It Was Written is the second studio album by rapper Nas, released July 2, 1996 in the United States, Canada and Europe on Columbia Records, while featuring special distribution in the United Kingdom on Simple Vinyl Records. Primarily produced by Poke and Tone of Trackmasters Entertainment, It Was Written was a departure from the underground tone of his debut, Illmatic, towards a mainstream, mafioso-oriented sound, along with a more polished production. As of September 9, 1996, it has been certified multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
It Was Written proved to be Nas’ most commercially successful album, selling in excess of three million copies worldwide. The album peaked at #1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 chart, remaining on the chart for 34 weeks and at #1 for four consecutive weeks. Following Illmatic's disappointing sales figures, the album heralded Nas’ commercial popularity, making him a common household name among mainstream hip hop fans. However, Nas' increased commercial success, along with his stylistic changes on the album, fostered accusations of selling out. Following initial reaction to the album, it's standing has improved considerably over time, leading to it being viewed as one of Nas' best albums, while remaining to be his best-selling release to date.
The track "Nas Is Coming" is a collaboration between Nas and Compton-based rapper Dr. Dre. They were friends at the time this song was recorded, and the track ended with the line "East Meets West". The opening conversation in the song was a discussion between Nas and Dr. Dre about rap artists and fans talking about the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry so much, and how Nas and Dre are doing a track that doesn't revolve or contribute to the beef.
While Illmatic was praised for its lyrics, which depicted the reality of street life, It Was Written's themes were poorly received and looked upon as an attempt by Nas to flow with the popularity of gangsta and thug rap.
While later reviews of the album saw It Was Written in a different light than previous reviews had, the subject matter was still seen as a major flaw of the album. Many critics still saw Nas' violent, fantastical mafioso stories as lacking the emotion and truthfulness of his debut album. Writer Joe Katz wrote in a review of the album for Sputnikmusic.com:
While Illmatic is often held as Nas's magnum opus, It Was Written was not only perceived by critics as part of a sophomore jinx, but also the first of Nas' future albums to be compared to his debut. However, while Illmatic has been viewed as his greatest album, It Was Written is noted as his commercial breakthrough by critics, as it boosted the rapper's image in the mainstream and helped attract a much larger fan-base.
Reggae artist Matisyahu regards It Was Written as one of his favorite albums . He cites the introduction of It Was Written, "where slaves rebel against their owner", as having a major influence on him. He said that after listening to It Was Written, "I connected with hip-hop, the hardness of it, the driving beat. It’s music with space, that has gaps in every little thing that happens.
|1||"Album Intro"||2:24||N. Jones||Nas & Trackmasters||Nas & AZ (uncredited)|
|2||"The Message"||3:54||N. Jones, S. Barnes||Trackmasters||Nas|
|3||"Street Dreams"||4:39||N. Jones, S. Barnes, A. Lennox, D. Stewart||Trackmasters||Nas|
|4||"I Gave You Power"||3:52||N. Jones, C. Martin||DJ Premier||Nas|
|5||"Watch Dem Niggas"||4:04||N. Jones, S. Barnes||Trackmasters||Nas & Foxy Brown|
|6||"Take It in Blood"||4:48||N. Jones, R. Walker, C. Horne, J. Pruit, J. Epps, W. Childs||Live Squad, Lo Ground & Top General Sounds||Nas|
|7||"Nas Is Coming"||5:41||N. Jones, A. Young||Dr. Dre||Nas & Dr. Dre|
|8||"Affirmative Action"||4:19||N. Jones, I. Marchand, C. McKay, A. Cruz, S. Barnes, J.C. Olivier||Dave Atkinson, Trackmasters||Nas, AZ, Cormega, Foxy Brown, (The Firm)|
|9||"The Set Up"||4:01||N. Jones, K. Muchita||Havoc||Nas & Havoc|
|10||"Black Girl Lost"||4:22||N. Jones, L. Lewis, J. Mtume, Lucas||L.E.S., Trackmasters||Nas & Joel "Jo-Jo" Hailey|
|11||"Suspect"||4:12||N. Jones, L. Lewis||L.E.S.||Nas|
|12||"Shootouts"||3:46||N. Jones, S. Barnes, J.C. Olivier||Trackmasters||Nas |
|13||"Live Nigga Rap"||3:45||N. Jones, K. Muchita||Havoc||Nas & Mobb Deep|
|14||"If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)"||4:42||N. Jones, S. Barnes, J.C. Olivier, K. Walker||Trackmasters & Rashad Smith||Nas & Lauryn Hill|
|*15||"Silent Murder" |
(Japanese, European CD Versions & US Cassette Tape Version Bonus Track)
|3:23||N. Jones, M. H. Browne, B. T. Romeo||Live Squad, Lo Ground & Top General Sounds||Nas|
|U.S. Billboard 200||#1|
|U.S. Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums||#1|
|UK Albums Chart||#38|
|Billboard Hot 100||Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks||Hot Rap Singles||UK Singles Chart|
|1996||"If I Ruled The World"||#53||#17||#15||#12|
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