That It Is Written (Columbia), the second album by New York rapper Nas, debuted at number one with nearly 270,000 copies sold in its first week suggests that the massive success of the Fugees is not a fluke within the gangsta-dominated hip-hop landscape. A product of the Queensbridge housing project in Long Island City, Nas doesn’t mince words about the harsh realities of urban life, but rather than glorify a life of crime, he documents palpably the struggle to escape its grip. “Street Dreams,” which interpolates the chorus of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” describes the quick-cash lure of drug dealing and its near-certain inescapability, but the album’s most dramatic tune might be “I Gave You Power,” which chronicles random violence from the perspective of a gun: “I might have took your child / Scarred your life, crippled your style / I gave you power / Made you buck wild.” The album’s varied musical settings benefit from multiple producers. “Nas Is Coming” finds infamous west-coast kingpin Dr. Dre behind the console, as the pair attempt to defuse the volatile and sometimes violent east-versus-west hip-hop rivalry. Under two lesser-known producers, “Take It in Blood” employs a shimmering electric piano loop, while the hit “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” features an insinuating chorus with Lauryn Hill of the Fugees. Nas performs on a bill that features his gifted protege AZ along with Boot Camp Click members Heltah Skeltah and the Fab 5. Friday, 9 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee; 509-6482 or 665-9016.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Danny Clinch.