WORDS BY Shortie
This article was originally published in The Source Magazine, April 1994 (Issue #55)
Producer DJ Premier, Large Professor
Pose Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S
While the media was hyping Snoop’s album as the most anticipated debut of all time, many of us in the hip-hop core had our eyes on another prize— Illmatic, the debut “reality story book” from Queensbridge’s Nas (formerly known as Nasty Nas). After peeping his soul on “Live at the BBQ,” “Back to the Grill,” and the official bomb, “Halftime,” street dwellers and industry folks alike were predicting Nas’ first album to be monumental.
Now, I’m not one to sweat the next man, but… I must maintain that this is one of the best hip-hop albums I have ever heard. Word. Let me speak on it.
Musically, when Nas hooked up with four of hip-hop’s purest producers, it seems like all of the parties involved took their game to a higher level of expression. Whether listening to the dark piano chords of Pete Rock’s meaner side on “The World is Yours,” or Primo’s sinister bounce on “Represent,” or Large Professor’s old soul sound on “Memory Lane,” or Q-Tip’s Jazzy meringue melody on “One Love”— it all motivates. Your mind races to keep us with Nas’ lyricism, while your body dips to the beat.
Lyrically, the whole s***t is on point. No clichéd metaphors, no gimmicks, never too abstract, never superficial, even the slot-intros are meaningful, and the album’s only guest rapper, AZ, is dangerous in his own right. (And he’s unsigned too? Not for long son). Nas is just the epitome of that “New York State of Mind” in terms of style delivery. But even outside of the “Rotten Apple”— “Listeners, bluntheads, fly ladies, and prisoners, Hennessy holders, and Old School N***as” from all over will be able to relate to Nas’ many techniques, Nas creates fantasy: “I drink Moet with Medusa/Give her shotguns in hell/From the spiff that I lift and inhale.” He philosophizes: “I switched my motto/Instead of saying, “Fuck tomorrow/That Buck that bought a bottle/Coulda struck the Lotto.” He flows: “One for the money/Two for pussy and foreign cars/Three for Alize, niggas deceased or behind bars/ I rap divine god/Check the prognosis, is it real or showbiz/My window faces shootouts/Drug overdoses/Live amongst no roses, only the drama/For real, a nickel plate is my fate/My medicine is the ganja.” And on, and on…
Nas’ images remind me of a lot of personal memories and people, both past and present, so the impact goes beyond the entertainment aspect. All this may sound like melodrama but it’s not just me, I’ve been hearing similar responses all over. While “Memory Lane” is my s***t, my homies claim “The World is Yours,” and if you’ve got peoples doing time, then “One Love” may hit you the hardest. There’s nothing wack though, just different intensities for different people to relate to. The bottom line is this: even if the album doesn’t speak to you on that personal level, the music itself is still well worth the money. If you can’t at least appreciate the value of Nas’ poetical realism, then you best get yourself up out of hip-hop. Keep it. Real. Buddy.