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One of the numerous thoughtful gangsta rappers to emerge from New York during the mid-'90s, AZ enjoyed critical success early in his career, particularly with his debut album, Doe or Die (1995), but commercial success largely eluded him over the years. Born in Brooklyn, he initially garnered attention with his guest feature on "Life's a Bitch," one of the standout tracks on Nas' landmark debut album, Illmatic (1994). In the wake of Doe or Die's critical success, AZ collaborated with Nas in the ill-fated supergroup the Firm and released Pieces of a Man (1998), another critical favorite. But for the most part, that was it from AZ for several years as he fell by the wayside, not surfacing in a big way again until a pair of Motown releases, 9 Lives (2001) and Aziatic (2002), that didn't sell any better than his previous efforts. He subsequently took his music underground, periodically releasing albums such as A.W.O.L. (2005). In 2004 the double-disc retrospective Decade 1994-2004 looked back over his career to date, gathering up various highlights. ~ Jason Birchmeier