Happy 18th Birthday to Nas' 'I Am...'
I Am… is the third studio album by American/Queens, NY rapper Nas, released April 6, 1999 on Columbia Records. Following the commercial and critical success of 1996's It Was Written, Nas put to work on a double album that merged the styles of his first two albums and detailed entire aspects of his life. But a majority of the material leaked onto the internet in MP3 format, forcing him to record new material for a single-disc release. The album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200, selling over 470,000 copies in its first week. I Am… would later be certified Double Platinum in the United States, making this Nas' second best-selling release behind It Was Written. Upon its release, I Am... received generally positive reviews from music critics.
This album was originally to have been a double album titled I Am...The Autobiography, however most of the original sessions were bootlegged forcing Nas to discard many songs and adjust the release to one disc. I Am...became one of the first major label releases to be widely leaked using MP3 technology. Some of the leaked songs were later released on the compilation LP The Lost Tapes in 2002. The concept of this album as can be seen by tracks such as "Fetus" from The Lost Tapes was to be an autobiography of sorts for Nas. Although several bootleg versions have appeared on the internet over the years, an official version of the intended double album has never leaked and it remains unclear whether or not it was ever completed.
The two singles from I Am... were "Hate Me Now" and "Nas Is Like". "Hate Me Now" features Puff Daddy and is produced by D-Moet, Pretty Boy and The Trackmasters. It was a Billboard Hot 100 hit, and had a controversial music video directed by Hype Williams. The song had a version of the O Fortuna from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." "Nas Is Like" is one of two tracks produced by DJ Premier who scratches vocal samples from Nas' "It Ain't Hard To Tell" into the chorus. The "Nas Is Like" music video was directed by Nick Quested and is still very popular in underground circles and continued a long list of popular Nas/DJ Premier collaborations.
The album also contained the song "We Will Survive", a tribute to Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. The song criticized his peers, most notably Jay-Z, who "claimed to be New York's king" following B.I.G.'s death, the record has been cited as potentially encouraging the Nas vs. Jay-Z feud.
Famed photographer Danny Hastings has shot iconic cover images for Big Pun’s Capital Punishment and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, but his album art shoot for I Am... almost ended in disaster. In order to make the iconic mask featured on the cover, Hastings and his crew put a clay mold on his face and poked air holes so he could breathe, but he almost suffocated after clay got lodged in his nose.
“The funny part was that the first attempt, Nas was getting asphyxiated. We almost killed Nas," Hastings told MTV.com. “We cleaned him up, and he was like, 'Let's do it again!' Nas was a true sport."
He also explained the meaning behind the cover, and how it built off of previous album art for Illmatic and It Was Written. "The first one, you have him being a boy, very young. The second was a little bit older. And the third one, he was a king," he continued. "He already conquered the world. He was on top of the world. He was doing a lot of big things. We came with the concept of making a King Tut sarcophagus piece.
Check out the Classic Video below from Nas' Lead Single 'Hate Me Now' feat. Puff Daddy!