Nas - Illmatic

2009-03-03 17:46
 
Illmatic
 
 

Like all of my favourite classic albums, I got into Illmatic somewhat late.

It was 2001, and seven years after the fact, that in an ill-lit one-room on the top floor of an inner-city student block, my brother shuttled a relic of a cassette towards me, claiming it had been dubbed all the way back in ’94, and that inside the grubby plastic, whirling around those two black coils, was the best hip-hop album recorded in recent memory. 

And it was in that setting, my brother out for cigarettes and I sprawled eagerly in front of the box – right hand gradually raising the volume, left hand attending the EQ – that I heard Illmatic for the first time and a looped breakbeat from the film, Wild Style, introduced me to the album that would go on to irrevocably buckle my expectations for what was (and still is) possible in Hip-Hop. 

You could start anywhere when looking for what it is that made Nasty Nas’ debut album an instant classic. There was the lyrical ingenuity with its sharp, lucid images; the controlled buttery flow that recalled, built on, and then deviated from masters like Rakim and Kool G. Rap – and the poignant, lushly-textured and complex production by New York’s avant-garde producers.

But to isolate one element would be doing the album an injustice:  Illmatic was the sum of its parts. It worked cohesively, and captured the feelings behind each element on a track, imbuing a cinematic view of the New York underworld, and placing as narrator a new kind of Hip-Hop protagonist: a gangsta with a vision as highly poetic as Ezra Pound, a b-boy with insights that could roll with Cornel West’s, and a 20 year-old emcee who devoted the wizened heart and eyes of the artist to his streets.

Each track on Illmatic felt like an ode, an intricately written piece that added detail to an urban nightmare: a strung-out basehead crouched there, stick-up kids waved their weapons over there –a Hitlerian police force stalked everywhere.  And in and between that was The Prophet’s voice expressing both a wary vulnerability: “you see the streets have me stressed somethin’ terrible” and a defiant call for ghetto survival: “I never sleep, ‘cause sleep is the cousin of death.”

And if Nas’ verses felt like glimpses of a squalid urban landscape flitting past a window at high-speed, then producers Dj Premier, Pete Rock, Q-tip, L.E.S, and Large Professor were the conductors of the sonic A-train that took him from Queens to Manhattan and back again.

The chemistry, especially on tracks like “The World is Yours” with Pete Rock, “One Love” with Q-tip and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” with DJ Premier, brings about the kind of nostalgic familiarity you feel when everything suddenly falls in  place and is just right.

And tight.

Illmatic brought down low-art/high-art distinctions and in their wake left the boom-bap sound of a Hip-Hop voice that could speak its intelligence and anger in the black, white, and gray of artistic achievement without missing a step in its street quality.

There had never been anything like it and hip-hop would not – could not – be the same after it.
A perfectly articulated flow, ingenious imagist lyrics and finely crafted production make Nas' debut a hip hop classic.

What to read next: Kalahari

D-Man 2009/03/04 1:03 PM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
I don't know how 2 start this...
Azrail 2009/03/04 1:34 PM
Tight. Miss this flow.
Badboy 2009/03/04 1:36 PM
Like the man, says..."Represent"!
Chukkie 2009/03/04 5:07 PM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
it's eccentricity is something that cannot be replicated. the album has a mood that everyone understands and yet no one can quite put to words. this attempt at description is very well done. So thank you Masande. Clearly you have passion for hip-hop. All that said... there must be other artist on the pioneering ship of design, style and technique went it comes to hip-hop. So where y'all at?
Slik 2009/03/04 5:19 PM
Title says it all. Why don't they make albums like this no more?
Donmega 2009/03/05 9:03 AM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
It's good to c that there are still peeps out there who appreciate hip hop. Not the commercial crap that's dominating the airwaves.Don't want to mention names of so called MC'S who "killed" the game but i'm scared hip hop will never be the same again with the "glorification" of these below par rappers.
Nolo 2009/03/05 10:10 AM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
This Album represents the glory days of Hip Hop, as for the rapper Nas for me he is the most consistant Hip Hop revolusionary Mc ever his music has grown and the massage more relevent, For me he is the last real Hip Hop artist in the mainstream who is still real.
queen b 2009/03/05 10:28 AM
i hate to say this but no disrespect nas is the last man standing.he's not just about selling albums but his music always has a message.he representin'
Precise 2009/03/05 11:11 AM
I too got into Illmatic late, about 97, but that overflow of Nas combined with It Was Written got me on the track of one of the greatest from the Golden Age of Hip Hop. Hip Hop is dead now, on commercial level at least
MV 2009/03/05 11:13 AM
10 bangers! Ask anyone that raps and they will tell u tht this is one of the albums tht influenced them. If u truly listen to lyric, u'll be moved by the skill level. Nas has gone mainstream now but he still reminds us tht his skill level is still on par with a few bangers he releases every now and then.
MV 2009/03/05 11:17 AM
hiphop is not dead, its very much alive, keep ur ears open and u will hear...
lil-pantz-downmylegz 2010/03/12 11:57 AM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Stillmatic - ooooooh weeeeeee
NEXT ON CHANNELX
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.