Rapper Nas née Nasir Jones was born in Queens, New York, on Sept. 14, 1973. Considered a living rap legend, the 40-year-old lyricist was born to Fannie Ann and Olu Dara, a blues and jazz musician.
He grew up in New York City's notoriously tough Queensbridge housing projects where he experienced an overwhelming amount of crime and poverty at a young age. When his brother and his friend were shot in 1992 on the same night — his brother survived, his friend did not — Nas recognized the incident as a wake-up call.
Two years later, he would release his classic debut, Illmatic, which cemented the rapper as one of New York's most illustrious and acclaimed MCs to this day.
His witty wordplay, jazzy musicality and descriptive storytelling set him apart from his contemporaries, who typically glorified violence at the time. Collaborating with powerhouse hip hop producers such as DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Timbaland and Salaam Remi also boosted Nas' credibility and gained him a diverse audience.
Throughout the years, Nas has released 12 additional albums, including Illmatic's 1996 follow-up, It Was Written, which debuted at number one on Billboard where it remained for four consecutive weeks.
His marriage to eclectic singer Kelis and a highly publicized feud with fellow New York City rapper Jay Z drew even more attention to the performer. Jay Z and Nas eventually surprised fans with an on-stage reconciling performance at Jay Z's I Declare War concert in 2005. Kelis filed for a divorce from Nas in 2009 shortly before giving birth to their son, Knight.
In addition to racking up a slew of enterprising ventures in magazine publishing, retail and music, Nas continues to be ranked as one of the top hip hop artists of all time by MTV, The Source and Billboard.
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(Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)