AZ in New York, 1998
|Birth name||Anthony Cruz|
|Also known as||AZ , 'The Rap James Bond' , 'The Vizualizer'|
|Born||March 9, 1972|
|Origin||Brooklyn, New York, USA|
|Years active||1992 – present|
|Labels||EMI, Noo Trybe Records/Virgin, Motown, Koch, Quiet Money Records|
|Associated acts||The Firm, Nas, DJ Premier, Ali Vegas, Smigg Dirtee, Buckwild, L.E.S., Wu-Tang Clan, Statik Selektah, Styles P, M.O.P., Amil|
Anthony Cruz (born March 9, 1972), better known by his stage name AZ, is an American rapper. Born in Brooklyn, NY. He is known for being a longtime and frequent rhyme partner of Nas, and also a member of hip-hop group The Firm alongside Nas, Foxy Brown, Cormega and Nature. In a countdown of the 10 Most Underappreciated Rappers—Most Underrated Rappers of All Time, the editors of About.com listed AZ as #1 on the list. He was also included on About.com's list of the Top 50 MCs of Our Time (1987–2007), where he was described as "arguably the most underrated lyricist ever."
AZ first became known by appearing on Nas' landmark 1994 album Illmatic on the song "Life's a Bitch", as well as featuring vocals on the opening track The Genesis. AZ signed with EMI, and soon released his debut album Doe Or Die in 1995 to critical acclaim, but meager commercial success. The album's lead single, "Sugar Hill", became AZ's only major commercial success as a solo artist, reaching #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and achieving Gold status. AZ's EMI contract was transferred to sister label Noo Trybe/Virgin Records when the EMI Label Group was shut down.
In 1997, he and Nas appeared in a Sprite commercial. Also in 1997 the group The Firm with AZ, Nas, Nature, and Foxy Brown released their only album as a group, The Album. The album featured production from well known producers such as Dr. Dre and the Trackmasters and generated much hype. The group disbanded after just this one album. In 1998 he released his second solo album, Pieces of a Man. The album fared well but did not chart quite as well as his debut and did not feature a crossover single like "Sugar Hill". The same year AZ made a cameo appearance in the movie "Belly" starring Nas, DMX, and Method Man.
After this album's release, AZ signed with Motown/Universal Records and released 9 Lives. In 2002, he released Aziatic. A single from the album, "The Essence," (featuring Nas) was nominated for the 2003 Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. In 2004 AZ was planning on releasing his would-be 4th studio album, Final Call, however, it was eventually scrapped due to heavy leaking and released as Final Call (The Lost Tapes) in 2008. He released his 5th and 6th studio albums A.W.O.L. and The Format in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
Doe or Die was released October 10, 1995 on EMI Records. The album features guest appearances by artists such as Nas and Miss Jones, and production from N.O. Joe, Pete Rock, L.E.S., and Buckwild, among others. Upon its release, Doe or Die received notable commercial success. The album peaked at #15 on the Billboard 200, and #1 on the U.S. Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. Doe or Die was known for popularizing the theme of mafioso rap, alongside several albums, namely Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt and Nas's It Was Written. Doe or Die produced several singles, including, "Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide," "Gimme Your's (remix)," "Doe or Die" and "Sugar Hill" - which was certified Gold by the RIAA in 1995.
Pieces of a Man is AZ's second album. The album was highly praised for its complex and insightful lyricism. The first single was supposed to be "Hey, AZ" featuring SWV. That song uses the same sample as Mariah Carey's song "Honey," "Hey, DJ" by the World-Famous Supreme Team. Both were released in summer of 1997. After the release of the album, AZ left the label. 9 Lives peaked at #23 on the Billboard 200 and #4 on the Top Hip Hop / R&B Albums. The leading single, Problems, with its accompanying music video, reached #34 on the Hot Rap Singles.
Aziatic is considered AZ's comeback album, which restored his credibility. Also Young Manager/ Producer Orrin Ennis was involved in making this album, which gave AZ youth and new life to his production.The album features AZ's flow and style over melodic, soulful production. It featured a duet between AZ and long-time friend and collaborator, Nas, "The Essence", which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group. The album was mostly well received by critics, one such positive review from Brad Mills at Allmusic, states: "AZ has been looked upon to do amazing things with his music. Has he lived up to those high expectations? On this album he has. From start to finish, the beats on this album are complex, inventive, and almost perfectly suited for AZ's style of rhyming. He's carefully crafted this album rather than slapped it together overnight to meet his quota, and it shows. It helps immensely that he's br ought along people like DR Period, Az Izz, Nas, and Buckwild, but they don't outshine the younger AZ and he holds his own well." He continues by saying; "Lyrically, musically, and historically, AZ has come up with his best work in a long time on this album."
A.W.O.L. was released on September 6, 2005. It was recorded after Final Call, which AZ declined to release because his label had pushed its release back two months—according to him, they were also the source of its early leak to the press and the internet. Garnering critical praise with production from highly regarded New York underground acts such as DJ Premier, Buckwild, and DipSet production duo the Heatmakerz, the rapper abandoned his previously money-oriented subject matter, stating that he "wanted it to be all street. A.W.O.L. is the first AZ album which was released on his own Quiet Money Records imprint. In a couple of months after the release, A.W.O.L. 1.5, which included a bonus disc featuring a cappella and instrumental versions to the songs on A.W.O.L., was released.
The Format album features production from Fizzy Womack (better known as Lil' Fame of M.O.P.), Face Defeat, Emile, J. Cardim, Phonte, Statik Selektah and DJ Premier. Guest appearances are provided by M.O.P., Little Brother, as well as artists on AZ's new label, Quiet Money Records. The album's lead single is its title track, "The Format", produced by DJ Premier, with "Vendetta" as its B-Side. The Format also features the bonus track "Royal Salute", a retaliation to 50 Cent's song "What If", which included a line aimed at AZ. On October 7, 2007, Quiet Money released The Format (Special Edition) adding six bonus tracks including "Royal Salute."
Undeniable was released on April 1, 2008 through Fast Life Music and Koch Records. The album debuted at number 141 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling over 5,000 copies in its first week. In October 2009, AZ confirmed he was working on his ninth studio album, entitled Doe or Die 2. He hoped to enlist the original production team from Doe or Die such as L.E.S., Pete Rock, DR Period & Buckwild. He had confirmed a couple of tracks with Pete Rock, including "Rather Unique Part II". AZ also had ambitions on trying to acquire beats from DJ Toomp, Dr. Dre & Kanye West for the album, as well as reaching out to his old rhyme partner Nas. The first single from the album is entitled "Feel My Pain", produced by Frank Dukes. In 2010, former member of Da Beatminerz, Baby Paul, confirmed he would be producing for the album and serving as executive producer. On November 30, 2010, he released a 15th anniversary edition of Doe or Die entitled Doe or Die: 15th Anniversary. In 2010, Dr. Dre and Kanye West were said to be too busy to produce for the album, but AZ said he was patiently waiting for them to complete their next solo records so they can join the production team. He was also seeking production from DJ Premier. During a 2011 interview with XXLMag, AZ confirmed that Nas would be featured on the album.
On March 27, 2012, AZ released the first street single from Doe or Die 2, entitled "My Niggas", which features production from longtime collaborator, Buckwild. As of April 2012, a third quarter 2012 release was expected. AZ had not managed to secure tracks from Dr. Dre as he previously wanted, but was going through the album's second half of selections for its productions. He was still seeking production from both Eminem & DJ Premier, but has tracks from Statik Selektah, the album's executive producer Baby Paul and the original Doe or Die team of beatsmiths L.E.S., DR Period, Pete Rock & Buckwild. AZ was heavily featured on Ghostface Killah's 2014 album 36 Seasons.