The antepenultimate Day 10 of 12 Days of Early 90’s Hip Hop and we’ve finally leaped into the future. Well, 1994 anyway…
NAS – Illmatic (1994)
Produced by DJ Premier, Large Professor, Q-Tip, Pete Rock and others
I previously proclaimed that Enter the Wu: 36 Chambers was the greatest Hip Hop album of all time, which is something I wholeheartedly stand by. But I think at least half of all Hip Hop fans and critics might disagree with me on that point (they’re wrong, though), and the truth is that most of them would probably place their flag atop this particular album. Which is kind of fair enough, because this is a near-perfect album. There is little I could write about this album that has not already been written, given its shining place at the Golden Era table. I think that what I can add however is that I was about fifteen when this album came out and even now it transports me to my youth. I feel blessed that this was the soundtrack to my youth, because if I was fifteen now I’d have to start looking much lower down the musical food chain for heroes.
We all have an opinion on the greatest Hip Hop producer of all time. There is little doubt though, that Premier has to be in everyone’s top three. This album helps establish that. It’s an entirely gritty record, which is mirrored in production values. It is hard to believe that Nas was twenty when this debut was released; such is the lyrical mastery and wisdom on the record. Illmatic is a sprawling, startling bleak collection of wonderfully constructed tales about life in Queens, NY. The stand out tracks have and will continue to stand the test of time, and continue to be revered and sampled by other bands and artists. These include –but are in no way limited to – NY State of Mind and the fantastic The World is Yours. But it’s a record without fillers that also includes the Jazz talents of Nas’ daddy Olu Dara.
Nas will never be able to replicate his success here, which is almost as negative and pessimistic a view at the one he espouses on the record. But in many ways, that’s the beauty of it. He won’t improve on this album, because it’s ideal. The best you can do is press play again and enjoy this Golden Age brilliance for what it is, because ahem Life’s a Bitch.