Twenty years ago today, on July 2, 1996, Nas released his second rap album, It Was Written. This classic album proved to be Nas’s most commercially successful release, debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart. It also heralded Nas’s mainstream popularity and followed the success of other mafioso rap albums such as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (1995) and Reasonable Doubt (1996). It Was Written is arguably Nas’s best rap album sonically and remains his best-selling release, with over 4 million copies in the United States alone.
During the height of the mafioso rap style on the East Coast, Nas experimented with that style under the alias of “Nas Escobar” (inspired by the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar). Primarily produced by the super talented Trackmasters, It Was Written is a departure from the raw, underground tone of his debut street album towards a more polished, pop sound. The album features mafioso and gangsta themes, and marks the first appearance of Nas’s short-lived supergroup The Firm, which included rappers Foxy Brown, AZ, and Cormega.