Nas Speaks Eloquently With Poetic 'It Was Written' : 1/2 NAS *** "It Was Written" Columbia

Nas, the most talented pure rapper to emerge from New York since Rakim, packs whole novels within his crime-laced verses. Compellingly visual and straight to the point, this follow-up to his critically acclaimed 1994 debut, "Illmatic," demonstrates a continuing lyrical maturity that makes his already potent beats and rhymes all the more compelling.

Featuring production assistance by Dr. Dre, Trackmasterz and DJ Premier, this collection reinforces Nas' reputation as the hip-hop equivalent of Claude Brown, the author of "Manchild in the Promised Land," the landmark autobiography of coming of age in a New York ghetto.

Although Nas sometimes seems obsessed with writing about materialistic aspirations, there is at the heart of his art a poetic purity that speaks eloquently about his struggle for self-identity and survival.

"It Was Written," which entered the national sales chart this week at No. 1, is highlighted by "I Gave You Power," a song in which Nas views life from the perspective of a Desert Eagle 9-millimeter pistol. Matching striking, explosive images with social commentaries against black-on-black violence, this hard-thumping track hits with the force of a point-blank hollow-point shell.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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