Nas, Rakim, Pete Rock & More Break Down Why AZ Is 1 Of Hip-Hop’s Best Visualizers (Video)

Twenty years ago this month, AZ released his sophomore album, Pieces Of A Man. The Brooklyn, New York MC, author, and co-founder of The Firm has a decorated career that is still very much in swing.

Previously, BET released portions of their #20YrsLtr: Doe or Die documentary featuring AZ, but now Hip-Hop Heads get the fully-produced full treatment. The production is a detailed look at the rapper born Anthony Cruz. It encompasses his early years of writing rhymes, park jams and trying to stay out of trouble. It also gives a better understanding of how the East New York, Brooklyn native got on.

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Narrated by Rakim, #20YrsLtr: Doe Or Die features interviews with Nas, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Foxy Brown, D/R Period, Buckwild, Raekwon and more. Particularly interesting is how AZ received his big break. It’s widely regarded that his verse on Nas’ “Life A B*tch” did it, but how he was selected to be the sole feature on Illmatic is a story in itself.

“I had my eyes on up-and-coming rap dudes and that’s what I wanted on my record. I didn’t want anyone famous on it,” recounts Nas when asked about choosing AZ for the song. “A friend of mine got locked up and he was the one I wanted on my record, and I’m like, ‘Man, what do I do?’ And [AZ], I remember A, so I called A to the studio. I just had him say rhymes for me. They were crazy, but none of them were just that right fit for the song. I was starting to think, ‘Man, this ain’t going to happen.’ Then he finally said this one rhyme and it was just like the skies opened up.” On his breakthrough appearances, the East New York MC was credited as “AZ the Visualiza.”

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The documentary also, of course, details AZ signing to EMI Records and him working on and releasing his debut album Doe Or Die, a Hip-Hop classic by many’s standards.

Most recently, AZ’s been working on his long-awaited Doe or Die 2 album. Years in the making, the forthcoming LP did see its first single pop up in February 2017 with “Save Them,” featuring Raekwon and perhaps one of the last Prodigy verses released before he passed away that June.