For his second album, It Was Written, Nas hired a bunch of hip-hop's biggest producers -- including Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Stretch, and Trackmasters -- to help him create the musical bed for his daring, groundbreaking rhymes. Although that rhyme style isn't as startling on It Was Written as it was on his debut, Illmatic, Nas has deepened his talents, creating a complex series of rhymes that not only flow, but manage to tell coherent stories as well. Furthermore, Nas often concentrates on creating vignettes about life in the ghetto that never are apolitical or ambivalent. This time around, the production is more detailed and elaborate, which gives the music a wider appeal. Sometimes this is a detriment -- Nas sounds better when he tries to keep it street-level -- but usually, his lyrical force cuts through the commercial sheen. Combined with the spare but deep grooves, his rhymes have a resonance unmatched by most of his mid-'90s contemporaries. Because, no matter how deep his lyrics are, his grooves are just as deep and those bottomless funk and spare beats are what make It Was Written so compulsively listenable.