album was Nas' debut, so it represented his life to that point. Speaking with Songfacts
, he said a lot of it represents the time from when he was 16 until four years later when it was released. In that time, he made sure it didn't feel dated. "I saw what was working, what wasn't working," he said. "I saw artists make bad decisions. I trusted the sound, and that the listener would really feel comfortable with that sound, which really represents most of the elements of hip-hop music."