After linking up with DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor and Q-Tip for his groundbreaking debut, Nas wanted to take it back to Queensbridge for his sophomore album.
The Queensbridge MC planned to have Marley Marl produce his next release. At this point in time, Marley was already a legend, having produced for the likes of MC Shan, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Kool G Rap, Tragedy Khadafi, LL Cool J and a slew of other names.
“I wanted to make a street album with Marley Marl,” Nas told Complex. “I looked up to him as an inventor of so many styles of hip-hop music. I loved what he did with LL Cool J on Mama Said Knock You Out. And being from the same hood, I thought the second album had to be with Marley.”
While it sounded like a match made in heaven – two of the biggest rap names from the Queensbridge projects connecting to create another classic album – it just wasn’t meant to be. The two artists lived far away from each other, and Nas was getting distracted with one foot still in the street life. To add to that, he started hearing the songs he worked on with Marley on the radio with other rappers on them.
“After a while, some of my songs appeared as promos on the radio with all kinds of niggas rapping on them—meanwhile, I hadn’t even finished working on the song for my album,” Nas recalled. “I had a song called ‘On the Real’ that I didn’t finish, and before I could, I’m hearing it on the radio with people rapping on it. I couldn’t understand that. I was hurt and I knew I couldn’t work like that.”
“So, I had to rethink my whole album. I didn’t know what to do at that point because if I couldn’t do it with Marley, I didn’t have a plan B. I had to figure out something else, so me and Steve Stoute sat together and had a meeting.”
After deciding to take his album in a different direction, Nas – under the guidance of Steve Stoute – linked up with Trackmasters who contributed a majority of the production to It Was Written, including the album’s two biggest hits – “Street Dreams” and “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That).”
While his sophomore album had a much more glossy and commercial sound than Illmatic, Nas still had a strong street feel to it, with contributions from DJ Premier, Havoc and L.E.S. balancing out the pop hits.
Nas: I started hearing my style in a lot of people after Illmatic and I knew that I had to be 1000 notches above Illmatic or go home. There’s a thing called sophomore jinx, and I had to make sure that we blew people out of the park.The Making of Nas’ ‘It Was Written’ | Complex