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.