Music: Staying Cool Under Fire

Rapper Nas smartly documents his mad world

Nas walks the line. Between gangsta-leaning and Godfearing, between lustful and romantic, between the poetic and the scatological. He has starred in a movie (director Hype Williams' Belly), performed high-profile duets (with Mary J. Blige and Lauryn Hill), and dodged death (when his friend and fellow New Yorker Biggie Smalls was shot and killed in 1997, Nas went into virtual seclusion, fearing for his life). He's proud but not bombastic, he's casual in tone but almost always serious in content, and although his raps are deeply personal, he strives for the prophetic. He's a craftsman of words; he wants to tell...

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