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Nas and AZ’s Epic Saga in Hip-Hop’s Golden Age

Rapper AZ on Drink Champs
AZ on the set of Drink Champs in December 2023.

Reflecting on the raw, authentic sound of “Life’s a Bitch” on Nas’s groundbreaking ‘Illmatic,’ it’s clear that this wasn’t just another track but a pivotal moment in Hip-Hop history.

This story is more than just about hits and awards. It’s about the journey of Brooklyn rapper Anthony “AZ” Cruz and Nasir Jones, better known by the stage name Nas. Their paths crossed in a way that shaped their careers and left an indelible mark on the music we love.

But, before we dive in, if you haven’t checked out this episode of Drink Champs featuring AZ, you gotta watch. It’s a goldmine of insights and stories from one of Hip-Hop finest.

Quick Summary

  • Nas and AZ’s Iconic Collaboration: Their journey began with a pivotal phone call, leading to AZ’s memorable verse on “Life’s a Bitch” from Nas’s ‘Illmatic’, a defining moment in Hip-Hop history.
  • Early Career and Touring: Before signing with EMI, AZ gained valuable experience touring with Nas, learning the intricacies of the music business and live performances.
  • Formation of The Firm: Nas and AZ, along with Foxy Brown and Nature, formed The Firm, releasing a collaborative album in 1997 that showcased their collective talent.
  • Enduring Musical Brotherhood: Despite pursuing individual careers, Nas and AZ continued to collaborate, creating tracks like “The Essence” that highlighted their lasting chemistry.
  • Future Collaborations and Legacy: Discussions about a potential joint album continue, reflecting the duo’s lasting impact on Hip-Hop and their enduring partnership built on mutual respect and artistic commitment.

Table of Contents

Early Encounters – The Birth of a Legendary Duo

The Nas-AZ connection, a prime example in Hip-Hop’s landscape, emerged from a chance meeting leading to legendary collaborations.

Meeting of Minds – How Nas and AZ First Connected

In the early ’90s, New York City was a place where Hip-Hop wasn’t just music but the heartbeat of the streets. In this backdrop, two young talents, Nas and AZ, were about to embark on a journey that would change the NYC rap scene indefinitely.

The connection between these two legends began not in a studio but through a simple yet fateful phone call. AZ shared in the Drink Champs interview how this call set the wheels in motion for one of the most celebrated collaborations in Hip-Hop history.

During this initial conversation, there was an immediate spark of recognition. This wasn’t your everyday chat about beats and rhymes; it was two future icons finding a common language in their shared passion for storytelling and authentic expression.

In these early moments, Nas and AZ forged their bond. It was more than just mutual respect; it was a shared understanding that they were part of something bigger than themselves. They were voices of their generation, eager to tell the stories of their lives, struggles, and aspirations.

This phone call was just the beginning. It was the first step in a journey to see them collaborate, support, and inspire each other throughout their careers. Their bond exemplifies Hip-Hop’s power to unite, creating enduring, powerful art from simple exchanges of words and ideas.

The Illmatic Collaboration – Analyzing “Life’s a Bitch”

Shockingly, AZ, who never saw himself as an MC, first entered an official studio when invited to a session during “Illmatic’s” curation.

What AZ saw as just spitting bars for fun on an L.E.S-produced track at the studio turned out to be a pivotal point in his career.

After learning about making the album cut in the 11th hour, “Life’s a Bitch” showcased his lyrical prowess and unique flow, complementing Nas’s narrative and elevating the track and arguably the album to new heights.

Analyzing the lyrics, you find a blend of raw reality and poetic brilliance in AZ’s opening bars: 

“Visualizin’ the realism of life in actuality
F*** who’s the baddest, a person’s status depends on salary..”

Both Nas and AZ painted vivid pictures of life’s struggles and the fleeting nature of youth and success. AZ’s verse, in particular, stood out for its introspective depth, delivering lines that resonated with listeners and critics alike. He wasn’t just rapping; he was talking that real, offering a glimpse into the realities of street life with a maturity and insight beyond his years. 

Despite lacking commercial success and not ranking on Billboard’s Top 100, the collaboration’s street impact was immediate and far-reaching. “Life’s a Bitch” became a Hip-Hop cornerstone, a track referenced by fans and artists for years to come.

AZ’s Early Touring Days with Nas: The Road to Success

Rapper AZ and Nas
AZ performing along Nas in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in February 2023. Image: AZ

Before making a splash in the music world with his debut album under EMI, AZ was already experiencing the road life.

This period marked a crucial learning curve in AZ’s career, as he toured with Nas and experienced the highs and lows of tour life.

The Tour Experience 

Hitting the road with Nas was more than just an opportunity for AZ to showcase his talents; it was a real-world education in the music business. 

Thrown into the fire, he was thrust into the dynamic and sometimes chaotic world of live performances, getting a firsthand look at what it takes to captivate audiences night after night. 

First Taste of Show Money 

While humbled at being presented with the opportunity to hit the road. Perhaps one of the most defining moments for AZ during this time was receiving a call from Nas where he jokingly offered AZ $500 for his time but was at the receiving end of a staggering $10,000-15,000. 

It goes without saying that although he would have been cool with the education as a sizable advance was brewing with EMI, it symbolized his potential and proved to be a tangible reward for his artistry.

The Firm – Joining Forces in a Super Group

Quickly (and I mean that literally), a new chapter unfolded with the formation of The Firm. Although lacking commercial success, for Nas and AZ, The Firm was another chapter in their ongoing narrative that highlighted their versatility and ability to innovate within the genre.

The idea behind The Firm was ambitious and visionary. Made up of Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown and Nature, In 1997, The Firm released their self-titled debut album with production from legends like Dr. Dre, The Glove, and Trackmasters, showcasing skill and synergy. 

Individual Paths with Symbiotic Ties

AZ and Nas alongside Slick Rick and Fat Joe
From Left to Right: AZ, Slick Rick, Nas and Fat Joe present at Nas’ birthday celebration in 2023. Image: AZ

Tracks like “Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide,” and “How Ya Livin'” are prime examples of these two emcees’ collaborative genius. As their careers progressed, both Nas and AZ embarked on individual journeys, carving their unique niches in the Hip-Hop world. Despite their separate trajectories, it’s evident that their connection remained strong.

Collaborations Beyond The Firm

One of the most notable post-Firm collaborations between Nas and AZ is the track “The Essence.” Nominated for a Grammy, this song is a testament to their enduring chemistry. 

The track seamlessly blends Nas’s introspective style with AZ’s smooth delivery, creating a piece that resonates with fans for its authenticity and lyrical depth.

The Legacy Continues – Mutual Respect and Influence

Beyond their musical collaborations, Nas and AZ’s respect for each other extends to their personal lives. They’ve supported each other through various phases of their careers, demonstrating a brotherhood beyond the recording booth. 

The Prospect of a Joint Album

Amidst their solo successes and collaborative tracks, there remains a tantalizing prospect that has fans eager with anticipation: the possibility of a joint album.

Fans have discussed the concept of a Nas and AZ joint album for years, seeing it as a natural progression of their long-standing partnership. When asked on Drink Champs, AZ revealed that the decision rests with Nas.

Given Hit-Boy’s success with Nas’ King’s Disease series, a Hit-Boy produced Nas and AZ collaborative effort seems right and perhaps is in order!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the key highlights of Nas and AZ’s collaboration history?

Nas and AZ first collaborated on “Life’s a Bitch” from Nas’s 1994 album ‘Illmatic’. They continued to work together on various tracks and projects, including forming the supergroup The Firm in the late 1990s.

How did Nas and AZ influence each other’s music styles?

Nas and AZ’s collaboration brought together distinct lyrical styles, with Nas known for his vivid storytelling and AZ for his smooth, intricate wordplay. Their partnership helped refine and elevate each other’s artistry.

What makes “Life’s a Bitch” a standout track in Hip-Hop history?

“Life’s a Bitch” is celebrated for its raw and honest lyrics, exceptional lyrical flow, and its portrayal of urban life struggles. AZ’s guest verse is often hailed as a standout moment in the track, contributing to the song’s lasting impact in Hip-Hop.

Reflecting on Nas and AZ’s Enduring Partnership

Nas and AZ’s story is a testament to the enduring nature of true artistic collaboration. It’s a reminder that in the world of music, particularly in Hip-Hop, the most impactful relationships are those built on mutual respect, shared vision, and an unyielding commitment to the craft. 

For a deeper dive into AZ’s thoughts and experiences, be sure to check out his latest appearance on Episode 392 of Drink Champs. Share your favorite Nas and AZ moments in the comments and join the conversation about this iconic duo’s influence on Hip-Hop.

Peace ✌🏽. 

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