“I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.
Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined.
I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind.”
April 19th 1994. One of the greatest hip hop records of all time came out. For a lot of rappers, this record has been their blueprint. I bought it a good few years after it came out. It was one of the first hip hop records I bought with my own money. I wasn’t listening to hip hop; it was sheer poetry. Poetry in the most unconventional way possible. I’ve played it more times than I’ve played anything I own by Bob Dylan or the Velvet Underground. I guess, even though I favour a lot of bands more than most, I think hip hop will always have my heart. I cannot explain why, and that’s why I know it is real love. When you are able to explain why you love something/someone you probably need to re-think your love for them, because you shouldn’t be able to pin-point it. It should just be a fact. Unconditional and forever.
Illmatic is ten tracks of the ugly truth. Listen to NY State Of Mind; it isn’t the New York television shows portray. Nas’ version, his ode (in a sense) to New York is the raw truth. That’s what I’ve always loved about Nas; he just gives you the truth. I always hated the Jay-Z/Nas thing. Much like I hated the Tupac/Biggie battle. They’re all different, but had the same story. They all overcame their own personal struggles to make something of themselves. Two of them did it in a shorter time but left a legacy that will outlive us all.
With his debut record, you cannot deny that Nas pretty much revived the Queensbridge hip hop scene. He’s QB’s finest, easily. The way he couples words together on Illmatic was enough to make you take pen to paper and write your own story in any way possible. One of (if not my favourite) sample Nas uses on Illmatic is on the track, Memory Lane. He uses Pickin’ Boogers by one of the most underrated rappers ever, Biz Markie. But then the sample of Come In Out Of The Rain by Parliament on Life’s A Bitch is incredible too. A heavily sampled record, but it’s still flawless. I don’t think any true hip hop fan doesn’t own this. Even if they don’t own anything else by Nas, they cannot deny just how inspirational and how powerful Illmatic is.
The relaxed vibe of The World Is Yours makes you pretty much see how the film Scarface influenced a hell of a lot of hip hop artists (Jay-Z also sampled The World Is Yours on Dead Presidents.) It’s also one of the many highlights of Illmatic. I’ve listened to it so many times, and I don’t think I could ever find one song I love more than others. With every listen, I find another element to love. I notice more. As I listen to it with older ears, I find more to love. I can truly appreciate Nas’ way with words. I did when I bought it, but as I’ve matured (a bit) I can take more meaning from it, but one thing still remains; it is always going to a record a lot of rappers strive to make. They try to make their Illmatic.
Halftime is the one song I remember being hugely obsessed with when I bought Illmatic. I just played it over and over. My obsession was then turned onto One Love, pretty sure it was because Q-Tip was on it, and produced it. These were the two songs I remember fawning over. Then I just listened to Illmatic from start to finish on repeat. Over and over. But like I said, cannot pick a favourite but those two were the first I feel in love with. The way the words flow on Halftime is just ridiculous. It’s insane how someone so young could make music like that. He became one of the greatest immediately. That rarely happens.
I’ve stayed a loyal fan to Nas. I can’t imagine my record collection being without his music, it’d be senseless. Sure enough I cannot relate to a lot of his subject matters; but I know what it’s like to be frustrated with your situation and seeing no way out. Knowing you’re so far away from making something of yourself. But you find an escape. In words, music, anything. Creativity can cure some of it. The frustration in One Love, of hearing someone so young go through having friends killed to being in jail; no one should ever have to go through that. Regardless of age.
I learnt a lot from Nas. From how to make words flow as perfect as I can together (whether here or in my notebooks full of lyrics..no you cannot and will not see them) he just made it seem so effortless, but at times it can be a headache. Some of his records since have been hit or miss, but that depends on who you ask. I know a lot of Nas fans will regard the song One Mic (taken from Stillmatic) as one of the best hip hop songs ever made, and it truly is. Even if you were never a fan of Nas you really cannot deny how powerful that song is and how the dramatic build-up in the first few verses are. And also how the come down in the last verse just shudders your soul. Play it to anyone who says hip hop is pointless. They’re probably into the pointless stuff. Give them something they can feel.
It does make me sad, as a hip hop lover, that hip hop is no longer like this. It has lost some meaning in some respects- but hopefully someone will come along and be as great as artists such as Nas to Big L to Kurtis Blow. Illmatic was the soundtrack to New York in 1994 and it probably still is. Nas never has romanticised what he sees, that was obvious from the very start. Nothing ever needs to be covered up to look or sound nice- just let the truth out, but do it from the heart. That’s exactly what Illmatic did, and still does. Timeless and nothing short of a masterpiece.