Nas “Illmatic” (1994)

     There is a certain amount of irony in today’s selection, “Illmatic” by Nas, which is rated as album # 44 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time, and the #2 Hip-Hop album of all time.  The irony comes from the fact that despite its highly acclaimed status, and my love for good hip-hop music, prior to this day I have heard very little, if any from this album.  It didn’t feature catchy pop-rap that prominently made its way into radio mixes with censored, watered-down versions.  It is just very authentic New York City street rap, as Nas relayed his life growing up in the projects of Queens.

     I have read several comparisons to Rakim in describing his style, and I think that is a fair comparison, and one that doesn’t come lightly from me.  Working primarily with producer DJ Premier, as well as some production help and one vocal appearance from Q-Tip, this feels to me like the beginning of the deepening of the foundation of hip-hop as the fundamental soundtrack for many Americans, regardless of what was selling or charting.  “Illmatic” wasn’t a huge commercial success, but the credibility, acclaim and popularity within this culture for Nas and this album far outreached the superficiality of Top 40 radio.

     I listened to the album several times, and I enjoyed it front to back.  “N.Y. State of Mind” sets the stage perfectly for the world Nas is opening us up to, and the next song “Life’s A Bitch”, which also features AZ, has an appearance from Nas’ father Olu Dara on cornet.  The next song, “The World is Yours”, has a very 1960’s jazz feel to it, and of course I can’t help but think of the iconic reference to the blimp scene in Scarface when I hear this song.

     “Halftime”, “One Love” (with Q-Tip on the recurring chorus)”, and “One Time 4 Your Mind” stand out on a smooth, overtly cool album of easy rhymes and one of the stronger thumping bass tracks I have heard to date.  It isn’t hard for me to see why others love this album so much, and I’m happy to mix it in to my collection of playlists.

Published by tacopepper

A music fan...

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