ILLMATIC : AS ILL AS IT GETS.
Capturing the dark, menacing street life of the New York projects, Nas brings his debut album Illmatic. The New York native captivates us with his poetic flow, creating a body of work that is timeless. Nas gives us one of the most significant rap debut albums to date, handing us more substance in one album than most rappers give in ten. With his poetic lyrics over a rugged New York beat, this album is the epitome of what true rap music is. While not selling well when the album was first released Nas did touch the hearts of hip hop heads and die hard rap fans everywhere. With the breakup of Eric B & Rakim, Nas rebirths poetic rap and gives fans a new fresh look into New York’s street life.
The first song on your debut album does two things : establishes your rap style and sets the tone for your album. “The Genesis” starts off with dialogue from “Wild Style”, the first hip hop music based movie, hip hops creation story if you will. “When it’s real, you’re doing this even without a record contract”, Nas establishes his seriousness with rap. Guns are waved. Hennessy gets passed around. Dreams are spoken of. Illmatic has begun.
“Straight out the f***in’ dungeons of rap, where fake n****s don’t make it back,” just one of the lines that stands out on this album , starting “N.Y. State Of Mind”. On the first verse he’s selling drugs to make ends meet, but has to deal with the dangers that come along with that. On the second, he expands on that, and imagines himself moving past the street life. Now he’s a kingpin watching over his dynasty. By the fourth verse he is acknowledging: “But just a ni–a, walking with his finger on the trigger, make enough figures, until my pockets get bigger.” This was Nas, summarizing the mentality of being forced to stay on the streets with dreams bigger than himself. “I’m destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it,” AZ begins “Life’s A B***h”. “Life’s a b***h then you die, that’s why we get high,” Nas and AZ reflect on their lives. This song shows two regular young men in a bad situation just trying to enjoy what they have and live the best way they know how.
Paying its respects to “Scarface”, “The World is Yours” is one of the most important songs in hip hop history. Telling his generation to go out and get theirs, Nas starts the conversation about hip hop and politics. Nas’ “Halftime” is the song that allegedly got him signed to Columbia Records, with Nas rapping hard and aggressively for four minutes straight. Nas gives us the wise, old soul in him on “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park)”. The storytelling throughout this song makes you truly feel like you are sitting beside him in the park hearing him tell you about how things were. “One Love” is a letter Nas has penned to his friend who was in prison updating him on life.
“One Time 4 Your Mind,” slows down the album, this song was one that Nas used to try and spark attention from the west coasts music scene. The use of this song on the album still sparks a debate, should it have been there? Did it fit? Many people have different opinions. Nas has a way with always starting his songs and captivating you from the first listen, “Represent starts : “straight up shit is real and any day could be your last in the jungle, get murdered on a humble, guns’ll blast, n****s tumble.” “Represent’ is him claiming Queensbridge and that he is not one to be messed with. “Represent” is the song on the album that is Nas’ way of marking his territory in New York and in hip hop. As Illmatic closes, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” Nas is here for the long run. Nas gives us an incredible closer, the poetic lyrics, the delivery, Nas set the bar high for himself and rappers to come.
Nas is aggressive, hard, street and from the gutter. Illmatic’s production hits all those marks, giving Nas an impeccable backdrop to his debut album. While using primarily New York djs and producers, Nas has a gritty sound starting off his album. Merging from the haunting piano solo from DJ Joe Chambers on “N.Y. State Of Mind” to the looping of The Gap Band’s “Yearning For Your Love,” sample in “Life’s A B***h”, it sets the scene for Nas’ dreams to be expressed. Peter Rock’s jazzy backdrop on “The World Is Yours” is Nas diversifying his album, perfectly set to the artist paying homage to Scarface. “Halftime” had a beat that was highly debated on the album because of the dated sound. Nas still raps his aggressive battle rhymes over Large Professor’s classic horn-heavy production.
Slowing it down on “One Time For Your Mind” the bottom-heavy bass and forward percussive elements, while being different, still proves Nas can still rap his heart out on any beat given to him. “Represent” did exactly what is says, it represented Nas in a great way. The aggressive, heavy hitter beat is a backdrop for the song to make you feel the New York, gritty parts of Nas. Throughout the album, all the songs are laced with samples and New York train sounds. This album showcases Nas not only through his lyrics but the sounds he chose. Nas paints us a vivid picture of his street life and his bigger city dreams.
Illmatic is a classic album for every true hip hop fan, if you don’t like it or appreciate the value it holds, you are not a hip hop fan.
Final Grade : 9/10
Favourite Songs : Life’s A Bitch, Represent, The Genesis, It Ain’t Hard To Tell, One Time For Your Mind