29 Best Nas Songs

Best Nas Songs

Nas is one of the most influential rappers of his era.  His three-decade career has seen critical and commercial success, and he is considered one of the greatest lyricists of all time.

From diss tracks to eloquent depictions of street life, here's our list of the best Nas songs ever.

1. “Ether”

Song year: 2001

Jay-Z's song “Takeover” claimed that Nas had lost a step as a rapper and wasn't as vital to the hip hop community as he once was. Nas responded with “Ether,” a track considered one of the best diss tracks ever.

Nas uses the track to attack the legitimacy of Jay-Z's street credibility with such skill that it also proves his lyrical ability is still top-notch.

“Ether” was such an effective diss track that the word “ether” became hip hop slang for beating someone badly in battle.

2. “Rare”

Song year: 2021

With his single “Rare,” Nas shows his vitality and lyrical prowess after three decades in the rap game. Nas references cultural icons from Jimi Hendrix to Quentin Tarantino in the song, with his typically dense and conversational flow.

Nas uses these comparisons to illustrate his place amongst the rarest artistic talents of our time. While many rappers use boastful rhymes in their songs, these claims hold more weight when they come from Nas, who is widely considered one of the greatest rappers ever.

3. “Affirmative Action” ft. Supreme NTM

Song year: 1996

“Affirmative Action” was the first track released by a consortium of artists that Nas wanted to turn into a group called The Firm. With several other rappers, including Foxy Brown, Nas had planned on creating a clothing line and a series of albums around the group, but managerial disputes got in the way.

Fortunately, we still have this hard-hitting track off It Was Written. Nas uses his verse to tout his street credibility. In a few years, he would leverage these attacks at Jay-Z.

4. “Nastradamus”

Song year: 1999

After Nas' album I Am… sold millions of records, the rapper was riding a celebratory wave that carried him back into the studio to freestyle what would become the first single from his next record, “Nastradamus.”

The rapper's choice to release Nastradamus the same year as I Am… came from the file-sharing leaks that had predated the official release of I Am… To combat this happening again, Nas freestyled several of the tracks on Nastradamus and put the album out quickly.

5. “One Mic”

Song year: 2002

Over a sample of Phil Collins' “In The Air Tonight,” Nas uses a loud/quiet dynamic often found in rock music for his single “One Mic.” The slow-building track uses the growing tension to create an uneasy atmosphere for Nas' anger to boil to the surface.

This track marks a turn away from his high-profile beef with Jay Z. Instead, Nas uses the simmering single to look at religion, violence, and the inner city.

6. “Street Dreams”

Song year: 1996

“Street Dreams” was the first single by Nas to crack the Billboard Top 40, peaking at number 22. The song is the rapper's nod to street life, juxtaposing the American Dream with the realities of the ghetto.

Drug dealing can be one of the few viable ways to move upwards and make significant money for the underprivileged. Nas uses “Street Dreams” to point out that this is a failing of America's institutions.

7. “The World Is Yours”

Song year: 1994

Sampling early hip hop MC T La Rock and jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, Nas created one of the most revered hip hop songs in history with “The World Is Yours.” The move sample jazz and hip hop together, two great Black art forms, gives the song a sense of history.

“The World Is Yours” is so iconic in hip hop that the track has been sampled and referenced in dozens of songs.

8. “Hate Me Now” ft. Puff Daddy

Song year: 1999

Over a hard-hitting classical sample, Nas' single “Hate Me Now” is a message to all his haters that he isn't going anywhere. Puff Daddy lends his voice to the hook, but this track is all about Nas' hard-earned success.

The controversial music video for “Hate Me Now” featured the crucifixion of Puff Daddy and Nas. Puff Daddy had second thoughts about his involvement and had his scenes edited out of the video.

9. “Thief’s Theme”

Song year: 2004

Featuring the classic bassline from Iron Butterfly's “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” Nas makes an anthem for all the hustlers that come out at night with “Thief's Theme.” 

While the rapper never shies away from the stark realities of gangsta life, the song's lyrics are some of his darkest. Nas describes in poetic detail the dark streets a thief moves through in the night, using images of rats and dead bodies to frame his surroundings.

10. “Nas Is Like”

Song year: 1999

“Nas Is Like” utilizes a stilted string sample and samples of Nas' past songs to create a blank canvas for the rapper to paint of picture of his story coming up in the game to become an influential voice in Black culture.

The song's structure is now used frequently in hip hop, backing up the very claims that Nas makes in the track regarding his importance. The sample became highly sought after by DJs and producers following the single's release.

11. “Surviving the Times”

Song year: 2007

Nas released “Surviving the Times” as a new track on his Greatest Hits album. The single finds the rapper in a reflective mood, telling his story of coming up in the hip hop community over a sample from the musical The Whiz.

Nas viewed the song as his opportunity to pay respect to the rappers that helped him out when he was new to rapping, artists he believes many hip hop fans overlook.

12. “Hip Hop Is Dead” ft. Will.i.am

Song year: 2006

Nas raps over a sample of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” for the second time in his career with his controversial track “Hip Hop Is Dead.” In the song, Nas argues that rap has been commodified and is no longer an art form but a commercial enterprise full of copycat artists.

It's a provocative title but isn't without its merits. Nas' standing as one of the best rappers alive and an elder statesman of the genre make this track a necessary critique of hip hop as its worldwide influence grows.

13. “Make The World Go Round” ft. Chris Brown and The Game

Song year: 2008

“Make the World Go Round” features Nas collaborating with The Game and Chris Brown for a braggadocious rap that touches on the fundamental hip hop tropes of money, fame, and marijuana.

The song's infectious R&B backing track sounds more pop than hip hop, giving the single an accessible, celebratory feel.

14. “Hero” ft. Keri Hilson

Song year: 2008

Nas proclaims himself as the savior of hip hop in his single “Hero.” The self-styled hero that Nas paints himself as comes after his previous album had claimed that hip hop was dead.

The song addresses his steadfast dedication to rap and his promise to restore it as an art form. It also addresses the controversy that surrounded the title of his new record. Nas tried to name the album the N-word, but corporate interests would not allow the name.

15. “I Can”

Song year: 2003

Nas' inspirational “I Can” rose to number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, his highest showing ever on the charts. The song samples Beethoven's “Fur Elise” and features a call and response children's chorus.

The song is Nas' message to the youth, one full of inspiration but also warning of the hard and long road ahead. While Nas' career is full of conscious hip hop tracks, none are as direct and youth-friendly as “I Can,” making the single an essential part of Nas' canon.

16. “One Love”

Song year: 1994

Teaming up with former A Tribe Called Quest member Q-Tip as producer, Nas delivered one of his most iconic performances with the single “One Love.”

The rapper frames each verse as a different letter that he's composing to an incarcerated friend. With this structure, Nas can address different issues in gangsta life while maintaining a narrative thread. This unique lyrical construction makes him one of the best hip hop lyricists ever.

17. “You Owe Me” ft. Ginuwine

Song year: 1999

While Nas is generally known for conscious hip hop and aggressive diss tracks, he teamed up with R&B singer Ginuwine for a more traditional rap about lust on his single “You Owe Me.”

With Ginuwine's soulful vocals and Nas flaunting the riches of his success in rap, the song is an anomaly in the MC's storied career. The track's mainstream ready production from Timbaland helped Nas score another Billboard Hip Hop chart hit.

18. “Got Ur Self A…”

“Got Ur Self A…”

Song year: 2001

Nas often uses mafia imagery when evoking life on the streets, and he continues these themes by sampling the theme song from The Sopranos in his single “Got Ur Self A…”

Referencing Tupac and Biggie Smalls, the song mourns the loss of two of hip hop's greatest figures to gun violence. The track also warns anyone that starts a rivalry with Nas that they better be armed with a gun.

19. “You Can’t Kill Me”

Song year: 2006

In two densely packed verses, Nas lays out his background and the trajectory that made him the metaphorical mob boss of hip hop in the single “Can't Kill Me.”

With lyrics that touch on everything from soul music greats to astrology, Nas lays out his case for being a bulletproof MC. As is often the case when Nas picks up the mic, his lyrical skill and rapping prowess are so great they back up his claims in real-time.

20. “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” ft. Lauryn Hill

Song year: 1996

Nas took a swing at mainstream appeal with his single “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That).” Bolstered by the soulful hook sung by Fugees member Lauryn Hill, the rapper's appeal for a peaceful existence simultaneously illustrates how disadvantaged communities are disproportionately held back in society.

The single was Nas' first mainstream success and is considered one of his signature tracks and a high point of '90s rap.

21. “Nasty”

Song year: 2011

Nas' “Nasty” was composed as an ode to the old-school hip hop songs of the '80s. The structure of the track is simple — a catchy boom bap drum loop sets the stage for the rapper to flex his lyrical skill.

The song illustrates the classic boats of an MC with Nas' rhymes focusing on drugs, sex, and running the streets. The song's relentless beat is the perfect complement to these tropes, and the result was one of the best raps songs of the year.

22. “Halftime”

Song year: 1992

“Halftime” was Nas' debut solo single, and it signaled to the world that a new, exciting lyricist was entering the hip hop world. Initially recorded for the film Zebrahead, the single would earn Nas a recording contract and is featured on his classic debut album Illmatic.

Not only does the track serve as Nas' coming out party as an artist, but it also became an important milestone in the intersection of commercially viable rap and conscious hip hop.

23. “Daughters”

Song year: 2012

The struggles and joys of parenthood are on full display in Nas' single “Daughters.” The rapper uses his own life experience as a father to highlight the difficulties in raising a child.

While honestly assessing his personality faults, Nas shines a light on how our hypocrisies can make rearing a little one difficult. The track's heartfelt admissions of love and mistakes make it vulnerable and relatable to all parents.

24. “Bye Baby”

Song year: 2012

Nas addresses his failed marriage with R&B singer Kelis on the track “Bye Baby.” While the couple was confrontational about one another in the press during their divorce, the single shows Nas' appreciation for the good times in their relationship.

Nas ends “Bye Baby” with an appreciative nod to the fun the couple had together and the gift of a child that the marriage provided. It's a beautiful and grounded perspective on the dissolving of a marriage.

25. “Cherry Wine” ft. Amy Winehouse

Song year: 2012

Nas' “Cherry Wine” was the last single to feature R&B singer Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011 from alcohol abuse. The track is a simmering, soulful slow jam that highlights the preternatural vocal talents of Winehouse while creating a romantic backdrop for Nas to rap about his dream girl over.

The single's music video features projections of Winehouse against a bar's backdrop and is dedicated to the singer. The song received a Grammy Award nomination.

26. “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”

Song year: 1994

The jazz-influenced lead single from Nas' Illmatic, “It Ain't Hard to Tell,” showcases the breadth of references that would make Nas one of the most influential rappers ever. From professional wrestlers and basketball players to street slang mixed with Biblical stories, Nas came out of the gate swinging.

“It Ain't Hard to Tell” was a watershed moment in hip hop, and the track has been referenced or sampled by dozens of other rappers, from Jay Z to Rakim.

27. “Made You Look”

Song year: 2002

The Incredible Bongo Band's “Apache” has become an oft-used sample in hip hop, so prevalent that using the sample in a modern context is a reference to the history of hip hop itself.

This history makes Nas' use of “Apache” in his track “Made You Look” a self-aware choice for a single that boasts of the rapper's success and influence. This old-school direction would revitalize Nas' career after his longstanding beef with Jay-Z.

28. “Just a Moment” ft. Quan

Song year: 2005

Over a sample of disco group Chic's “Will You Cry (When You Hear This Song?),” Nas and his protege Quan call for a moment of silence for fallen friends, disadvantaged communities, and war veterans on the single, “Just a Moment.”

Evoking Tupac and Biggie Smalls alongside the Iraq War is a provocative example of themes common in Nas' career, one that sees the hustle of gangsta life as a form of warfare.

29. “U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim)”

Song year: 2004

Rakim is widely considered the best rapper of all time, one whose groundbreaking style had an outsized influence on Nas. Many of Nas' rapping techniques, particularly internal rhyming, were pioneered by Rakim.

Nas paid homage to Rakim on “U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim).” The song is a faithful retelling of the life of Rakim, which is no doubt part of Nas' efforts to shine a light on the forgotten forebearers of hip hop.

Top Nas Songs, Final Thoughts

Nas used techniques often found in literary fiction to create his rhymes. With a conversational flow, he tackled interpersonal and political topics from unique points of view.

Nas' influence is evident in so much of the hip hop we hear today. His controversial and experimental lyricism is densely literate and the gold standard for any MC coming up in the hip hop community.

We hope you enjoyed our list of the best Nas songs.

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