There's a thin, hard-to-find line between representing one's community and exploiting it. The rapper Nas is, more often than not, on the righteous side of the line. His chart-topping new CD, It Was Written, his second, is full of violent episodes and sometimes needlessly rough language, but, Nas insists, "I'm not a gangsta rapper." And he isn't. Nas, who hails from New York City's Queensbridge housing projects, is clearly saddened and outraged by the violence he sees around him, and he's out to create songs that are more than cathartic cartoons. On one song, I Gave You Power, Nas shows some...

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