By: John Kennedy
Let’s just get this out of the way: Nas’ debut album Illmatic was not only a flawless, stark portrait of life in New York City PJ’s, it was one of the most important albums ever. Unprecedented since Rakim eight years prior, the artist formerly known as Nasty Nas taught rap how to rap. He’s danced for the streets (“Made You Look”), backpackers (“Sly Fox”) and pop charts (“I Can”) with a ballerina’s grace, writes songs from unchartered perspectives that are greater than average rapper’s entire LPs (“I Gave You Power”) and shares thug tales via intricate innovation, whether with reverse chronology (“Rewind”) or shots of adrenaline (“One Mic”). Yet the unpackaging of those lyrical gifts are half the fun. The masterful writings of Nasir Jones offer metaphor, foreshadowing, visuals, outer and inner conflict, irony and sobering social analysis about the plight of brown people across the globe.
Common, rapper and collaborator says:
“I recognized Nas being genius when I heard him rap over some Large Professor beats on Stretch [Armstrong] and Bobbito [Garcia’s] show; some ended up being on Illmatic. The imagery he created with words put me in the mind-set of a James Baldwin or Maya Angelou, poets that I’d read to get inspired by. His storytelling is phenomenal. I’ve never heard anyone capture the essence of the ghetto and bring elevation and intelligence, and make it sound great. He led a generation of rappers that weren’t rapping like that until they heard him—including me.”