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Nas 

With Fat Joe. Sunday, February 24, at the Agora.

There is a never-ending debate over who's the best rapper of all time. The arguments always change, but the names somehow remain constant. Rakim, 'Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nasir Jones -- a.k.a. Nas -- are consistently considered rap's lyrical upper class. Of these five MCs, though, Nas is probably your safest bet as a winner -- especially since he orchestrated the second most anticipated resurrection in history, after Dr. Dre's late-'90s comeback.

Nas entered the game a decade earlier with Illmatic, a lyrical and conceptual shot heard 'round the world. He was quickly labeled a legend and dubbed "the next Rakim." With its refreshing, introspective look at urban Americana, Illmatic not only changed the way rappers rapped; it changed the way listeners listened. Nas's sophomore offering, It Was Written, was also a gem, thus solidifying his position atop the rap world. Then he encountered what many believed was an unconquerable obstacle: an identity crisis, during which he presented himself as a remorseless drug kingpin, rather than the boyishly charming street poet the world had grown to idolize. In the next six years, Nas released sub-par efforts such as The Firm Album, I Am, and Nastradamus. Add a couple of untimely beefs with other rappers, and there was enough evidence to plead the case that Nas had officially fallen off.

But now he's returned with Stillmatic, an eye-opening return to his essence: raw rhymes and clever concepts. The album features Nas's classic street narratives -- and even boasts a lyrical barrage aimed toward Jay-Z ("Ether"). Nas's lyricism, revitalized delivery, and anti-Jay-Z sentiment have instantly won back the hearts of fans. Suddenly, the streets are singing the praises of Nasty Nas again.

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