10 Songs, 39 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Nas lied to us. Four tracks into his debut album, he told listeners, “The world is yours,” but he was wrong. And if he didn’t know it going into the release of Illmatic, he knew almost immediately after. As the critical rap universe would assure him, the world belonged to Nas himself—a New York rap prodigy hailing from the talent-rich Queensbridge housing projects whose 10-track debut realized the promise he’d shown as a guest MC on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque.” And while the album was immediately recognized as a gem by those in the know, its impact on hip-hop at large would only fully be appreciated in the years following.

Illmatic is only nine actual songs (not counting opener “The Genesis"), and while it was reportedly released in haste to combat the rampant bootlegging of an early version, it’s no less heavy a listen. Its first single, “Halftime,” appears on the soundtrack of the 1992 film Zebrahead and, coupled with his “Live at the Barbeque” verse, positioned Nas as hip-hop's next great MC, well before an album was ready. With Illmatic, Nas' poetic aptitude reveals itself, the MC introducing turns of phrase and perspective previously unheard within the art form. “My mic check is life or death, breathing a sniper's breath/I exhale the yellow smoke of buddha through righteous steps/Deep like The Shining, sparkle like a diamond/Sneak a Uzi on the island in my army jacket lining,” he spits on “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.”

Illmatic’s sample-heavy sound comes courtesy of a veritable dream team of production talent (DJ Premier, Large Professor, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, and L.E.S.), a lineup that helped to break a long-standing tradition of single-producer hip-hop albums. Together they present a unified vision of the murky, guttural, jazz-heavy hip-hop that would come to define the '90s New York sound. Aside from L.E.S., the group were all established in their lanes, but they'd elevate their practices for Nas, an MC of his caliber making it that much easier for everyone to shine. Over menacing piano lines (“N.Y. State of Mind”) and horn stabs (“It Ain't Hard to Tell”), Nas is able to transition seamlessly and continuously between freewheeling non sequiturs and vivid storytelling (a verse from “One Love” would inspire a scene in video director Hype Williams' feature film Belly).

The only person who gets a guest verse on the effort is AZ (“Life’s a Bitch”), and the Brooklyn MC makes the absolute most of the opportunity, effectively writing himself into history by “visualizin' the realism of life in actuality.” Did AZ know then what Illmatic would go on to mean for Nas and for hip-hop in general? Was he aware of the album’s potency and its likelihood to launch the man they called Nasty Nas toward superstardom while also setting a course for him to become an all-time great? Or was AZ simply chasing his own moment, another victim of Nas' unintentional goading, believing his friend when he told him, “The world is yours.”

Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Nas lied to us. Four tracks into his debut album, he told listeners, “The world is yours,” but he was wrong. And if he didn’t know it going into the release of Illmatic, he knew almost immediately after. As the critical rap universe would assure him, the world belonged to Nas himself—a New York rap prodigy hailing from the talent-rich Queensbridge housing projects whose 10-track debut realized the promise he’d shown as a guest MC on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque.” And while the album was immediately recognized as a gem by those in the know, its impact on hip-hop at large would only fully be appreciated in the years following.

Illmatic is only nine actual songs (not counting opener “The Genesis"), and while it was reportedly released in haste to combat the rampant bootlegging of an early version, it’s no less heavy a listen. Its first single, “Halftime,” appears on the soundtrack of the 1992 film Zebrahead and, coupled with his “Live at the Barbeque” verse, positioned Nas as hip-hop's next great MC, well before an album was ready. With Illmatic, Nas' poetic aptitude reveals itself, the MC introducing turns of phrase and perspective previously unheard within the art form. “My mic check is life or death, breathing a sniper's breath/I exhale the yellow smoke of buddha through righteous steps/Deep like The Shining, sparkle like a diamond/Sneak a Uzi on the island in my army jacket lining,” he spits on “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.”

Illmatic’s sample-heavy sound comes courtesy of a veritable dream team of production talent (DJ Premier, Large Professor, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, and L.E.S.), a lineup that helped to break a long-standing tradition of single-producer hip-hop albums. Together they present a unified vision of the murky, guttural, jazz-heavy hip-hop that would come to define the '90s New York sound. Aside from L.E.S., the group were all established in their lanes, but they'd elevate their practices for Nas, an MC of his caliber making it that much easier for everyone to shine. Over menacing piano lines (“N.Y. State of Mind”) and horn stabs (“It Ain't Hard to Tell”), Nas is able to transition seamlessly and continuously between freewheeling non sequiturs and vivid storytelling (a verse from “One Love” would inspire a scene in video director Hype Williams' feature film Belly).

The only person who gets a guest verse on the effort is AZ (“Life’s a Bitch”), and the Brooklyn MC makes the absolute most of the opportunity, effectively writing himself into history by “visualizin' the realism of life in actuality.” Did AZ know then what Illmatic would go on to mean for Nas and for hip-hop in general? Was he aware of the album’s potency and its likelihood to launch the man they called Nasty Nas toward superstardom while also setting a course for him to become an all-time great? Or was AZ simply chasing his own moment, another victim of Nas' unintentional goading, believing his friend when he told him, “The world is yours.”

Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics.
TITLE TIME

Ratings and Reviews

4.8 out of 5
773 Ratings

773 Ratings

Slimshaq1 ,

Classic

This album is a hip-hop classic.

Tekkengod27 ,

LYRICAL MASTERPIECE 10/10

Today I am going to review my personal favorite album of all-time, to me, this album is a certified classic and is the greatest hip-hop album released to date – this is Illmatic by Nas. To understand where this album derived from one must understand the origin of Nas. Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones was born September 14th 1973 in New York. He is from the Queens Bridge Housing Projects in which he was raised along with his younger brother “Jungle”. Nas grew up to be a fine young man but soon tragedy stuck when his father left the family in 1985. This caused Nas to become a lot more serious and focused – in short, he had a “drive” in him that no one had ever seen before. Nas was not typically fond of the school system and the education they provided. He would often skip school for days, weeks, and eventually, months on end. As foreseen, Nas eventually dropped out of school in just the 8th grade.
Once Nas was no longer in school he realized that he would have to make his dream come true and become a successful rapper. This goal was achieved, he started writing for what was to become the album I will be discussing in this review – Illmatic. Illmatic was released on April 19th 1994 and is widely regarded and one of the greatest albums in the hip-hop culture and is often credited with being one of the albums to bring popularity back to East-Coast Hip-Hop in the 1990’s. Illmatic is mostly compared to Jay-Z’s debut album “Reasonable Doubt” (Due to the long history of Nas and Jay-Z often being referenced as the “Kings of N.Y.” and their long-time rivalry they once had). Illmatic is also compared to Ready to Die by the late great Notorious B.I.G. simply for the fact that both albums are considered to have a substantial impact on Hip-Hop as well as for the fact that both albums were released in 1994.
Before I actually start breaking down the tracks I would just like to say that this album also has great production since a great line-up of producers were working on it such as DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, and Large Professor. Now onto the main review, this album is comprised of 10 tracks (one of which is “The Genesis” which is really just an intro to set the mood for the album). The second track, which is really the first official track is “N.Y. State of Mind”. This song in my opinion is not only one of the greatest Nas songs, but also one of the greatest songs in rap. In this track Nas discusses the street life and how hard it is to survive in the ghetto – basically he is relaying his experiences to the listener in order for him/her to understand the “N.Y. State of Mind”. Track three “Life’s a Bitch” is basically saying live your life to the fullest since you have only one life to live, This leads into one of the singles off this album “The World Is Yours”, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with The World Is Yours (which is probably why Nas chose these two specific songs to come one after the other). The World Is Yours is an uplifting song in which the subject-matter is you can be anything you want to be in life and should take advantage of whatever opportunities come at you, hence the title “The World Is Yours”. On track 5 “Halftime” we are introduced to one of the very first songs Nas ever wrote/recorded in which he cleverly lays down his rhymes and breaks down how he is the star of the show during Halftime.
The second half of the album (tracks 6-10) flow together so well and make the end of the album, which is usually the lackluster part of albums, some of the greatest material ever released by Nas. Track 6 “Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park)” is one of the best and most under-rated songs by Nas in my opinion. The beat is so laid back and reminiscent of something you would listen to on the school bus. The song is about Nas reminiscing about the days of his youth and telling the listener what his daily life was like growing up. This song has one of my favorite lines by Nas, in one of the lines Nas says “It's real, grew up in trife life, the times of white lines
The hype vice, murderous nighttimes and knife fights invite crimes” the lyrics are strong and compelling as well as the flow in which he delivers them. Some of the best vocal delivery I have heard on a hip-hop track to date. Track 7 brings of a letters “One Love” in which the song is written in the form of letters by which Nas is sending to all of his buddies locked up and in jail due to trouble in the streets. This is another single off the album and is also one of Nas’s most known songs and to me, one of his best songs. This leads into Track 8 “One Time 4 Your Mind” which honestly is just a cool mellow track in which Nas spits his rhymes over, this probably is the weakest song on the album (but it is still a great song, it’s just that the others are classics). Track 9 “Represent” is another excellent track which has a great beat and as usual Nas’s voice and vocal delivery compliment the song exceptionally – the song’s main message is just to Represent and be proud of where you come from. Finally, this leads to the closer of the album, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”. This song is just great and is also a single off the album as well. The lyrics and flow of the song is great as well. One of the best lines from the song is “It ain't hard to tell, I excel then prevail, the mic is contacted, I attract clientele, my mic check is life or death, breathing a sniper's breath, I exhale yellow smoke of Buddha through righteous steps”. A very strong closer to the album.
In conclusion, Illmatic is a masterpiece and is one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever released to date. This record I would definitely consider timeless, it is a record that everyone needs to hear. I still listen to it to this day and get the same enjoyment out of it as I did during my first listen. It opens up the mind and discusses real life issues and problems – it is not your typical rap album. Overall – this album is a 10/10, lyrical masterpiece.

unrealkhalil ,

Classic

I been rockin dis album since 94 wen I was 19 livin in la

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