In 1995 it was easy to confuse comrades and collaborators Nas and AZ, so similar in style were their street-schooled lyrical concerns and their austere, lazy-eyed rhyming styles. AZ, in fact, first came to the attention of the rap scene by contributing a verse to the former's classic 1994 single "Life's a Bitch." To compound the resemblance, he called upon Pete Rock to produce a couple tracks ("Gimme Your's" and "Rather Unique," both stellar) on this introductory recording, just as Nas had on his classic debut. The two albums are very much the twin sides of the same double-headed coin. They are so closely connected, in fact, that it's difficult to pinpoint where Doe or Die's points of departure are located. Many of its character sketches (the Buckwild-produced "Ho Happy Jack"), urban-caked admonitions ("Mo Money Mo Murder," on which Nas, in fact, turns up to return the favor, the equally hard-hitting title track), and gritty expressions of love ("I Feel for You," a pumped-up "One Love") are every bit as meditative and literate, peppered with authentic, incisive documentary detail. Ultimately, AZ's album is not quite as compact and consistent, and, unlike its mirror-image, its focus lapses right toward the end. But while Doe or Die is not quite on an artistic par with, not quite the free-flowing masterpiece as, the landmark Illmatic, it is not at all far behind in terms of quality, either. Certainly it was one of the strongest, most promising debut efforts of 1995, and probably one of the year's strongest rap albums period. And as with Nas, he would have a difficult time following up on this early juggernaut.