How Nas & De La Soul Battled For The Future Of Hip-Hop & Splintered It Forever (Video)

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Last month, producer 9th Wonder remembered July 2, 1996’s impact on the Hip-Hop community. During one of the biggest commercial booms of Rap albums, Nas released It Was Written the same Tuesday that De La Soul dropped Stakes Is High. Those two releases, coming from artists running in the same circles, created two ever-changing views and outlets for albums.

“At a time where some of us felt in the mid-’90s that Hip-Hop taking another direction…….after ‘The Big-Bang’ in the summer of 1996 that made you choose a side between Stakes is High and [Nas’] It Was Written……When a lot of us sought refuge on Internet websites for music to escape the redundancy of the radio…..it was SoundBombing,” the Grammy Award-winning producer said online, in praise of Rawkus Records and its breakthrough mixtape.

In this week’s TBD, Justin “The Company Man” Hunte speaks extensively with 9th to get a deeper breakdown of what the acclaimed producer meant. “What Nas represented on It Was Written, the sound of it, that was Nas’ commercial attempt. ‘If I Ruled The World’ was his commercial single. Even on It Was Written, [there] was one DJ Premier track and one Dr. Dre track and one track by Havoc. The rest of the majority of the other ones were by Trackmasters which was synonymous for making that sound not all the way ‘leaving the confines of boom-bap’ but still, [but] it was more shinier than it was with your classic DJ Premier track.” Nas won, at the time. The sophomore (which Lupe Fiasco has praised as a top influence) remains his best-selling.

Of De La’s winds of change, 9th reflects, “J. Dilla did Stakes Is High. So I mean, if you didn’t know who Dilla was at that time, even though he did ‘Runnin’’ for Pharcyde, if you didn’t know who Dilla was, that was kind of people’s introduction to Dilla, as well.” Jay Dee, as he was then-known joined De La in creating a sound and message that poked fun at Gangsta Rap and the formulaic grooming for the charts.

In the crossfire were two of Hip-Hop’s most sacred artists. Nas was tasked with following up the beloved Illmatic, more than two years later. De La Soul, a group releasing acclaimed and commercially successful albums since the late ’80s, was making its first without producer Prince Paul.

From those two releases, Nas would pivot towards Belly, The Firm, and build a Rap community that would dominate radio, sales, and mainstream consciousness into the 2000s. On the flip, De La went on to build a base that would include Mos Def, Slum Village, the Spitkickers, and Rawkus acts. Although the Long Island, New York trio had gold albums, they went “underground” and built a clubhouse for others. That’s what gave 9th and eventually, Little Brother, a pathway that may not have seemed attainable had he followed Nas’ steps at the time.

Hunte also points out that February’s 1996 Telecommunications Act “lifted the national cap on radio station ownership. Which allowed fewer companies to own more stations and forced a number of local acts off the airwaves nationwide in most markets.” This change would prompt a necessity for hits that fit to standardized radio programs.

Where some Hip-Hop thrived on radio and TV markets, the Internet opened up new doors—with infrastructure. In the late ’90s, Hip-Hop culture could be disseminated, consumed, purchased, and discussed with a dial-up connection. It was a completely new channel. Perhaps the fracture was truly a divergence—and regardless of our tastes, we are all still living in it.

9th Wonder provides much more insight to The Company Man, in one of the most fascinating analyses of Hip-Hop, yet.

#bonusbeat: Almost twenty years later, in a symbolic reunion, De La Soul and Nas joined forces on “God It.”