inspirational and immensely positive…
Nas talks about the hidden history of black people and African culture and drops gems on the masses. His intelligent lyrics hit the mark and make you question everything you know about how world history is presented in the West.
With school kids singing the chorus hook and the message about believing in yourself and living a positive existence, this might be the most socially conscious track he ever wrote.
#10 Live at The BBQ
In my opinion, this list can’t happen without the inclusion of Live at the BBQ by Main Source featuring Nasty Nas. This is the first time we ever heard Nas rapping on wax. It was obvious from that moment that a star had been born. He smashes the track and obliterates other emcees on the song who were considered some of the best at the time. And Nas was only 19 years old when this track came out.
The song was originally on Main Source’s classic album, Breaking Atoms. It was the perfect jumping-off point for the Queensbridge native to let the world know who he was. Rap was never the same again after this tune. Furthermore, Main Source and Large Professor don’t get enough praise for introducing us to a future rap legend.
This is where it all started for Nas. So, it only makes sense that you do your due diligence and go and listen to this tune right away because it’s rap music history 101.
Want More Tracks from Legendary Rappers?
If so, then check out our thoughts on the Best Hip Hop Songs Of All Time, the Best 90s Hip Hop Songs, the Best 2000s Rap Songs, the Best Lil Wayne Songs of All Time, and the Best Snoop Dogg Songs of All Time for more amazing song selections.
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Top 10 Nas Songs – Final Thoughts
When we talk about the greatest rappers ever, Nas, Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Casanova Fly, and even Eminem, all get mentioned. I think Nas is the greatest rapper of all time, but I wouldn’t argue if you think otherwise. These sorts of things are highly subjective, so there is no definite answer.
But, the truth is that most rappers for the ten years after Illmatic was released were influenced by Nas in some way, shape, or form. And you can’t overlook that.
From his debut release in 1994 right up until today…
Nas is still making great music. I’ll concede that his modem day singles and albums can’t live up to most of his 1990s material. But that’s just the way that the music game works. It’s a young man’s game, and they set the trends.
However, Nas is one of the most influential rappers of all time. And his lyrics are considered some of the best ever written by fans and even university professors alike. Pay homage to the rap godson himself, that paved the way for the likes of Jay-Z.
Until next time, happy listening.