Reachin' A Ki
Beyond whatever differences in lyrical style exist between Illmatic and It Was Written, perhaps the biggest change came from the production. In '96, beat heroes Pete Rock and Large Professor were both gone, replaced by the radio-friendly likes of The Trackmasters. Pop samples took over jazz loops, and old-school classics were jacked at large. Overall, this meant two things:
1) Illmatic-only fans confused the glossy or shallow production with Nas losing his stride as well;
2) When the acapellas hit stores, people rushed to remix 'em like it was an distress call from sea.
It Was Written's second single, Street Dreams, epitomized this scene:
1) With its pop melody, and a dance sample already used in 1996 (2Pac's All Eyez On Me), listeners might have lost sight of a classic Nas turn in the song's third verse:
Young, early 80's, throwing rocks at the crazy lady2) When the acapella did hit stores, you ended up with something like the K-Def remix, which brought in drums that actually moved, moody keys, and horn stabs; the final result proved much more "head friendly."
Worshipping every word them rope-rocking niggas gave me
The street raised me up, giving a fuck
I thought Jordan's and a gold chain was living it up;
But the K-Def concoction wasn't to be the only notable refashioning of Street Dreams, because while the official remix, produced still by The Trackmasters, was more buttery than bubbling--matter fact downright R&B, with an Isley Brothers sample and R. Kelly on the hook, Nas' One Love narrator was center stage once more, "Black clouds over the hood, I'm on the corner with the thugs / Late night, under the moon, as they assume I'm slanging drugs." Back on the block, Vegas nightlife pushed aside for a minute, here the apple was rotten again, the tales more haunting than heroic, hubris supplanted by vulnerability. In one particular section, Nas' Street Dreams became literal nightmares:
I saw my life flash in front of my eyes, he wore a disguiseNas: Street Dreams
Put a gun to me, hungry, he went on to chastise . . .
Nas: Street Dreams (K-Def remix)
Nas f/ R. Kelly: Street Dreams (Trackmasters remix)