Nas was born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York. He moved with his family to Queensbridge at an early age.
His father, Olu Dara, is a jazz and blues musician from Natchez, Mississippi. Dara played with avant-garde artists such as David Murray and Art Blakey before his son's claim led to him making albums under his own name. Nas' dad performed the trumpet solo at the end of the Illmatic
track, "Life's a Bitch
" and on "Dance
" from God's Son
, a posthumous tribute to the rapper's late mom, Anne Jones. (She died of breast cancer on April 7, 2002).
Nas upstairs neighbor, Willy "Ill Will" Graham, helped spur his interest in hip hop by playing him records. Once he started rapping as a teenager, Nas enlisted Ill Will as his DJ.
Nas initially went by the nickname Kid Wave before adopting the alias of Nasty Nas.
Hip-hop pioneer Roxanne Shanté, who was born and raised in the Queensbridge Projects, was a positive influence on Nas. He recalled in the Nas: Time Is Illmatic documentary how she walked into his apartment building when he and his friends were rapping in the hallways. The hip-hop legend didn't think the youngsters were taking it seriously and told them to get their rap act together. Otherwise, Shanté threatened, she'd come back and beat them up. "She was bigger and older than us, and we believed her," Nas said in the movie,
Ill Will was shot and killed in the middle of Queensbridge Projects in early 1992. Nas's brother Jungle was injured in the same shooting. Will's shooting death was a turning point for Nas, and one that made him more determined to get out of the projects and into the booth.
Nas made his first ever appearance on a record when he appeared on appeared on Main Source's 1991 track "Live at the Barbeque."
In mid-1992 MC Serch of 3rd Bass became Nas' manager. He secured him a record deal with Columbia Records the same year.
Nas made his solo debut under the name of "Nasty Nas" on the single "Halftime" from Serch's soundtrack for the movie Zebrahead.
In 1994 his debut album Illmatic was released. By this time he was known as Nas. The record received rave reviews from most music critics and is today recognized as a landmark album in East Coast hip-hop.
According to MC Serch, Nas recorded 11 songs for Illmatic. Only 10 made the album – the one that was left off was called "I'm A Villain."
On June 15, 1994, two months after the release of Illmatic, Nas's ex-fiancée Carmen Bryan gave birth to their daughter, Destiny. When the rapper got the news, he pushed a shopping cart through the hood giving out bottles of champagne.
Nas sang of "daddy's little girl" on "Me & You (Dedicated to Destiny)," a track from his 2004 double album, Street's Disciple
. Eight years later he rapped some heartfelt verses about his now teenage girl on the Life Is Good
." Destiny plays herself in the latter song's video.
Nas married R&B singer Kelis in Atlanta in 2005 after a two-year relationship. She filed for divorce four years later, citing irreconcilable differences. Nas' 2012 track "Bye Baby
" finds him reminiscing on their turbulent marriage and ugly divorce.
The Life Is Good album cover shows Nas holding the green wedding dress worn by Kelis. The dress was the only item Kelis left behind when she moved out of the home they once shared. "The cover is like an old blues musician talking about his life," Nas told MTV News about the image.
On March 15, 2012, Nas became the first rapper to have a personal verified account on the Rap Genius website.
He defines "Illmatic" as "Realness - the epitome of ill."
Performing his his Illmatic
album he says is like "going into a diary that I share with the world." He told Songfacts
: "It's my life in every line, in every rhyme, it's what I was around. So, I'm automatically taken back to that place when I was writing it."