Long Island, N.Y., rapper Nas topped the Billboard 200 albums

chart with his second LP, It Was Written (1996), during its

first week of release.

Nas has built a successful hip-hop career by emphasizing the beats and

inventive lyrics, rather than focusing on violence.

Nas was born Nasir Jones 26 years ago today on Long Island. He began

grooving to hip-hop music as a preteen and heavily immersed himself in

its culture.

Nas' recording debut was "Live at the BBQ," an all-star track from

Main Source's Breaking Atoms (1991). Urb Magazine said that

"unlike the usual bragging and boasting of new MCs, Nas' rhymes walked

that thin line between genius and insanity."

Former 3rd Bass rapper MC Serch was impressed with the demo Nas put

together in an effort to secure a solo record deal. Serch arranged for

Nas to record "Half Time" for the 1992 soundtrack to the movie

"Zebrahead." The successful cut enabled Nas to get a contract with

Columbia Records.

Nas' 1994 debut LP, Illmatic, drew attention for his Jackson

5-influenced hip-hop that was noticeably lacking much of the violence

found in the songs of his rap contemporaries. Nas examined urban

issues on such tracks as "N.Y. State of Mind" and "Life's a Bitch."

The album paved the way for the enormous success of Nas' It Was

Written. The Brooklyn-based Trackmasterz produced much of the

effort, which included "If I Ruled the World," featuring Lauryn Hill,

and "Affirmative Action," which included the group of MCs known as the

Firm. Nas collaborated with Dr. Dre on "Nas Is Coming," a call to end

the violence between East Coast and West Coast rappers.

It Was Written also contained two cuts, including "Live Niggas

Rap," produced by Mobb Deep. "Black Girl Lost" featured Jo Jo of


In 1997 the Firm, featuring AZ and Foxy Brown, issued The Firm —

The Album. Nas was credited as executive producer under the name Nas

Escobar. It featured tracks such as "Fuck Somebody Else" and "Five Minutes

to Flush."

Earlier this year, Nas followed up the smash album with I Am ...,

which came with a cover depicting Nas as a gold-plated pharaoh. It spawned

the DJ Premier-produced single "Nas Is Like."

The LP's "Hate Me Now" featured Sean "Puffy" Combs and "Favor for a

Favor" (RealAudio excerpt)

is a teaming with Scarface.

Other birthdays: Peter Agnew (Nazareth), 53; Jon "Bowser" Baumann

(Sha Na Na), 52; Barry Cowsill (Cowsills), 45; Steve Berlin (Los Lobos),

44; Morton Harket (A-Ha), 40; Craig Montoya (Everclear), 31; Steve

Gaines (Lynyrd Skynyrd), 1949-1977; and Paul Kossoff (Free), 1950-1976.