Anthony Cruz (born March 9, 1972), better known by his stage name AZ, is an American rapper from East New York, Brooklyn, New York. He is known for being a longtime and frequent music 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's 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. The album's lead single, "Sugar Hill", became AZ's 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 Records and Virgin Records when the EMI Label Group was shut down.
In 1997, AZ joined the group, The Firm with Nas, Nature, and Foxy Brown, and released their only album as a group, The Album. In 1998, AZ 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".
After this album's release, AZ signed with Motown and 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.