It Was Written

NOTE: JDS gives his take on Nasir's polarizing sophomore album.
Written by JDS

So we all know the story about how It Was Written (IWW) was shitted on when it was first released due to its departure from Illmatic, which is commonly attributed to the era's infatuation with the Mafioso style as well as pressure from Columbia to create a more sonically polished album. Still, there are a few clues that indicate that IWW was in fact going to be a true successor to Illmatic as opposed to the spiritual successor it became. One of which clues is the song "Deja Vu" that was recorded during the initial development of IWW before Nas was pressured into crafting the sound we have now with Trackmasters.

An interview with the songs producer, Chris Winston, reveal details surrounding the track's absence from the album. Mainly label politics.

The element that immediately sticks out about "Deja Vu" as opposed to all the other music that came out of the IWW sessions is the sort of raw, cerebral nature of the subject matter and the beat itself. It immediately takes you back to when our rap gods used to make classic records in basements surrounded by crates of old vinyl. Specifically, I believe the track shows that Nas' heart was still on those park benches he spoke of in his debut and only highlights the unfair criticism Nas garners throughout the rap world concerning his constantly changing perspective. It's never necessarily been about contradiction as much as expressing all of who Nasir Jones is. The ghetto poet, black militant, ruthless gangster, cross-bearer, and the quiet kid in the project window... they're all pieces of a larger whole.

But what does that mean in regards to IWW? To understand that, you have to first revisit at Illmatic.

What distinguishes Nas as a lyricist and writer has always been his ability to transcend his subject matter, or "connect the dots". Whether intentional or not, he's every bit of an existentialist, taking cues from his surroundings and drawing the parallels and connections between himself, the ghetto, his people, and the otherworldly (spirituality, the essence, and all other intangibles). Illmatic was basically his thesis for that thought process and one of the main reasons for its reverence. But one of the many layers that people tend to gloss over is the context. Here you have a nineteen year old kid who's growing and dealing with all of these influences—even in his lyrics he's never quite involved, but rather existing on the fringes just observing it all—and by the end of the album you're left with the impression of a very talented person on the cusp of adulthood... What path will he choose? And this is where IWW steps in.

IWW is in many ways like catching up to that same kid a few years later and discovering that he's been swallowed by the very streets that captivated him. Yet, there are still remnants of that adolescent throughout the entire album. I believe in this respect, IWW can be considered a concept album that's not necessarily just the chronicling of the fabled Nas Escobar, but an introspective view of a young man caught in-between his true self and pressures of life and his music.

16 comments:

  1. the unfair criticism Nas garners throughout the rap world concerning his constantly changing perspective. It's never necessarily been about contradiction as much as expressing all of who Nasir Jones is. The ghetto poet, black militant, ruthless gangster, cross-bearer, and the quiet kid in the project window... they're all pieces of a larger whole.
    ^^^^

    This is pure accuracy...

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  2. Great post, and "IWW is in many ways like catching up to that same kid a few years later and discovering that he's been swallowed by the very streets that captivated him. Yet, there are still remnants of that adolescent throughout the entire album. I believe in this respect, IWW can be considered a concept album that's not necessarily just the chronicling of the fabled Nas Escobar, but an introspective view of a young man caught in-between his true self and pressures of life and his music"

    is the best interp of the album I have ever read. And I LOVE to hate on it. But now I need to revisit.

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  3. I agree, great post. JDS will hopefully be donating more writing in the near future.

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  4. yo, i really appreciate that yall.

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  5. *plays last real nigga alive and quotes*

    "Illmatic I was boss
    It Was Written I flossed
    One of the most creative LPs ever to hit stores"

    Yo theres some fucking gems in that song. Word up.

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  6. Oh and Nas > Jay.

    *remembers he aint on nahright*

    *logs off*

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  7. Tbh I think I was fortunate to be a little kid when IWW dropped. I got it like a year after getting Illmatic and I wasn't disappointed at all. Nas is as good or perhaps even better technically than he was on his debut. The only real miss step I think was probably Black Girl Lost (and maybe the hook on Nas is Coming, which is unfairly maligned imo).

    It is, by some distance, my second fav Nas album. Nas wins more than people think.

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  8. Being 16 and having no bias when listening to the albums, illmatic was classic yes, but it was written was a very good album, so when i did more research and saw it was known as his shit work i thought wtf?

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  9. @Fman I was also 16 when IWW was released as well. I personally think it's one of the best albums ever released. Still listen to it all the time.

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  10. Illmatic was the perfect blend of beats & rhymes. But IWW lyrically advances what Nas started with his debut. The growth between those albums shows the focus & strive a true artist has to perfect his craft. The remix to Street Dreams alone proves how much he wanted to display the street poetry while droppin' gems for the youth. I sure wish that, Silent Murder and Deja Vu were on the CD.

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  11. @QS Thanks for checking it out man. I remember arguing with my homie about the Street Dreams remix cause he thought it was wack. That was when an R&B singer on the hook automatically made a song too commercial. lol Silent Murder was on the cassette when I bought it in 96, but wasn't on the CD. I'm not sure how it's packaged now.

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