There's nothing like a little friendly competition to get the creative juices flowing. Just ask Nas.

There's nothing like a little friendly competition to get the creative juices flowing. Just ask Nas. After releasing two complacent albums, all it took was some choice words from fellow rapper Jay-Z to get the Queens, N.Y., native back in fine form. The war of words—launched by Jay-Z's "Takeover" from The Blueprint—between the two rappers is reminiscent of the early battles that made rap so much fun. For his part, Nas has offered a precise set that not only addresses his competitors on tracks like "Destroy & Rebuild" and the lethal "Ether" but also his thoughts on everything from street life to American society. The DJ Premier-produced "2nd Childhood" gives listeners a torrid description of life in the projects, although the characters could be found in any urban area. Nas even takes America to task on "My Country." The track tackles society's various ills, from drug abuse to the penal system. Without question, Stillmatic is the artist's most complete album since he debuted eight years ago with Illmatic.—RH

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