“I woke up early on my born day; I’m 20, it’s a blessin'” – when a young Nasty Nas rapped these lines on his ’94 debut, he had no idea the type of impact he’d have on the rap game.
“Back then it was just gangsta, gangsta, gangsta,” the rapper reflected in an interview with the Financial Times. “It felt like the danger from the block was still right around the corner. We were young men who had to grow up so fast and there was a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. When we saw our favourite musicians get old, we just figured Al Green or Anita Baker had earned their stripes, that they were married with kids in some house near a river somewhere.”
Over 20 years later, after 14 studio albums, 6 number ones, and a bunch of multi-platinum sellers, Nas has added another notch to his belt – becoming the oldest recipient for the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album when his 13th album, King’s Disease, won in 2021.
Nas was 17 years old when he dropped an incredible debut verse on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque”; he was 20 years old when Illmatic changed the rap game forever; and now, at 47 years old, is a hip hop OG and one of the greatest rappers to ever do it.
Nas: I wanted to put together a bunch of music that represents Nasir in 2020. Me and [rapper and producer] Hit-Boy started working on it before COVID hit but then the quarantine stopped us and I decided I didn’t wanna release it anymore. But then I got the call from him and he woke me up, telling me that we gotta finish it. So it’s just a piece of work around what I was thinking this year.”Nas on being a hip-hop legend: “I’m rapping the same way I did when I was on the block” | NME
To put Nas’ incredible achievement in context, here are a few rappers and their age when they first won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album:
- Treach – 26 years old when Naughty by Nature won for Poverty’s Paradise (1996)
- Lauryn Hill – 22 years old when Fugees won for The Score (1997)
- Puff Daddy – 29 years old when he won for No Way Out (1998)
- Jay-Z – 30 years old when he won for Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1999)
- Eminem – 28 years old when he won for The Slim Shady LP (2000)
- Andre 3000 and Big Boi – 27 years old when OutKast won for Stankonia (2002)
- Kanye West – 28 years old when he won for The College Dropout (2005)
- Ludacris – 30 years old when he won for Release Therapy (2007)
- Lil Wayne – 27 years old when he won for Tha Carter III (2009)
- Drake – 27 years old when he won for Take Care (2013)
- Macklemore – 31 years old when he won for The Heist (2014)
- Kendrick Lamar – 29 years old when he won for To Pimp a Butterfly (2016)
- Chance the Rapper – 24 years old when he won for Coloring Book (2017)
- Cardi B – 27 years old when she won for Invasion of Privacy (2019)
- Tyler, the Creator – 29 years old when he won for Igor (2020)