“Verbal Intercourse” – Raekwon ft. Nas & Ghostface Killah
From Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (1995)
So…What the Hell Happened to Nas???
If you know anything about Nas, you know that Nas is one of the most acclaimed rappers of all time. His multisyllabic rhymes, his consistently deadly flow, his stories of the New York streets, and his innovative ways of handling and releasing his music have all earned Nas a top shelf spot in lists of all-time MCs. His debut album, Illmatic…
Now, if you don’t know Illmatic, why are you reading this? Why are you on this site? What are you even doing calling yourself a Hip Hop fan???
Although Illmatic is now recognized as the classic it is (have you listened to it yet?), it was not initially the most popular album and was largely overshadowed by other famous debuts of the year: OutKast, Warren G, Method Man, and especially Biggie Smalls. However, music critics realized its genius from the get-go; The Source gave the album its famous 5 mics rating, and the album appeared in many best of 1994 rankings, including lists by the Village Voice and NME. Rappers were also quick to discover what Nas had to offer: Biggie was accused of ripping off Illmatic’s iconic cover design on Ready to Die, released later that year.
Despite his level of influence, Nas would soon drop another incredible verse… and then change his tune forever.
In 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) established them as a talented and innovative group of rappers, who worked both well as a posse and as individual artists. Following Enter the Wu-Tang, the members would go on to sign on to several different labels as solo artists and drop projects that featured prominently featured their names—although they never forgot where they came from.
Method Man was the first to break out with the release of Tical in 1994. The following year, Ol’ Dirty Bastard dropped Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, GZA the Genius dropped Liquid Swords, and finally, Raekwon dropped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. All highly acclaimed albums, Raekwon’s became the most successful and influential of the bunch, continuing the landmark influence of the Wu-Tang and paving new directions for hip-hop. The album also featured a little Easter Egg: a rapper who was not a member of the Wu-Tang was featured on a Wu-Tang project for the first time ever. This rapper was none other than Nas, whose verse was featured on the track “Verbal Intercourse”.
Nas took the first verse off of a track called “Déjà vu” from his demo tape which he compiled in 1991. The verse fit well over RZA’s fresh and haunting production, and flowed well into Rae’s and Ghostface’s verses on the song. Nas’ lyrics, however, clearly shone through:
“Through the lights, cameras, and action glamour glitters and gold
I unfold the scroll, plant seeds to stampede the globe
When I’m deceased, by then the beast arise like yeast
To conquer peace leaving savages to roam in the streets”
And that’s just the beginning of the verse. Many more such internal rhymes, alliteration, and imagery occupy the rest of the sixteen bars.
In other words, that s*** is packed.
Nas rightfully earned more acclaim for this verse, earning him a Hip Hop Quotable of the month in the Source.
This is what Nas is known for and is what made Illmatic so legendary. The fierce lyricism on here and on Illmatic is no less than insane. It reads almost as densely as any other famous poems of the 20th century. Underground Hip Hop fans were quick to label Nas as the street equivalent to the God MC Rakim, who pioneered advanced lyricism in Hip Hop… but you gotta at least know Rakim right???
After this stage in his career, Nas’ fans would continue to ask this question for years to come: “Where’s the next Illmatic?” Nas would end up taking a different direction in his music, possibly trying to match the commercial appeal of Biggie and Pac. Nas would still drop more acclaimed albums such as It Was Written, Stillmatic, God’s Son, and most recently, Life is Good. However, Illmatic set the standard so impossibly high that none of these albums could come close to matching its impact. This also made Nas’ lesser albums, like Nastradamus and the collaborative The Firm: The Album, seem more inferior than they were.
Nas would still drop classic tracks such as “Nas Is Like…” and “The Message”, and would continue to prove his lyrical worth by his feud with Jay-Z. Other albums he made would be more successful upon their immediate releases, often going multiplatinum. Nas would go on to be a hot collaboration commodity for established as well as up-and-coming Hip Hop artists, and he would be hailed as an inspiration by current rappers. However, Nas has still not yet won a Grammy, has not become a universal name known by non-Hip Hop heads like 2Pac and Biggie, and has not yet dropped another Illmatic. This has undeservedly put him more under the radar than other artists of his day and of his stature.
One wonders what would have happened if Illmatic would have become a rip-roaring success, just like Ready to Die. One wonders what would have happened if he would have been more commercially successful than Biggie. One wonders if he would have continued to write verses just has lyrically profound as his verse on “Verbal Intercourse”.
Unfortunately, it does not do too much good to wonder. We know, above all, that Nas is on the upper echelon on the list of all the rappers to have ever existed, and that even if he never drops another Illmatic, we are all thankful for what he has contributed to Hip Hop.