Nas’ Original Demo For “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” Left No Doubt He Would Prevail (Audio)
It’s not uncommon for rappers to commence in their teens or even become famous in those years. Rakim was 19 when Paid In Full was released. LL Cool J was 17 when his debut arrived. Big Boi and André 3000 from OutKast were teens when they started, as was Joey Bada$$ and several other more recent artists. However, it is extraordinary for youths of that age to bring the type of life perspective to the table that Nas did as a teenager.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Even JAY-Z remarked on how advanced Nasir’s pen was when he began working on Illmatic at age 17. “My first album came out when I was 26, so I was already a different artist,” said Jay. “A lot of people come out when they’re 17 or 18, so they’re subject matter is that of a 17 or 18-year old. Unless you’re Nas, and you’re well read…and I think his mom’s a teacher, so he was way more advanced for the album that he wrote.”
However, as advanced as Nas’ pen was for his age, he wasn’t above using it just to show how nice he was, either. Most got their first taste of the confident MC when, on Main Source’s “Live At The Barbecue,” he cracked craniums with his outrageous line of “When I was 12, I went to Hell for snuffin’ Jesus.” That level of aggressive braggadocio was even more on display on one of Nas’ earliest demo recordings.
Although a several-song offering has circulated, billed as the Nasty Nas 1991 Demo Tape, only 2 songs from that project have been confirmed by MC Serch, who was working with Nas at the time, to have been part of his actual demo. Those were “I’m A Villain” and “Nas Will Prevail,” both produced by Large Professor.
While “Nas Will Prevail” would eventually evolve into the more polished “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” Illmatic‘s lead single, the original demo version was a purer representation of the unbridled confidence that would carry Nas on a career that is 23 years long and counting.
On the demo, he raps aggressive lines like “Notify the President—that I’m bombin’ your residence / And I’m leavin’ no evidence / Voice box yells, lyrics will excel / Rappers gettin’ smoked, you can smell the hot shells” and “I master dialects, of uncommon languages / A black man caught by the Klan couldn’t hang with this / These are proverbs, copy cat attackers / I’m wanted dead ’cause I’mma genocide to rappers.” Perhaps the most potent line, however, is the simplest: “Already I’m ill but I can only get better.”
That last line could not be more true. Although Nas was already carving out a reputation as an ill spitter, his skills would only sharpen, as he began to trade “bustin’ heads like the Feds” for narrative and keen observation. Becoming that all-around MC, poet and storyteller was what eventually truly allowed Nasir Jones to prevail.