Walk up to any hip hop head and say these lyrics – “Visualizin’ the realism of life in actuality” – and 10 times out of 10, they’re going to reply with, “Fuck who’s the baddest, a person’s status depends on salary.”
AZ rapping on “Life’s a Bitch” is such a moment of hip hop perfection, that it’s hard to believe that it was the very first time he ever recorded a verse. Growing up in East New York, Brooklyn during the ’70s and ’80s, hip hop was just a way of life for AZ.
“It’s just what we were living,” he told Passion of the Weiss. “When it came to the forefront, me being young, hearing Cold Crush and Run DMC and all that — I just knew it was the life. And I was part of that life as far as going to the parties and park jams; being a little knucklehead. When I got a little older and Rakim and [Kool] G Rap and Kane came out, they were wearing the clothes we wore and speaking the language we spoke. It was just a part of nature.”
As he got older, AZ started making a name of himself as being super nice on the mic. Around the same time, another rapper by the name of Nasty Nas from Queensbridge was making his come up. The associates of both rappers thought it’d be a good idea to connect them.
“Me and Nas were introduced on the phone,” AZ recalled. “Back then there was a lot of comparison of who’s the best in the boroughs, and my friend knows his friend, and it’s just like we’re all on the phone; and there was a couple of other people on the phone, just talking, and we met like that.”
So actually we spoke for like a year by phone, before we actually saw each other. And he was recording, and I had no idea about the studio process and all of that—I was just coming through for support, and that’s how that “Life’s a Bitch” record took place. It wasn’t premeditated.
It wasn’t long before Nas started the recording process for his seminal Illmatic, and AZ started tagging along. The crazy thing is the Brooklyn rapper was just showing up to studio sessions to show love and support, there were no plans for him to get on the album.
“I was just being supportive,” AZ said. “I came to a lot of his sessions prior to that record being done. Every time I came I brought a bottle of champagne. Now you’ve gotta understand, we’re 19, 20 years-old and I’m bringing bottles of champagne to every session just to say, ‘Yo, you did it. You making that move that we all would wanna make and I’m here to celebrate it and help,’ you know. Just to be there, just to be some kind of inspiration.”
But during one fateful studio session, Queensbridge producer L.E.S. cued up a beat that prominently sampled “Yearning for Your Love” by The Gap Band and AZ began freestyling a hook. Nas asked him to jump on the track and “Life’s a Bitch” was born as a result.
AZ: I think we both held it and balanced that record out. ‘Cause without him, that record wouldn’t have been what it was. Without me, that record wouldn’t have been what it was. We was speaking the same language, but coming from different angles again. It just meshed so perfect that it got our point across. It got our point across so beautiful with that harmonic balance that really reached the target that we was aiming for.AZ Shares The Stories Behind 15 Of His Best Verses | XXL