Anthony Cruz (born March 9, 1972, in Brooklyn), known as AZ, is an American rapper of Dominican & African American descent. He is known for being a long time rhyme partner of Nas, and also a member of hip-hop group The Firm alongside Nas, Foxy Brown, Cormega and Nature.
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. He was the only guest feature to appear on that album.
AZ signed with EMI, and soon released his debut album “Doe Or Die” in 1995 to critical acclaim, but meager commercial success. The album features guest appearances by artists such as Nas and Miss Jones, and production from Pete Rock, L.E.S., and Buckwild, among others. 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. The album itself went to #1 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart as well as #15 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart.
In 1997 the group The Firm with AZ, Nas, Nature, and Foxy Brown released their only album, “The Album.” The album featured production from well-known producers such as Dr. Dre and the Trackmasters, but was generally viewed as a disappointment. The group disbanded after just the one album.
In 1998 AZ released his second solo album, “Pieces of a Man.” The album fared well but didn't chart quite as well as his debut and didn't feature a crossover single like he had with "Sugar Hill." “Pieces of a Man,” peaked at #5 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart, while reaching #22 on the Billboard 200 chart.
After this album's release, AZ signed with Motown/Universal Records and released “9 Lives.” The album went to #23 on the Billboard 200 while reaching #4 on the R&B Albums chart. The lead single, “Problems,” reached #34 on the Hot Rap Singles chart.
In 2002, he released “Aziatic” reaching #5 on the R&B Albums chart and #29 on the Billboard 200. 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.
His fourth studio album “A.W.O.L” was independently released on his Quiet Money Records imprint in 2005 and marked his first appearance on the Billboard Independent Albums chart, peaking at #5 while also reaching #17 on the R&B Albums chart and #73 on the Billboard 200.
He released his fifth studio album “The Format” in 2006. The 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. “The Format” went to #35 on the Independent Albums chart and #59 on the Billboard 200. The album's lead single was its title track, "The Format," produced by DJ Premier, with "Vendetta" as its B-Side.
“Undeniable” was released in 2008 peaking at#24 on the R&B Albums chart and #18 on the Independent chart.
“Legendary” followed in 2009 featuring production by Hollis, Cozmo, Maxwell Smart, Real Talk Ent. and Gennesse.