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Nas & iLLmatic

“THROWBACK REWIND SERIES”

Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones aka Nasir, Aka Nas Escobar, aka Esco, Aka Gods Son, aka Streets Disciple, aka Nasty Nas, or simply Nas is an artist that has stood the test of time. Since his arrival on the rap scene in 1991 on Main Source’s debut album “Breaking Atoms” lead track “Live At the Barbeque”,  Nas has built a collection of classic tracks with top-notch lyricism and a music discography that few artist can match. Nasir’s 1994 debut album iLLmatic was an anomaly of sorts to many rap fans. Looking back during that era many hip hop fans wondered how a baby-faced 20-year-old could craft such vivid rhymes, while lyrically painting Vincent Van Gogh like pictures of New York Street Life with such detail. At an early age Nas lyrical dexterity drew comparisons to artists to Legends like Queens Bridge’s Kool G Rap and NY City Rakim.

In Nas’s magnum opus iLLMatic, the mc shows in a dense 9 song album offering enough quotables to fill 2-3 albums of most artist today. On the albums 1st song  “N.Y State of Mind” Nas creates a vivid narrative of his street environment. On the menacing DJ Premier produced track, Nas raps…

I got so many rhymes I don’t think I’m too sane
Life is parallel to Hell but I must maintain
and be prosperous, though we live dangerous
cops could just arrest me, blamin us, we’re held like hostages
It’s only right that I was born to use mics
and the stuff that I write, is even tougher than dykes
I’m takin rappers to a new plateau, through rap slow
My rhymin is a vitamin, held without a capsule
The smooth criminal on beat breaks
Never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes
The city never sleeps, full of villians and creeps
That’s where I learned to do my hustle had to scuffle with freaks
I’ma addict for sneakers, twenties of buddah and bitches with beepers
In the streets I can greet ya, about blunts I teach ya
Inhale deep like the words of my breath
I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death
I lay puzzle as I backtrack to earlier times
Nothing’s equivalent, to the new york state of mind

On the follow-up track “Life’s a B***” Nas shows his prowess as an mc when he takes a simple thought and uses his verses to enhance his message with quality bars, versus the lazy simple rhymes used by many of todays mainstream artist. Some might think its unnecessary or showing off a bit, but that’s just Nas; as he raps….

“I woke up early on my born day, I’m twenty years of blessing
The essence of adolescent leaves my body now I’m fresh in
My physical frame is celebrated cause I made it
One quarter through life some God-ly like thing created
Got rhymes 365 days annual plus some
Load up the mic and bust one, cuss while I puffs from
my skull cause it’s pain in my brain vein money maintain
Don’t go against the grain simple and plain
When I was young at this I used to do my thing hard
Robbin foreigners take they wallets they jewels and rip they green cards
Dipped to the projects flashin my quick cash
and got my first piece of ass smokin blunts with hash
Now it’s all about cash in abundance, niggaz I used to run with
is rich or doin years in the hundreds
I switched my motto — instead of sayin fuck tomorrow
That buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto
Once I stood on the block, loose cracks produce stacks
I cooked up and cut small pieces to get my loot back
Time is Illmatic keep static like wool fabric
Pack a four-matic that crack your whole cabbage

One of the top tracks on the album is the Pete Rock produced “The World Is Yours”, where Nas raps….

Dwellin in the Rotten Apple, you get tackled
Or caught by the devil’s lasso, shit is a hassle
There’s no days, for broke days, we sell it, smoke pays
While all the old folks pray, to Je-sus’ soakin they sins in trays
of holy water, odds against Nas are slaughter
Thinkin a word best describin my life, to name my daughter
My strength, my son, the star, will be my resurrection
Born in correction all the wrong shit I did, he’ll lead a right direction”

As your starting to tell Nasir holds nothing back as he delves deep into the mental state of his NY State of Mind, using his dense lyrics to depict the roller coaster lifestyle of the inner city. Track for track it’s almost as if the chemistry between Nas and his hand full of iLLmatic’s producers were meant to come together for this occasion. In 2012 some of the backdrops may sound a little dated however compared to iLLmatics hiphop peers of the early 90’s and prior, the roll call of DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, among others were the A-List producers in hiphop during that period.

There was a time in rap when you couldn’t get any real respect  among the people and your peers if you didn’t take your craft seriously. As far as your rep as an mc It was always more about who was more lyrical inclined and could out do the next man bar for bar. Nas doesnt hesitate to impress in that regard on another standout track produced by DJ Premier “Memory Lane”, Nas raps…

My pen taps the paper then my brain’s blank
I see dark streets, hustlin brothers who keep the same rank
Pumpin for somethin, some uprise, plus some fail
Judges hangin niggaz, uncorrect bails, for direct sales
My intellect prevails from a hangin cross with nails
I reinforce the frail, with lyrics that’s real
Word to Christ, a disciple of streets, trifle on beats
I decifer prophecies through a mic and say peace.
I hung around the older crews while they sling smack to dingbats
They spoke of Fat Cat, that nigga’s name made bell rings, black
Some fiends scream, about Supreme Team, a Jamaica Queens thing
Uptown was Alpo, son, heard he was kingpin, yo
Fuck ‘rap is real’, watch the herbs stand still
Never talkin to snakes cause the words of man kill
True in the game, as long as blood is blue in my veins
I pour my Heineken brew to my deceased crew on memory lane”

The albums closeout track ends this classic album where it began, with a 20 yr old Nasir Jones flexing his lyrical muscles over a head nodding beat, this time over the Large Professor produced “It Aint Hard To Tell”. On the three verse verbal exercise Nas raps…

“This rhythmatic explosion, is what your frame of mind has chosen
I’ll leave your brain stimulated, niggaz is frozen
Speak with criminal slang, begin like a violin
End like Leviathan, it’s deep well let me try again
Wisdom be leakin out my grapefruit troop
I dominate break loops, givin mics men-e-straul cycles
Street’s disciple, I rock beats that’s mega trifle
And groovy but smoother than moves by Villanova
You’re still a soldier, I’m like Sly Stone in Cobra
Packin like a rasta in the weed spot
Vocals’ll squeeze glocks, MC’s eavesdrop
Though they need not to sneak
My poetry’s deep, I never fell
Nas’s raps should be locked in a cell
It ain’t hard to tell

In many ways Nas’s 1994 debut album iLLmatic was a landmark album in hiphop and specifically gritty New york rap. During the years of 1988-1992 the West Coast was picking up steam and arguably becoming the front runner of popular urban rap music nationwide. The impact of the West Coast during that time was mainly due to a string of hits from Dr. Dre and affiliates. Illmatic’s release re-ignited a spark among east coast rap and one could arguably say that iLLmatic was among the leaders in a string of classic hip hop music released between 1994-1996. Although iLLmatic didn’t sell well initially, since its release the album has lyrically stood the test of time and from top to bottom is on par or greater than many of the greatest rap albums of all time.  #HaitianJack

Score:  iLLmatic  (Released 1994)

Bars:XXL    Beats:XXL   Music: XXL    Report Card: A+(classic)

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