July 20, 1996 - 'It Was Written' by Nas debuted at No.1 on the Top 200 album chart.
Following the critical acclaim of his debut album Illmatic (1994), Nas chose to concentrate his efforts in a more mainstream direction, in contrast to the raw, unpolished and underground tone of his debut. Despite its significant impact on hip hop at the time, Illmatic did not experience the larger sales of most major releases at the time in hip hop, such as Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle (1993). This was due in part to Nas's shy personality and uninvolvement in promoting the record. Nas began to make appearances on other artists' work, including Kool G Rap's "4,5,6" (1995) and Raekwon's "Verbal Intercourse" on his album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (1995), which made Nas the first non Wu-Tang Clan member to appear on one of its solo recordings. He began to dub himself as Nas Escobar on these guest appearances.
The success of fellow East Coast act The Notorious B.I.G. and promoter Puff Daddy at the 1995 Source Awards sent a message to Nas to change his commercial approach, resulting in his hiring of Steve "The Commissioner" Stoute as manager. While Illmatic attained gold status in the United States, Stoute convinced Nas to aim his efforts in a more mainstream, commercial direction for his second album, after which Nas enlisted the production team Trackmasters, who were known at the time for their mainstream success. Other producers for the album included DJ Premier, Dr. Dre, Havoc of Mobb Deep, L.E.S., Live Squad, and MC Serch as executive producer. Premier and L.E.S. had previously served as producers for Nas' Illmatic. The album was mastered by Tom Coyne at Sterling Sound in New York City. The album cover was designed by artist Aimée Macauley, and the photography was taken by Danny Clinch.
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