Nas and Ill Will Records Present QB Finest, Queensbridge: The Album (2000)
With every major rap artist carving out a boutique label, it was only a matter of time before one of the genre’s biggest artists, Nas, followed suit. QB Finest is the first offering from his new imprint, Ill Will Records, and it appropriately pays homage to Queens, the place where he found stardom. QB Finest starts out strong, revisiting MC Shan’s classic “The Bridge.” Titled “Da Bridge 2001,” it finds Nas, Capone, Mobb Deep, Tragedy, Nature, Cormega, and newcomer Millennium Thug fighting for the mic. “You love to hear the story, again and again,” MC Shan opens. “The bridge was never over/We left our mark.” Another rehashing of a rap classic, “Straight Outta Q.B.,” doesn’t fare as well, with the song’s participants failing to match the intensity of N.W.A.’s original “Straight Outta Compton.” Nas can’t be accused of selling bad music on QB Finest, even though the stories his artists tell are so familiar it’s as if they’ve been released before. For example, Mobb Deep’s “Pile Raps” is a well-known mixtape classic, and was included on early versions of the group’s Murda Muzik. It finds Prodigy alone against a piano and snare drum, rapping, “You can’t touch me/There’s no fake love amongst me/There’s no fake niggas that run with me.” On Murda Muzik, it sounded solemn and effective; here, it’s one of 17 tracks employing minimalism, intimidation, and a limited vocabulary to create a menacing atmosphere. As one of the MCs says on “Street Glory,” “Each nigga got a story.” EZ Elpee produced “Oochie Wally,” a showcase for the Bravehearts, a group consisting of Nas’ younger brother Jungle, Wiz, and Horse. Unexpectedly, the song became a massive, era-defining hit. Plenty of industry jokes were made at Nas’ expense — “Oochie Wally” was a bigger smash than nearly everything Nas had released in his career at that point. He doesn’t appear on the album version, but he made sure to add a verse to the video remix. Columbia handled the distribution for Ill Will Records and Queensbridge: The Album.