You can file Nas
' career under You've Come A Long Way, Maybe. From his conscious-rap beginnings came 1994's Illmatic
, a debut that anointed him as hip-hop's savior. Then came his years in bling purgatory, and a Big Apple feud with Jay-Z so memorably vicious it spawned its own verb ("etherized," from Nas' nasty dis "Ether"). Now he and Jigga are labelmates and fellow Black Republicans, survivors of rap's Golden Age negotiating the hip-hop-is-dead era Nas proclaimed on his latest album. The controversy behind that title says a lot about Nas: He's never officially snagged the MC crown he's laid claim to, but you can never ignore him, either.