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Mixtape Memories: 20 Classic Nas Mixtape Cuts

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

As we approach the 20th anniversary of Nas’ undisputed 5-mic debut LP Illmatic this April 19th, it’s important that we take time reflect on his greatness, and the amount of jewels he’s dropped on us during his double-decade (plus) career. Whether or not he’s made an album that’s ever topped Illmatic is debatable (most recently a rap scribe argued that It Was Written was stronger overall), but there’s no denying that he’s given us an overwhelming heap of hip-hop music to enjoy since he officially stepped foot in the game as a solo artist. And though a majority of our favorite Nas songs can be found on the dozen or so solo and collaborative projects that have hit the shelves since Illmatic’s release, he’s got a ton of mixtape classics too, many of which were never officially released.

To get into the #Illmatic20 spirit early, we dug deep into our archives to find 20 Classic Nas Mixtape Cuts (and a couple bonuses) from the past twenty years for our latest Mixtape Memories feature, equipped with original mixtape audio and artwork, courtesy of DJs like Clue, Doo Wop, S&S, Whoo Kid, Funkmaster Flex, and more. Read, listen, and download these below, and let’s all give a big salute to Nas! Thank you for everything you’ve given us these past twenty years, from the lessons to the leadership to the overall dopeness of your music. You’re more important to this culture than you’ll ever know, God.

1. Nas “Understanding” (off DJ S&S and DJ Craig G’s Niggas Don’t Give a Fuck)

After Illmatic dropped in the spring of 1994, the streets wanted more Nas. But things didn’t move as fast as they do now, where artists are almost forced to put out new songs or projects quickly so their fans don’t forget about them (shame on us). Nas popped up on some monster features after Illmatic, like Mobb Deep’s “Eye For An Eye,” Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse,” and Kool G Rap’s “Fast Life,” and even a nice official loosie or two, like the Street Fighter soundtrack’s “One on One,” but we didn’t get a new album from him until the summer of 1996. Thankfully, dudes like DJ S&S were able to dig up some unreleased gems for us to help hold us over, like this Large Professor-produced joint “Understanding,” which features AZ and Biz Markie on the intro and outro. For fans in desperate need of more Illmatic-era Nas, they found it right here. Dope track.

*Bonus* Nas ft. Cormega and Kamakazee “On the Real” (off Stretch Armstrong and Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Mixtape Vol. 3)

“On the Real” was another Nas cut that circulated on mixtapes before It Was Written dropped. It originally featured Cormega and rap duo Kamakazee, and was later released as a solo joint on the 10th anniversary reissue of Illmatic with an added Nas verse. Peep the rough mixtape audio off Stretch Armstrong’s Bad Boy Mixtape Vol. 3, with Puffy drops and all, below.


2(A). Nas “Freestyle” (off DJ Doo Wop’s Summer Jam 96)

“Escobar season begins” was the perfect way to intro this exclusive freestyle, since it also appeared on the Nas is Coming cassette sampler distributed by The Source magazine, which was used to promote his forthcoming sophomore LP It Was Written. On this joint, Kid Capri laid down old school beats by Biz Markie, Eric B. and Rakim, and EPMD for Nas to prepare us for what was to come. And for fans who didn’t have a subscription to The Source, or the dubbing skills to catch this when it first premiered on Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito’s 89.9 FM radio show, Doo Wop got his hands on it, and snuck it in on the B-side of his Summer Jam 96 tape.

2(B). Nas “Freestyle Pt. II: The Foulness” (aka “The Foulness Pt. 1 & 2”) (off DJ Clue’s Summatyme Shootout Pt. 1)

Nas also blessed us with a part two of sorts to his first old school Kid Capri-assisted freestyle, which featured him rhyming over another medley of classic beats. The story on the last verse definitely is a stand-out, as he breaks down “The Foulness” with a hood tale that only Nas can tell in such vivid detail. And thanks to Clue, we all could rewind it over and over to analyze the story.


3(A). Nas & Nature “The Foulness Pt. 3” (off DJ Clue’s The 4,5,6: Goin’ For Broke)

No one outside of Queensbridge really knew who Nature was before he made his debut with Nas on Clue’s The 4,5,6: Goin’ for Broke tape, murdering a vicious rap over one of It Was Written’s dopest beats, “Shootouts.” And Nas assisted with an exclusive set of bars to follow, giving a fresh take on an already instant classic, and ensuring that no matter how dope Nature came off, he was not going to get bodied on his own shit. Still, Nature did his thug-thizill, and before we knew it, he was officially down with Esco’s new supergroup, The Firm.

3(B). Nas & Nature “Freestyle” (aka “The Foulness Pt. 4”) (off DJ Clue’s Fall ‘96)

Feeling satisfaction from the street’s reaction to their first Clue collabo, Nas and Nature linked up once again on his Fall ‘96 mixtape to flex their skills over another It Was Written instrumental, “Watch Dem Niggas.” And this time, Nas let Nature get two verses to properly showcase his persona, and once again remixed his own shit with a new rhyme. Nas also took the opportunity to talk to the people, announcing the platinum status of his sophomore LP, and clearing a few things up for the naysayers.


4. Nas “Freestyle” (off Funkmaster Flex’s The Mixtape Volume II: 60 Minutes of Funk)

This shit is crazy. Funk Flex linked up with Esco for the second volume of his 60 Minutes of Funk series in 1997, and Nas got busy with some serious breakbeat bars, flowing his ass off, like, “‘97 pockets is fat, rocking stocking caps under Yankee hats/God painted me black, thanks for that/I’m original man, show and prove the Mac move right in my hand…” With Nas, Jay, and Biggie all competing for the top spot in New York, it was hard not to give it up for QB’s own after a verse like this.


5. Nas ft. Foxy Brown “Firm Intro” (off DJ Clue’s Platinum Plus)

To help officially solidify Nas’ alignment with Foxy Brown, and promote their new group The Firm, the two hopped on Clue’s Platinum Plus tape to spit some verses over Tha Alkaholiks and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s collabo “Hip Hop Drunkies.” Nas is definitely having fun on this one, rapping about “guzzling Dom” and “laying back gettin’ a oral.” As for Foxy, well, she addresses her female haters, rapping, “You’re broke bitch, what the fuck you tryin’ to tell me?” Strictly Firm biz.


6(A). Nas ft. Nature and AZ “The Welcoming” (off DJ Clue’s R&B Part 2: Just Cruisin’ Again)

Although Mary J Blige was never officially a member of The Firm, she was down with the team, and Nas took the opportunity to officially show her love by rapping alongside fellow Firm-mates Nature and AZ on Mary’s “Be Happy (Remix)” beat. It’s another Clue exclusive, with custom shout outs and all.

6(B). Nas ft. Nature, N.O.R.E., Mary J. Blige, and Femme Fatale “Freestyle” (off DJ Clue’s Clueminatti Pt. 2)

Over a Trackmasters flip of Kool G Rap & DJ Polo’s classic “Road to the Riches,” Nas, Nature, N.O.R.E., Mary J Blige, and a rather unknown female rapper Femme Fatale set off DJ Clue’s Clueminatti Part 2 tape with a Firm-style posse cut exclusive. Even The Commissioner Steve Stoute joined in on the fun, introducing the song with serious some shit-talking. You gotta love it.


7. Nas, Nature, and Noreaga “Triple Threat” (Off DJ Clue’s This Is It Pt. 1)

It’s a wonder that sick tracks like this never made their way to an official release, but shit, at least they made it out of the studio and onto mixtapes. Clue of course was all over it, featuring the QB three-the-hard-way collabo on his This Is It Pt. 1 tape, and it should be noted that another version with just Nas and N.O.R.E. made its way around the mixtape circuit, too. This is classic Queens rap music, raw and uncut. By the way, Clue featured another three-the-hard-way Queens collabo, “Calm Down” with Nas, Noreaga, and Tragedy, on his Show Me the Money Pt. 2 tape during this era. It’s equally if not more fire (really it’s one of Nas’ best verses ever), but it eventually was released officially as a CNN B-side, and also on Tragedy’s Hood Father compilation years later, so it’s not really a mixtape-only rarity that fits on this list. Gotta mention it, though.


8. Fat Joe ft. Nas, Big Pun, Jadakiss, and Raekwon “John Blaze” (Original Version) (off DJ Clue’s Clunino)

Fat Joe’s posse cut “John Blaze” went through a couple transformations before the final version hit his Don Cartagena disc in 1998. Not only did the beat switch, but Nas, who sets the song off, switched his verse, too. This version, which was featured on Clue’s Clunino tape, contains Nas’ original verse, and also the original beat for the song. There’s also a version that was released after this with Nas rapping his updated verse on the original beat, before the final beat switch was made. So the debate becomes, which Nas verse and also which beat do you think is more John Blaze? Regardless of your preference, this is certainly fire, and really didn’t need to be changed at all in our opinion.


9. Nas “Take It In Blood (Alternate Version)” (off DJ Whoo Kid’s The Kid With the Golden Arm Pt. 2)

We got the skinny on the schemes DJ Whoo Kid would use to get exclusives during our recent Mixtape Memories interview with him, and this alternate version of Nas’ It Was Written joint “Take it in Blood” is one of the many gems we can now appreciate on a higher level. It features completely new verses, and a different hook as well. You’re crazy for this one, Whoo Kid.


10. Nas “Freestyle” (off Stretch Armstrong and DJ Whoo Kid’s Murda Mixtape Vol. 3)

It’s less than a minute long, but this Nas freestyle over Dr. Dre’s 2001 “Light Speed” instrumental is potent, as Nas boasts, “My house is like the White House, throw orgies, thug dykes out that rock baldies and bad bodies/I mixed the rap game with mob flicks, I was the first one to rep the projects, now everybody tries it.” Nice beat selection on this one, and we can only imagine what Whoo Kid did to get his hands on this joint, as we now know thanks to our Mixtape Memories interview with him that he was the mastermind behind this collaborative series.


11(A). Nas “True Dialect” (off Nas 2000)

Nas 2000 was an extremely ill mixtape that made its rounds in the streets before Nastradamus dropped in the fall of ’99. It had mad exclusives on it, including an early version of “Project Windows” with no chorus, “U Gotta Love It” years before it appeared on The Lost Tapes, and a couple exclusive freestyles and demo tracks, too. “True Dialect” was def a standout, courtesy of Hot Day and Jae Supreme, and we wonder where it originally appeared, though we’re just glad it found its way onto Nas 2000, and that we were lucky enough to get our hands on a copy.

11(B). Nas “Life is Like a Dice Game” (off Nas 2000)

One of the most popular of Nas’ demo songs to surface over the years, “Life is Like a Dice Game,” also appeared on the Nas 2000 disc, and for those who may have heard it before somewhere, it was nice to finally have it on CD. Not that it was out there like that, though. This was still a rare cut when Nas 2000 hit the streets.

*Bonus* Nas “The Game Lives On” (aka “Project Windows,” early version w/ no chorus) (off Nas 2000)


12. Nas “Freestyle” (off DJ Clue’s The Great Ones Pt. 2)

It’s seems as if Clue enjoyed hearing Nas murk beats he’d already murked for exclusive mixtape freestyles, and this follows suit, as Esco shines once again on his collabo with Mobb Deep, “Eye For An Eye.” But now, with some years in the game under his belt, we hear a more mature Nas break down his “drug dealer’s dream.” It’s hard to live up to his original guest appearance with his QB compadres (and Raekwon), but this is fresh.


13. Nas “Tales From the Hood” (off DJ Clue’s Hev. E. Components Pt. 2)

Hev E. Components Pt. 2 was jam-packed with dope exclusives, including Jadakiss’ “Put Your Hands Up,” R. Kelly and Jay Z’s “Fiesta (Remix),” a clip from Beanie Sigel and Freeway’s on-air Hot 97 Roc-A-Fella freestyle session with Hov hyping them up in the back, and an unreleased Nas song titled “Tales From the Hood.” This track never officially dropped, but it’s an album-worthy cut, as Nas proves once again why he’s one of the best storytelling rappers of all-time.


14. Nas “Where You Gonna Run” (off DJ Kay Slay’s Wanted: Dead or Alive)

Also known as “Your Mouth Got You In It,” this Nas exclusive made the rounds on the blogs a couple years ago, but truth be told, DJ Kay Slay had this joint back in 2001 on his tape Wanted: Dead or Alive. Yes, Kay Slay was right when he told other DJs as he intro’d the song, “Y’all can’t fuck with me.” And Nas, well he’s on his story shit for this one too, with more tales from the hood.


15. Nas “Stillmatic” (off Funkmaster Flex’s Big Truck Series Pt. 1)

Before Nas gave Jay Z a dosage of “Ether,” he threw some shots at Hov and his Roc-A-Fella crew over Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid In Full” beat. It’s nowhere near as vicious as “Ether” was, but Esco certainly helped set the stage for what would become one of the illest wars on wax between two MCs ever, responding to an alleged diss in Memphis Bleek’s “My Mind Right” by rapping, “Rip the Freeway, shoot through Memphis with Money Bags/Stop in Philly, order cheesesteaks and eat Beans fast,” before going directly at Hov, asking, “Is he H to the Izzo, M to the Izzo?” This track is often forgotten about when looking back at the Jay Z vs. Nas battle, but it’s actually one of the main reasons songs like “Takeover” and “Ether” exist. And it was on everyone’s tape, including the first volume of Funkmaster Flex’s memorable Big Truck Series. Yep, Flex had mixtapes in the 2000s, too (and official Koch retail albums, one of which had the crazy Nas exclusive “Talk of New York”). Don’t sleep!


16(A). Nas “Deja Vu” (off J-Love’s Nas’ Finest)

DJ J-Love made a lane for himself with joints like Mobb Deep’s Mobb Misses, Ghostface Killah’s Hidden Darts, and his Nas’ Finest series, all which gathered up unreleased tracks from each of their back catalogs, blowing the wigs off rap fans with exclusive rarities. “Deja Vu” was particularly notable because it featured Nas’ “Verbal Intercourse” sixteen, and with two more verses and an ill beat underneath, it became one of the standouts on the first volume of J-Love’s Nas’ Finest series. And he featured it as the lead song on the B-side of the tape (see actual cassette above).

16(B). Nas “Rise & Fall” (off Nas’ Finest Pt. 3)

“Rise & Fall” is a gem from Nas’ Finest Pt. 3, which features a dope Slick Rick vocal sample on the hook. It’s actual origins are unknown, but it was rumored to be originally slated for Nas’ third album, I Am... A bunch of DJs had it at one point, but it found a nice home on J-Love’s Nas’ Finest Pt. 3 alongside some other unreleased cuts that ended up on The Lost Tapes.


17. Bravehearts ft. Nas “Eat These Bullets” (off DJ Clue’s Operation Desert Storm)

What was most likely intended to be on Nas’ crew the Bravehearts album, “Eat These Bullets” was a bit too hardcore to be released, with Nas rapping, “I don’t kill niggas no more, now I kill crackers.” But questionable lyrics aside, it’s kind of dope to hear Nas rap over EPMD’s “You’re a Customer” break, even if you do have to wait until the end of the song for his verse. Best line: “Rock Hermes, turn heads/Puff with Rasta hoes and skeet sperm in their dreads.” Oh shit.


18. Nas ft. Pharrell “The Flyest (3 Beat Blend)” (Off DJ Roli Fingaz’s Fire Blends Pt. 5)

DJ Roli Fingaz had the blend game on smash during the early 2000s, whether you were paying attention or not. His Fire Blends series was appropriately named, for sure. And he gave new life to Nas’ collaboration with Pharrell “The Flyest,” by pairing it with Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers classic “Tearz,” Black Rob’s banger “Whoa,” and DMX’s classic “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.” We prefer this to the original, without a doubt. Yo Roli Fingaz where you at?!


19. Nas “Freestyles Pt. 1 and 2” (off DJ Clue’s NY Giant)

It was pretty late into his career for Nas to be doing freebies, but this happened, and we’re happy it exists, because it’s verrry niiiice *Borat voice*. First, Nas flipped his wordplay over Fabolous’ “Breathe” instrumental, then followed by rapping over The Game’s Dr. Dre-produced “Westside Story” beat, which contains a fragment of his verse from Lil’ Jon’s posse cut “Grand Finale.” Definitely dope.


20. Nas ft. Lauryn Hill “It Wasn’t You” (off Dirty Harry’s Living Legends Chapter 1)

Dirty Harry’s been around for a minute, influencing his peers with innovative mixes and blends, but what you may not know is that he also produced this unreleased duet featuring Nas and Lauryn Hill. Think of it as a part two to “If I Ruled the World,” with L-Boogie singing the hook for Esco all over again. It made the rounds on mixtapes, but Dirty Harry himself featured it on his all-Nas Living Legends tape, so we thought we’d give him his propers for this one.

Special thanks to TheDiggersUnion and Tapemasta

Photos via UpNorthTrips and the Westcheddar archives.

Audio/Artwork via UrbanLeakz, MixtapeTorrent, DiscogsIllzDaTapeCollecta, TapeDiggers, RapMullet, RecognizeTheRealTheTroyBlog, DatPiff, G-UnitPolska, and the NahRight/Westcheddar archives.

Previously: Mixtape Memories with DJ Whoo Kid (Part 1) | Mixtape Memories with DJ Whoo Kid (Part 2) | Mixtape Memories with DJ Drama (Part 1) | Mixtape Memories with DJ Drama (Part 2) | Mixtape Memories with DJ Green Lantern (Part 1) | Mixtape Memories with DJ Green Lantern (Part 2) | Mixtape Memories with Tony Touch | Mixtape Memories: 15 Classic Cam’ron Mixtape Cuts | 10 Classic Biggie Smalls Mixtape Cuts | Mixtape Memories: 5 Classic Kanye West Freestyles |Mixtape Memories: 5 Classic Redman Freestyles