17 Years of Illmatic

17 years ago to the day, Nas dropped my favorite album of all-time. Hands down. Across all genres. The thing is, I was like 9 at the time, so I had no idea. Growing up in an era where The Source still kind of mattered, I heard about Illmatic repeatedly because it had earned the coveted 5 Mic rating, back when that shit actually meant something. While I had heard Illmatic, I didn’t own it until I was like 14. I’m a firm believer in the notion that you never truly “hear” an album until you listen to it straight through at least twice, and I couldn’t put Illmatic down. This album had a huge impact on me as a youth, from the relationship between Nas’ rhyme scheme and the actual meaning of his words, all the way to the vivid imagery in his stories. I really felt like I was right there on the park bench with Nas, witnessing it all go down.

The truly amazing part about Illmatic is that if you exclude the intro, it’s only 9 tracks. All in all, it’s 40 minutes of brilliance, with “One Time 4 Your Mind” being the lone song that’s weaker than the rest. It’s not a bad song either, it’s just a weed-smoking song and not as good as the other 8 tracks. “Halftime” had already been out for a couple of years, appearing on the soundtrack to Zebrahead and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”-a perfect ending to the album-is arguably the most popular song on the album aside from the Q-Tip produced “One Love”. Laden with Scarface overtones, the Pete Rock produced “The World Is Yours” was an anthem for kids with big dreams, and the remix is what lazy summer days are all about. AZ stole the show from Nas on “Life’s A Bitch”, but it wasn’t a matter of Nasir’s verses being weak, more like Sosa’s being that good. Finally, my favorite song of all-time, without question is “Memory Lane”. I was sold after the opening notes of this track, another mid-90’s DJ Premier masterpiece. Aside from the beat, which takes you away to another world, Nas flawlessly walks you through his neighborhood with detailed lyrics. It’s a song I can listen to 15 times in a row.

Some people view Nas as an underachiever for not being able to duplicate Illmatic, but he set the bar pretty high with his first effort. Illmatic was his life from birth to age 20, he probably had no idea what he was doing when was scribbling down lyrics for what would become not only a landmark album for East Coast hip-hop, but the whole goddamn genre. Conversely, I know people that think It Was Written was far superior to Illmatic and even some folks who think Illmatic is wack. However you may feel, this is one of the most important albums of all-time and it’s not something that Nas can duplicate because he can’t live the first 20 years of his live over again. We can all re-live the magic of this album though, as it really hasn’t lost any of its magic over the years. My Illmatic CD case is cracked, and the inner-booklet is so worn that it looks like I bought the album the day it came out in ’94. The music is still fresh though…


  1. Insert Biggies Source Awards acceptance speech.

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  3. […] into the game in totally different ways. Nas was crowned a hip-hop messiah at 17, and produced a debut album that could never be duplicated. Jay-Z was shitted on for years, and didn’t really blow up […]

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