Beginner’s Luck

“You have a lifetime to write your first album, and a year to write your second”– Elvis Costello

What is it that limits an artists material when producing their second piece? Their first one was great so then why shouldn’t their second one be just as great or better? Why is it that they have such limited time to make their second piece of art when their first one put them in a much less desperate situation than they were in before? One can begin finding answers to the mystery of the “one hit wonder/beginners luck” when studying the body of work produced by Nas.

In April of 1994, the hip hop world was changed forever when 20 year old Nasir Jones dropped his hit album Illmatic, which painted, for its listeners, a picture of growing up in inner city New York with a level of intimacy no one had ever heard from a rap album before. It received universal acclaim from critics as well as fans and rappers within the hip hop community.

Two years later, after being signed to Columbia Records, Nas dropped his sophomore album It Was Written… which, along with every subsequent album since, failed to see the level of success which Illmatic saw. The reason for this, being his contract with the recording studio. Due to feeling the pressure of pleasing his fans and the studio, Nas rapped about more mainstream topics which he thought would appeal to a broader audience. He also ditched the sounds of the inner city heard on the first album for more studio produced beats.

As one may guess, many fans were disappointed with this second album. Many of them felt like Nas was selling out his honesty for his fame. Since 2000, Nas has continued an inconsistent output of music and has received inconsistent, although not bad, reviews for each one. None of them ever receiving the level of praise that the one he spent nineteen years working on received.

There could be many reasons for the lack of personal detail and honesty in the albums Nas produced since the release of Illmatic, they could stem from no longer being exposed to the drugs and violence that Illmatic revolved around, or it could be Nas’ desire to please the public made him write about less honest subjects in his music. Another reason could be that his contract with Columbia Records deprived him of the artistic freedom that he had when writing his first album. Regardless of the reason for his lack of quality in production, I think it would all lead back to his music losing some of its honest appeal once he began writing for money.

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