Illmatic is 10 songs (one will likely point out that The Genesis is an intro and not a song). Illmatic is 39 minutes and 51 seconds long. Illmatic is great. Illmatic is the first album Nas released and his best work. Illmatic is what hip hop purist love. Illmatic is so many things and today Illmatic is 25. I didn’t listen to this album when it was released in 1994. There’s no way I would’ve truly appreciated it. I do remember the first time I listened to it though. It was 10 years or so after it was released. I was blown away immediately. From the first song to the last.
The production on Illmatic features some of the top names in the game. And none of them disappointed. Classic samples that gave inspiration to some timeless beats. Only thing left was for – the then 19-20 year old – Nas to provide lyricism that most dream about. N.Y. State of Mind comes on and you know it’s flames as soon as you hear those drums. Then the bass and piano hit you in the chest and before you have time to recover…AZ drops the best verse on the album on Life’s a Bitch. The song samples Yearning for Your Love by The Gap Band. Both emcees spit about this thing we call “life” and how we all gotta go at some point. So why not get the most out of it despite all the obstacles in your way. Nas then goes on to tell us the world is yours. 4 minutes and 50 seconds of Nas and Pete Rock. Like man, Pete Rock comes through with the scratches on top of Nas’ rapping skills. Superb to say the least. That 3 song run leads to a much needed break as Nas gives us Halftime. Halftime is like the ultimate New York hip hop song. That hard slamming beat with the horns sprinkled in.
The second half of the album kicks off with Memory Lane. Nas gives us a track where he reminisices and takes us back to Queensbridge. This song is so soulful thanks in part to the samples of We’re in Love by Reuben Wilson and Get Out of My Life, Woman by Allen Toussaint. Q-Tip joins Nas on One Love. Nas “writes” a letter to a friend that’s locked up in jail. Nas let’s his friend know about everything going on in the hood. He ends the song rapping about a 12 year old that’s already succomb to the environment around him. This song highlights Nas’ ability to tell stories through song. One Time 4 Your Mind gets back into the classic New York groove as Large Professor returns on the production for this one. Represent is follows another classic arch for rap songs. This braggadocious track pays homage to Nas’ love for the finer things in life and those that he has respect for. From Queensbridge emcees, hustlers and everyone inbetween. The album ends with It Ain’t Hard to Tell. A song that noticably features a sample of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature. On this one, Nas tells us how great his flow is and compares it to a slew of things. The perfect way to end a great album.
The genesis of the rap game told us that we needed a New York state of mind
And that even though life’s a bitch the world is yours
Never hesitate to take a halftime break for a trip down memory lane
And always cherish the moments you spend with the ones you love
Never be afraid to speak one time for your mind while you represent
For that’s Illmatic and it ain’t hard to tell
Thank You Nas