It feels like yesterday when Illmatic was the buzzing album circulating the bootleg market everywhere from Corona to Compton…
Ah, who am I kidding? I was just a wide-eyed kid from Queens—the same nine years of age as Nas on the LP’s iconic cover—who was forever moved after seeing “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” on Yo! MTV Raps. And while it’s been a double decade since those Nasty Nas days, it’s always fun to look back. Because nostalgia. So take a trip down memory lane with this first VIBE piece on Nas: a NEXT story from the April 1994 issue that accurately describes the forever illness of Illmatic. (Major props to Da Ghetto Communicator, wherever you are.) —John Kennedy
Queens B-boy brings back the Bridge
As vultures, rapists, and savages from major corporations worldwide swarm around the mentally dead sea of what would-be, studio-invented industry rappers, greedily searching for a new morsel to tame their perverted taste buds, a genuine lyrical B-boy by the name of Nas (formerly Nasty Nas) has emerged from behind the intellectual clouds left by weak artists, faked funk, and wasted radio airtime. Illmatic, his debut album for Columbia, is sending shock waves throughout the hip-hop world, while pretenders stand still, trying to catch the beat and wondering which step they missed.
The album’s concept is basically a reality storybook, Nas explains. It’s a vivid collage of memories (anger, death, family, love, frustration, fun, pain), twisted visions of ghetto glamour, and the revelations of a black man engrossed in a Buddha-haze meditation. Hailing from the historic Queensbridge Community Projects, Nas was “just another shorty around the way,” doing the electric boogie as the blastmaster KRS-One (of Boogie Down Productions) led his South Bronx troopers over the airwaves and waged war on M.C. Shan, Marley Marl, and the Juice Crew, bringing sudden death to the Queensbridge hip-hop movement. Now, a decade later, careers have ended, lifestyles have changed, lessons have been learned, and petty neighborhood battles have been forgotten. Hip-hop culture is being attacked as a whole, and the youths who witnessed the battles have trained themselves for war.
With the resurrection of hip hop from the halls of the Queensbridge projects, artists such as Tragedy (Intelligent Hoodlum) and Mobb Deep have managed to make a name for themselves, but the Nas album stands out due to his lyrical agility, his creative equilibrium, and his carefully selected musical production scientists. In the background, you can hear the soulfulness of DJ Premier (from Gang Starr), Pete Rock, Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest), the Large Professor (formerly from Main Source), and L.E.S. Also making a guest appearance on Illmatic is Nas’s home-boy Babyface A.Z. and Nas has his father, Olu Dara, playing a mellow trumpet in the background for that jazzy over-ground feel.
Although this is Nas’s first album, he left a permanent scar on the hip-hop underground with the classic Main Source album, Breaking Atoms, which set 1990 on its ear. Representing alongside Akinyele, Joe Fatal, and the Large Professor on a masta jam titled “Live at the BBQ,” Nas freestyled like a born hustler gone sick and snatched the opportunity to do a cut on the Zebrahead soundtrack in the fall of ’92. The movie flopped, but the jam “Halftime” created a niche that only Illmatic could fill.
Nas was born into a mass-market of physical music, and the energy of hip hop expands from his soul. Nas is not a preacher but a survivor delivering the viewpoints of a real brother trying to make it in the music industry, where people get paid to fake it. Real hip-hop lovers know the genesis of Nas is to be witnessed, for his lyrical style and innovation will play an important role in the evolution of modern hip hop. —Da Ghetto Communicator