Ayo whattup world! Once again its the mighty Hands Of Zeus aka Galaxy Knuckles aka Thor Molecules the great akaPhantom Raviolis aka the magnificent Caviar Tusks aka Shampoo Bracelets the panty melter aka Spartacus Deluxe aka Broccoli Bundles aka Lamborghini Saxophones aka the illustrious Cocaine Biceps otherwise known as the world famous Big Ghost. Yanno this culture dont always embrace the past like it should. Little niggas be shittin on the old heads like YO WHY YALL OLD NIGGAS STILL THINK YALL SHIT MATTER YALL OLD DUSTY FRAIL ASS CRUMBLY NIGGAS… FUCKOUTTAHERE…n old heads is like YALL BITCHMADE LITTLE FRUITY LIGHT IN THE ASS TIGHT COLORFUL PANTS N CHIFFON T-SHIRT WEARIN GIRLY MOUTHED JUSTIN BIEBER FACED SOYMILK DRINKIN CARAMEL LATTE COMPLEXIONED SMALL DICK N SOFT HANDS HAVIN ASS NIGGAS SHUT ALL THE WAY THE FUCK UP WIT YALL LITTLE CORNY CARTOON JINGLES N NICKLEODEON ASS SOUNDIN SHIT YALL BE LISTENIN TO KNOWIN DAMN WELL YALL AINT BEEN MADE MORE THAN ONE OR TWO CLASSICS YALL DAMN SELVES N YALL HAD LIKE 10 YEARS TO SHOW N PROVE BUT YALL STRING BIKINI N LEG WARMER ROCKIN ASS MUTHAFUCKAS NOT CAPABLE OF THAT SHIT YET YALL WANNA FLAP YA LITTLE GUMS BOUT OLD HEADS THIS N OLD HEADS THAT MAN FUCK YALL… You can kinda see the divide tho…the generation gaps n shit. Word. Imma stay neutral on that shit tho cuz the gawd dont sweat all that. So it bein the 20 year anniversary of one of the most cherished n loved (but also one of the most “overrated”) albums by any muthafucka in rap ever…Imma take some precious time outta my life to reflect on that shit wit yall.
First off Imma give yall little niggas some back history to this shit so yall can do the knowledge n appreciate all the shit that went into these 10 tracks namsayin. My mans Nas… who use to go by the name Nasty Nas (before he was Esco or Nastradamus or God’s Son or any of that)… already had been around on the scene since back in ’91 when he stole the whole show on the “Live At The Barbeque” joint off the classic Main Source album Breaking Atoms. Son snapped on that shit. The track also featured Akinyele n Joe Fatal but nobody really mentions em niggas no more. Personally I think Akinyele was dope n I was a big fan of his shit that came after that…n of course my mans Extra P came correct on the track too… But it was definitely a clear winner on that shit…n it wasnt Joe Fatal bruh. Young Nasir was on some ol reckless not givin a fuck bout anything type shit…even before Big L or Biggie or Eminem or whoever else you can think of. This was the essence of Nasty Nas. Son was jus wild offensive yo…talmbout snuffin the Messiah n murderin cops n hangin niggas like the KKK n kidnappin the president’s wife n ridiculous shit of that nature…n that was jus one verse. You be listenin to the nigga rap n thinkin “damn…this cat really buggin”…n this was at a time when niggas was whylin out on records n really really exercisin they freedom of speech. This was when Ice Cube was at his peak n scarin the shit outta White America n all that. This was when NWA made a whole song bout killin hookers n Bushwick Bill was rapin dead bodies on Geto Boys albums n shit. But Nas brought a whole different level of lyricism wit him. So for Nas to be able to stand out by sayin the most offensive shit under the sun while still lettin his skills on the m-i-c flourish on some crazy poetical shit…he was bringin a whole new dynamic to the table….n son was still 17.
Even before the “BBQ” joint Large Pro aka Extra P was already a big piece of the puzzle namsayin. He was the one who use to let Nas come to the studio durin the sessions for two other classic NY albums…Wanted Dead Or Alive by Kool G Rap & DJ Polo n Let The Rhythm Hit Em by Eric B & Rakim…which Large Professor n his mentor the late great Paul C had a big hand in helpin to create. Unfortunately Paul C was murdered in ’89… but thats how Large Pro came to play a bigger role on em shits. Eric B was executive producer for both em albums too yo. Unfortunately Eric also took a lot of the credit for the production…but thats a whole nother story namsayin. But in between the times they was workin on those particular albums…Large would let Nas get in the booth n work on tracks that would eventually end up on his demo tape n shit. Even Rakim was hearin these shits n givin em his seal of approval … But he probably also noticed that son could be a problem namsayin. Ra mighta felt like OH YOU THINK YOU FLY LIL NIGGA…or some shit. But only Ra would kno for sure. Im jussayin I sensed the animosity myself a couple times in interviews n whatnot…but thats neither here nor there nahmean.
In ’92 Nas had made his second appearance on wax on another posse cut for the debut solo album by MC Serch (of 3rd Bass fame) on a little joint called “Back To The Grill”…which also featured Chubb Rock n Red Hot Lover Tone (of Trackmasters fame). Jus fyi…the song title was a reference to the 3rd Bass “Kick Em In The Grill” joint (which had also featured Chubb Rock) n not the Live At The Barbeque track (Do the knowledge). Right after that Serch had took Nas under his wing n got son a deal wit Columbia Records n thats basically how the ball had got started rollin on the Illmatic LP. Within a couple months Nas had dropped his debut single “Halftime” (produced by Large Professor) which provided the little homie witta chance to shine for dolo on a whole track instead of jus on some verses on a posse cut here n there n really let niggas kno that shit was bout to get mad ugly for em. That was jus a warning shot tho.
Originally Nas had wanted Large Professor to produce his whole album…but it mighta been Serch (who co-executive produced Illmatic along wit Faith Newman — thats right gawd…a couple pale faced White devils brought that shit to the masses) who reached out to DJ Premier…n then Large Pro reached out to Pete Rock…n so on n so forth. Q-Tip (who had produced damn near all the A Tribe Called Quest joints up to that point) got into the mix…n eventually it was like a who’s who of NY producers workin on the album. This was also some unusual shit…not a lot of albums up to that point had different high profile producers workin on different tracks. Mighta been a few albums where it was a collaboration of different producers comin together but wasnt really a whole lot of albums where it was like different A-list producers sharin the spotlight like that. Apart from doin the whole Main Source album…Large Pro had produced the entire Akinyele debut album Vagina Diner from top to bottom too. Meanwhile Preemo was the only producer for ALL the Gangstarr albums n “the chocolate boy wonder” did the same for hisself n CL Smooth. All em dudes was hot in ’94 tho…doin remixes n workin on outside projects while workin on they shit tho. This was startin to become a trend durin what was pretty much the peak of the 90s golden era. Shit was glorious.
Even while Nas n em was still only in the process of workin on the album…the buzz on that muthafucka amongst niggas who knew what was bout to happen was so humungous that The Source had ran a little article titled “The Second Coming”. The first coming had been The 18th Letter hisself…aka Rakim. So for Nas to be gettin that kinda hype off 2 features on some other niggas songs n one single was crazy. Around that time he also dropped the first single from the album…”It Aint Hard To Tell”…which was once again produced by the great Large Professor hisself.
All this shit was happenin at the height of west coast dominance. Ice Cube was jus comin off of a 3 year streak of bein THAT NIGGA in hip hop…Dr Dre had jus went triple platinum after goin solo on The Chronic at the end of ’92 n now his protege Snoop Doggy Dogg (aka Snoop Dogg aka Snoop Lion aka Snoopzilla aka jus Snoop Dogg again) had jus gone QUADRUPLE platinum off his debut joint Doggystyle. Incidentally tho…the same Source magazine that was keepin a real close watch on what Nas was doin had fronted (when they still mattered) n gave The Chronic 4-1/2 mics… n (even more fucked up than that) gave Doggystyle 4 mics. They tried to bury this shit in the history books n changed both those ratings to 5 Mics later but facts is facts n the truth is the truth b. Meanwhile 2Pac had dropped Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z at the top of ’93 n was doin movies n whatever…so it was lookin like the planets in orbit n shit was aligned to make him a star real soon. Biggie Smalls was somewhere in BK at that time gettin harassed by Puffy to go to the studio n jump on remixes for Mary J Blige n Supercat. Around that same time Biggie was also goin back n forth between sellin crack in North Carolina n recordin Ready To Die. While the west was dominatin shit…groups like Onyx, Black Moon n the Wu had already started shiftin some focus back to the East. It was different degrees of success amongst em groups…but New York still needed a dominant solo rapper again. Eric B & Rakim had split in ’92 n Rakim aint release no solo shit til like ’97…meanwhile Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One n LL Cool J had already cemented they legacies by this time. NY needed a fresh face…eventually they was gon get more than a couple…but it started wit Nas.
Niggas was mad eager tho…the streets was wild hungry for Nas to drop that album. Niggas was like some fiends scratchin on they necks n holdin they little crumpled up dollar bills ready to cop whatever was available. Nas was knee deep into the recording process for the album but then all a sudden its like…niggas was hearin the shit they had jus made last week pumpin outta the speakers of the whips that was rollin by em on the street like the shit had dropped already. It aint take no mathematical scholars to add the shit up n deduce that cats was bootleggin the fuck out the album son. This was before internets n niggas leakin whole albums online n uppin that shit on Sharebeast n whatever. Muthafuckas was goin thru the hassle of makin bootleg tapes n sellin em shits like it was the final product. It wasnt no uncommon shit but usually bootleggin ass niggas had the decency to sell the actual actual album son. But it became more n more common for niggas to jump the gun n sell shit that wasnt ready n front like it was the official joints at that time. Thats why it wasnt too many niggas in New York gettin no gold plaques or nothin in the early 90s. NY cats wasnt tryna wait for actual release dates n pay full price for shit they could cop for damn near free like 9 months before the shit would hit the stores n whatever. Even Jay Z had the Illmatic bootleg n Im pretty sure he never hit Tower Records n copped the official shit later namsayin…
So anyways yo…the record company starts buggin n they decide they wanna wrap the shit up n jus put out whatever the fuck is ready up to this point namsayin. The shit is only 10 tracks dog. One track is the intro. Another track is two years old yo. Plus “It Aint Hard To Tell” was already gettin mad play. That was basically 7 new joints they wanted to put all they faith in on some Hail Mary shit. I mean it was cool in like ’87 to drop a 10 track album wit one or two of em tracks bein either a record where the DJ or whatever is cuttin some shit up or some bullshit dub mix tacked on at the end. But in ’94 niggas had already started expectin like 18 track albums n shit. They was takin a big risk tryin to push a short ass album wit no skits or interludes to pad it out or nothin.
So anyways they drop the album a couple months later n boom…shit sends shockwaves all over the map nahmean. Niggas is mad when they see the album track list is 10 cuts n shit…but when they hear it its like whatever tho. Shit was wild lean. No fast forwards necessary. None. The shit was so concise n precisionally accurate n had no air bubbles or nothin like that. Wasnt no corny ass blowjob skits or Nas pullin out his burner n shootin at imaginary niggas in between the songs. Wasnt mad guest artists jumpin on the mic or R&B singers eatin up precious time on the hooks n whatever. Shit was executed to perfection. The Source even said YO WE GON PULL OUR HEADS OUT OUR ASSES N GIVE THIS SHIT 5 MICS STRAIGHT UP WIT NO LOOKIN BACK CUZ THIS SHIT IS FIGGITY PHAT N ALLA DAT… Maybe not in those exact words tho. Actually… I believe it was the lovely Miss Info aka wifey who had the honor of writin the review n blessin it wit the 5 mics. Nuff respect was due.
So thats that shit in a nutshell b. Imma give this shit a quick run thru n let yall kno how these joints done stood the test of times tho. You already might got some idea how Imma rate this shit…so Imma rate the tracks one by one too.
The Genisis – This the realest (non musical) intro in the history of rap. Imma say that again. This the realest (non musical) intro in the history of rap. Im includin the shit where Ice Cube gets fried in the electric chair on AmeriKKKas Most Wanted… Im includin the Ready To Die intro where it takes you thru the stages of Biggie’s life n all that… Im includin all em questionable Pain In Da Ass intros Jay-Z had for his 90s joints…n I damn sure feel its realer than any the other album intros Nas ever came wit again…ESPECIALLY that shit where Esco pickin cotton n revolts against the cracker ass cracker slave owners at the start of It Was Written. This shit probably be goin way over the heads of yall yungbuck rugrats who wasnt een born when this album dropped…but this muthafuckin intro said more in a minute n 45 seconds n set the stage for the career of one of the greatest rappers of all times more than any other bullshit ass intro ever in the history of rap (Sorry Snoop in the bathtub talkin to Warren G on Doggystyle). First you got the sound of the train..which set the backdrop n let niggas kno this wasnt bout to be some happy go lucky shit. Then you had the scene from the b-boy classic Wild Style wit Hector tryin to kick knowledge to his lil brother Zoro. In case you aint seen the movie…the character Zoro was a graffiti artist who was played by graffiti legend Lee Quinones. In the flick his brother Hector was in the army n son came back on some gung ho rah rah shit talmbout BE A MAN NIGGA. I aint gon break down the whole movie or nothin…yall can catch that on Netflix or whatever…but bein that it was the first movie bout hip hop culture n was mainly bout graffiti (which was the first element of hip hop to really pop off)…this was truly representin the genesis. This was the origins of all the shit that would come after that…the DJ’n…the MC’n…the B-Boy’n…the fashion n styles that went wit it etc. All that shit had a nucleus nahmean. That shit was birthed in the heart of The Bronx. Truth be told…there had been niggas throwin up they tags in Philly n whatever before that…but The BX is where ALL the different branches of the tree grew from namsayin. Nas callin this shit the Genesis was his way of payin homage AND takin credit for the rebirth of hip hop that was bout to take place from that moment on. Im sayin theres layers to this shit. In the background you can hear his verse from “Live At The Barbeque” playin…which was also the genesis of where Nas started his career nahmean. Then after the scene wraps…the theme from Wild Style starts playin n you got Nas lil brother Jungle n AZ kickin it wit Nas in the studio talkin bout whatever whatever. Nas had picked out the joint he wanted em to talk over n Jungle fronted on the shit… It was all good tho. In the end…this shit is like a snapshot of 3 young dudes on the brink of fulfillin they destinies…. One was bout to become a serious contender for GOAT… One would become known as one of the most respected lyricists n underrated MCs of his generation…n the little nigga who hated on the beat was gon go on to author the timeless “Oochie Wally (Wally – Oochie bang bang)” n become one of the most famous weed carriers in hip hop (until Hov breathed life into a random cat from his projects named Memphis Bleek). Anyways I give this shit 5 Zeus Slaps outta 5.
New York State Of Mind – What better way to kick off ya album than wit one of the greatest joints of all time? I remember the first time I heard the shit…I was in awe yo. Shit was perfection. Preemo literally laced Nas wit one of the greatest beats ever. Shit was better than any beat he had ever made in his whole life….n he had already made “Mass Appeal” by this point… Son had already gave Jeru The Damaja the “Come Clean” beat by this point…n he STILL outdid hisself. Yo Im forreal shakin my head right now… This was Preem at his muthafuckin pinnacle b. Craziest thing bout this track was how Nas is sayin “I dont kno how to start this shit….” before he gets in his zone n jus spits his whole verse perfectly. In one take. Absolutely ridiculous yo. When muthafuckas say DJ Premier n Nas is the dream combo in all of hip hop…this is why. This shit also gets 5 slaps.
Life’s A Bitch feat. AZ – Now whats the chances that you gon go for dolo n start ya album wit one of the greatest joints in the history of rap…n then follow it wit one of the greatest duets in the history of rap? Son had some audacity for doin that shit. He aint een had a big name producer on this shit…jus his mans L.E.S. outta Queensbridge. Basically it was jussa pretty simple loop of the classic “Yearning For Your Love” joint by The Gap Band namsayin. But that aint what made the track so incredible…it was the verses that these niggas spit. AZ sets the shit off wit one of the most amazin sixteens ever rapped by anybody in the universe ever (you probably know it by heart) n then Nas comes in n snaps too. Niggas jus came outta nowhere n dropped instant classic bars on this shit son. Plus you got the timeless hook AZ blessed the track wit. So you got classic beat…classic bars…classic hook. That should do it right? But naw…the shit aint done. After the last hook Nas lets his pops Olu Dara blow on the cornet (pause) til the song fades. Shit is jus the right amount too…wasnt no overkill on the solo or nothin. If Kanye had the man on the end of one of his tracks today he would probably let the nigga play for like a full 9 minutes n whatever while he do his little autotune cryin on top of it or some shit. So this shows how muthafuckas knew how to control they impulses to overdo shit. Incredible. How could I not give this 5 slaps…
The World Is Yours – My mans Pete Rock aka Soul Brother #1 blessed this shit lovely wit some beautiful piano chops played by the legendary Ahmad Jamal. Meanwhile this cat Nas jus murderin the fuck outta this shit. This track is the seed that Hov’s Dead Presidents grew from. Mad talented cats like Slum Village, Elzhi, Blu, n Curren$y had paid they little tributes to it since. J. Cole also paid his tributes to it. Pete had been known mostly for his horns n shit so when he came witta whole different sound on this shit it was like he had customized the shit for Nas. Like he had tailored the suit for Nas n to let him get his grown man on. Hate to be on some o.d. worshipin niggas songs shit…but this gets a perfect 5 slaps from me too.
Halftime – This the joint that started it all for son. Shit was all business. Wasnt no catchy hook or nothin…wasnt no happy ass new jack swing beat for chicks to shake they ass to. It was jus son catchin wreck over one of the toughest beats Extra P ever cooked up for 4 ignorant ass minutes.
“You couldnt catch me in the streets without a ton of reefer/Thats like Malcom X catchin the Jungle Fever”
This shit is a monument in Hip Hop. Id be on some real bullshit if I gave it less than 5 slaps.
Memory Lane – Next time the topic of “best Nas verse” comes up n you get that impulse to say “Verbal Intercourse” or some shit jus cue this shit up in ya head n ask yaself if son ever spit anything as poetically vivid as:
“I rap divine gawd…check the prognosis/Is it real or showbiz?
My window faces shootouts/drug overdoses
Live amongst no roses/only the drama/forreal
A nickel-plate is my fate/my medicine is the ganja
Heres my basis/my razor embraces many faces
Your telephone blowin/black stitches or fat shoelaces”
“Word to Christ/A disciple of streets/trifle on beats
I decipher prophecies/thru a mic n say peace”
“True to the game/as long as blood is blue in my veins
I pour my Heineken brew/to my deceased crew/on memory lane”
on any of em other verses son stays gettin mad credit for. I aint sayin them other verses aint bananas too… Im jus sayin he really kinda did his thing here. Preemo wasnt no slouch on the beat neither. This shit is jus on point in every way you can think of bruh. Fuckouttahere yo…this shit get 5 slaps too.
One Love – Nas got to flex his storytellin skills on NY State Of Mind…then reflect on some moments in his life on Lifes A Bitch n painted some pictures for us on The World Is Yours…but he upped the ante on this shit. Q-Tip laced him on the track witta backdrop that really let him stretch his creative wings. He wrote the the first two verses as letters to his mans locked up in the belly of the beast n the last verse as a story from his own perspective bout droppin jewels on shorty from around the way. How many songs you kno where a whole scene in a movie was based on a verse from that joint?
You really think Imma give this shit anything less than 5 slaps? Cmon son…
One time 4 Your Mind – This shit right here might not be anybody favorite song on the album but its lowkey the most underrated track on the album. This is probably also one of the earliest tracks Nas n Large Pro worked on together for Illmatic. Nas had his mans Grand Wizard assistin him on the hook while niggas took it back on some golden age shit. Wasnt no real deep concepts or nothin…jus Nas floatin on the track like a damn sorcerer. Son not only floated on the track my man hovered on that muthafucka. Son parasailed on this shit. My niggas feet aint touch the ground for 3 straight minutes. But dont think son gon waste any time kickin some bullshit. This aint like on “Book Of Rhymes” where son crumplin up pages from his rhyme stash. Wasnt no “Memory Lane” type compounded lyricism goin on here but son still split a few atoms here n there…
“Think I’ll dim the lights n inhale/it stimulates
Floatin like Im on the North 95 interstate”
But the way he closes out the second verse he straight takin it back to his Barbeque/Grill days n offendin religious folk again…
“I hold a Mac-11/n attack a reverend
I contact 11 L’s n max in Heaven”
He actually used that Mac-11 line on “Nas Will Prevail” (aka the original version of It Aint Hard To Tell) from his demo but Im glad he resurrected it anyways. I aint gon front n act like this joint coulda carried the album. Its technically as close as it gets to there bein any filler on this muthafucka. Every other song on the album so far is a landmark in Hip Hop in some form or fashion namsayin. I personally enjoy this track more than a couple of the other joints on the album but I gotta keep it 1,000,000 wit yall n acknowledge the fact that the song aint exactly change the world. Pretty much all the other tracks so far belong in the Smithsonian or Library of Congress or some shit…Dope as it is I feel kinda wrong givin it the same rating as shit like “Life’s A Bitch” n “One Love”…joints that really shifted the rotation of the planets in orbit in the rap solar system… which is the ONLY reason I gotta hang my head n give it 4-1/2 slaps.
Represent – I aint gon front. “NY State Of Mind” n “Memory Lane” both elevated the bar so high that the only reason this track aint considered one of the crown jewels of Illmatic is cuz theres like a minimum of 7 better joints on the album. So really its not that the song aint dope its jus less dope than the other ones. Illmatic dont got any weak links but usually this track n “One Time 4 Your Mind” gotta duke it out for that 8th best spot (cuz we dont count “The Genesis” as a song of course). Me personally…I prefer “One Time…”. The bars on this shit was still dope but nothin too complex or outstanding by the rest of the albums standards. One dope thing was how he brought his whole projects into the booth wit him tho. I love this shit but I gotta keep it all the way real wit yall n give it 4 slaps (by Illmatic standards).
It aint Hard To Tell – Nothin else that really needs to be said bout this joint. This was the first official single released from the album (since “Halftime” dropped as a single back in ’92) n it was a lot of high expectations put on Nas BECAUSE of how dope this single was. Large Professor outdid hisself on the production tip n cloaked my man Nas in summa the finest fabrics ever woven on the SP-1200. This is when he brought out the golden fleece n said AIGHT NOW YOU DO YA THING WIT THAT SHIT BABY PA. My man Extra P went n sampled the smoothest n most cool ass Michael Jackson track ever n flipped it on some rugged 90s jeep music shit. Whats fuckin wit that yo? Just Blaze declared the beat one of the three greatest of all time (incidentally “Lookin At The Front Door” by Main Source was another one of the three). Meanwhile young Nas took it to some cosmic plains n elevated his mental state for three 12 bar verses n left that shit “froze like her-on in ya nose”. I aint een gotta say it but this shit gets 5 slaps from me jus based off the historical significance alone yo.
So there yall have it… One of (if not the absolute) greatest hip hop albums of all time broken down to a science. I aint never gon forget the feelin I got from tearin off the plastic on that tape n throwin it in my box (that never ate tapes) n hearin these shits for the first time. Word is bond I still get chills forreal whenever I hear the intro to “NY State Of Mind”. No joke…I still let “The Genesis” play the whole way thru anytime I pop that CD in or put the needle on the record too. I been listenin to this shit like it jus dropped for 20 years now son. Those memories from the first time I heard it stay fresh in my mind to this day b. I remember where I was n who I was wit…I remember readin the liner notes n production credits over n over. I even remember what the clouds looked like that day. See thats the thing bout (dope) music… They say your sense of smell is the sense that triggers specific memories more so than any other sense…but for me when I hear certain songs its like a time machine namsayin. This album transports me back forreal. Thats what dope music can do. Its like a bookmark for moments…whether they good or bad. This wasnt a record full of hits n chart topping singles nahmean….but it was life music. Thats what keeps the shit timeless. It was sincere n honest. Son was 19-20 yrs old n had the aura of a 80 yr old bluesman. Nas never made a better or more significant album. Matter fact I dont think anybody ever made anything close to toppin this shit since. Its been a lot of dope n classic albums but its always gon be only one Illmatic.
Ayo I give this shit 10 Zeus Slaps outta 5
Son…when half ya album is contenders for the top 50 greatest rap songs ever n one joint might even be the greatest rap song OF ALL TIME (NY State Of Mind) that little perfect 5 outta 5 rating jus aint cuttin it.