If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)
by Nas (featuring Lauryn Hill)

Album: It Was Written (1996)
Charted: 12 53
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Songfacts®:

  • This song is a reworking of Kurtis Blow's 1985 old-school rap classic "If I Ruled The World." In the original version, Kurtis tells a story about becoming king, working to bring peace and eradicate poverty. In Nas' version he focuses on injustice in the Black community. If he ruled the world, there'd be equal opportunity and justice, and he'd start by releasing prisoners:

    I'd open every cell in Attica send 'em to Africa
  • Lauryn Hill, who was 21 years old when she recorded it, sings the hook. Nas told Rolling Stone magazine about their collaboration: "When Lauryn Hill came to mind, it was just right on time. It's funny, because when we released the record, people didn't know it was Lauryn Hill, because I guess we just white-labeled it at first and didn't want anybody to know - anticipation for my second album was so great, we didn't want any distractions from people to keep them from listening to me. At that point, the Fugees album had just come out and blew up, so we left her name off of it, and for about two to three weeks, by the time we let people know who was on the record, it was already taking off. So when they found out it was her, forget about it, man. Forget about it."
  • This was produced by the production duo known as The Trackmasters (also known as Poke & Tone). Among their other production credits are "Hey Lover" for LL Cool J, "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" and "Men In Black" for Will Smith and "Fiesta" for R Kelly. Nas explained to Rolling Stone magazine why he hooked up with them: "'If I Ruled the World,' that's when I teamed up with Trackmaster, and I figured I needed a change, so I teamed up with the best at the time, and they cut the track together and just needed someone to sing the chorus."
  • In addition to the Kurtis Blow track, this also contains a sample of Whodini's "Friends."
  • A big-budget music video from veteran hip-hop director Hype Williams, shot in New York City's Times Square, helped boost the song's popularity. The clip begins with a snippet of another track from the album: "The Message." Steve Stoute, Nas's manager and the album's executive producer, explained in a Complex interview:

    "The song was a step away from what you heard on Illmatic. That's why in the beginning of the 'If I Ruled The World' video, Nas does the rap from 'The Message' first, then he snaps his fingers, and the song starts.

    Even though it had Lauryn singing on it, I didn't want people thinking the only thing the album was representing was singing and topics like 'If I Ruled The World.' So, at the top of that video, we ran a pre-roll of 30 seconds of him spitting some hot s--t from 'The Message.'"
  • The song brought Kurtis Blow back into the spotlight and earned he and his co-writers (Davy DMX and AJ Scratch) a nice payday. Kurtis was the first rapper signed to a major label, and his 1980 song "The Breaks" was the first rap single certified as a Gold record. He was one of the most popular rappers of the early and mid-'80s, but he lost ground later in the decade to acts like Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy. He became an ambassador for classic hip-hip and showed up from time to time as an MC, including on the popular Christmas production The Hip Hop Nutcracker.

Comments: 2

  • Eyes from A Fallen WorldNas has an obsession of being god like or like God. If I ruled the world is his version of ruling things on his command.
    I was too stupid as a kid in the 90s to pick up on that. Now as an adult, I listen to some of the "best hip hop artists and can't help to think how dumb they are. Very few are wise. Nas is cunning, but anyone who blasphemes God lacks wisdom and mimics fallen angels.

    This is an interesting link showing Nas' history of being anti-god or wishing to be more than God or just as powerful (reminder, that was Satan's desire):
    https://bit.ly/39vaMfF
  • Tanya from La Verne, CaNas version is also about social change. Whoever wrote the fact is wrong.
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