The Real Reason Nas Lost All His Money

Nasty Nas, born Nasir Jones, broke onto the rap scene with 1994's raw, up-front Illmaticwhich chronicled Nas' life growing up in Queensbridge Houses in Queens, New York. Per Biography, the largest tenement in the United States served as the ideal fuel for Nas' lyrical game. He impressed the rap world when he starred in a guest verse on "Live at the Barbecue" by Main Source in 1991, and after being signed with Columbia Records released a series of hit albums beginning with Illmatic and continuing to It was Written (1996), I Am... (1999), Nastradamus (1999), and Stillmatic (2001). Since then, Nas has toured worldwide, had a well-known beef with fellow New York rapper Jay-Z, been involved in philanthropic ventures, and had a terribly messy divorce with R&B artist Kelis.

All in all, Nas has sold over 25 million records worldwide and left a permanent mark on hip hop with tracks like "N.Y. State of Mind," "The World is Yours," and the crossover hit "If I Ruled the World" featuring Lauryn Hill. No matter his success, though, Nas has gone through some serious personal and financial trouble that has left him stricken, broke, and even without a home in 2012. Nas has always breathed authenticity in his tracks, and featured snappy, slickly produced instrumentals. He never really flaunted his wealth, not really, but nonetheless fate chased him down and paved the way for his present redemption.

Let's take a look at the troubled history that brought Nas to where he is now.

The rise of a legendary emcee

For the span of about a decade, it seemed like Nas could do no wrong. His music (Illmatic, It was Written, I Am..., Nastradamus, Stillmatic) was critically acclaimed and loved by fans, and he was heralded as a voice of the people. 

Nas' stardom, thought, carried with it some drama that foretold his future troubles. Jay-Z apparently sampled Nas' "The World is Yours" without permission, and in a post-Biggie and post-Pac world there was plenty of room for newly minted rappers to fight for dominance. Jay-Z and Nas' beef lasted for years until they publicly ended it in a collaborative event dubbed Chapter 5: The Reconciliation. Nas' first child, Destiny Jones, was also born the same year that Illmatic was released, and signified the direction of Nas' future financial woes. According to Vibe, Nas paid child support to Destiny's mother, Carmen Bryan, who went onto become a businesswoman and author of tell-all books such as When the Child Support Stops and It's No Secret: From Nas to Jay-Z, from Seduction to Scandal — a Hip-Hop Helen of Troy Tells All. Destiny has gone on to create a line of lipstick dubbed Lipmatic, named after her father.

Despite having to pay child support and also tend to his rap empire, everything was more or less looking up for Nas until his marriage in 2005 with Harlem-born singer Kelis (Kelis Rogers). Their relationship would mark a major financial and personal downturn for Nas. 

Marital woes and alimony

Nas and Kelis got married in 2005 after two years of dating, via Huffpost, and from the get-go it seems their marriage was characterized by conflict. In the intervening years, both sides have opened up about the conflict that they experienced during their 5-year union, with Kelis claiming domestic abuse and bitter arguments that led her to drink excessively. Eventually, she stated, she decided to separate after becoming pregnant, in part to safeguard their child. 

For Nas' part, he fired back by saying that Kelis was trying to smear his name, and that she took advantage of him at a vulnerable time after his mother's passing. He was raised, Nas said, by a single black mother and has the utmost respect for women.

Regardless of the truth behind any of these statements, this period of time financially crippled Nas to the point where he is still recovering. The year they filed for divorce, 2009, Nas and Kelis had their son, Knight. The courts ordered Nas to pay $300,000 in child support, according to DJ Booth, but Nas' lawyers brokered a deal to split the payments into $10,000/month. This original claim, however, was based on an income figure that Nas' lawyers said was way too high, and was subsequently reduced to $150,000 total. 

All in all, the stage was set for the next, tumultuous, unstable decade of Nas' life.

Venture capitalism and backtaxes

In 2004 Nas and Kelis had bought a house for over half a million dollars ($585,000), partially bought using a loan of $400,000, according to the NZ Herald. Nas was able to hang onto his house for a couple years after his divorce, but he got buried further in the hole in 2012 when he was unable to make payments and his house got repossessed 

All of the court fees and custody issues over he and Kelis' son, Knight, became compounded when the State of Georgia claimed Nas owed $1,083,435 in back taxes for 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010, per TMZ. At the exact same time, the federal government came after Nas for a whopping $6,000,000 in unpaid taxes over the same period. 

In search of a new route for his life, and assumedly trying to get back on solid ground, Nas founded Queensbridge Venture Partners in 2014, an angel investment group that fields ideas in industries ranging from healthcare to cryptocurrency, and most recently AI related to music production. Nas is reportedly cautious regarding which companies he chooses to invest in, understandably so. At the same time, the name of the foundation itself — Queensbridge, named after the tenement where he grew up — testifies to Nas' commitment to supporting those who have dreams and need financial help.

Even during this time, though, custody debates continued. In fact, it wasn't until 2018 that specifics were finally hashed out regarding the details of how Nas and Kelis' son Knight, then 8 years old, would split his time between parents, according to the Blast. This relentless, drawn-out chain of legal battles drained Nas' money further, and between it all Nas was paying back Uncle Sam (and avoiding going to prison for tax evasion) until 2016.

Trying to get back on his feet

Most recently, Nas has been trying to get back on his feet by refocusing on his original strength: rap. In 2018 he released NASIR (his first release since losing his house 2012), a tepidly-received, Kanye-produced album where Nas strove to evoke the gritty realness of the early albums that made him so successful. Since then, Nas has continued to push hard to release new music, and has tours setup from 2020 through 2021.

In a recent interview with Huck, Nas says that he regrets nothing from his past, including lost money, "The way we live is no regrets. Everything is a learning experience and your mistakes, when you go back to look at them, are just moments of being human. Those are my reference points." Nas also states that he's trying to live simply and not go overboard, and spending a lot of time reading and listening to a wide array of music, from Duke Ellington to Bruce Springsteen.

No matter Nas' former setbacks, financially or otherwise, it's clear that the legendary emcee isn't nearly out of the game, yet.