April 13, 2007

Nas - Illmatic (April 19, 1994)

Holy shit, this album is thirteen years old. I don't mean to make readers of this blog feel like elder statesmen; it's just amazing to me, in this day and age, that a hip hop artist made his debut thirteen years ago and is still culturally relevant. I can only hope the same thing doesn't happen with Dem Franchise Boyz.

Illmatic is the debut album from Nasir Jones, and is generally considered to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. (It irks me that it's never referred to as one of the greatest albums of all time; they always have to add a fucking qualifier.) Nas was signed to Coulmbia Records on the strength of his contribution to Main Source's "Live At The Barbecue", and Main Source's Large Professor returns the favor by producing three songs here, along with L.E.S. (best known now for producing Jay-Z and Nas's "Black Republicans"), DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip. What followed was a cohesive album that still holds up today, even if loving bitches with beepers is so 1994.

You'll notice that my write-up is shorter than usual, and the reason is simple: the album has only ten tracks. That's right, there isn't any room for filler. This is in direct contrast to all of his albums following, which are as bloated as a beached whale, and about half as appealing.

Also, I'm fucking tired.

Rap album intro. With only ten tracks, why would you need to waste one on an intro?

Primo provides the soundscape for a fucking brilliant song. A master's piece.

AZ is the only guest on this album, and he only has one verse. (Nas's father Olu Dara also plays the trumpet on here.) However, I can't believe they let the term "money-orientated" make the album. Hip hop isn't known for its proper grammar, but come on...

You get a thumbs up if you know what the title is referencing. This song is better known as the song Jay-Z sampled for "Dead Presidents". Both songs are good in their own way.

Large Professor produces the lessor songs on this album. This would be one of them.

Primo again. Need I say more? What do you mean, I do?

Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest provides the track, and Nas provides a letter to one of his locked-up soldiers. Cormega's name is mentioned here somewhere, so at least he can tell that story to his grandkids. (It probably sounds better than the story about being kicked out of The Firm.)

(Insert Large Professor-produced weaker song here)

Primo + Nas = crazy delicious.

LP again, but this song is pretty good, if you can look past the "Human Nature" sample.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Illmatic still lives up to its hype. It is a fucking brilliant album, one that you can actually listen to all the way through without getting up to throw the disc into oncoming traffic. (Side note: in 2004, in celebration of its ten-year anniversary, Columbia re-released Illmatic with a second disc of bonus songs, most of them remixes of Illmatic tracks. I'm not reviewing the second disc, as I don't have the re-release, but the songs can be found online pretty easily.)

BUY OR BURN? Just because Nas is the guy who said "Hip hop is dead" doesn't mean you shouldn't support good music. BUY THIS ALBUM. If you can find the original version, pick it up; the re-release doesn't have anything special that you need in your life.

BEST TRACKS: "N.Y. State Of Mind"; "Represent"; "The World Is Yours"


Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown, and Nature Present The Firm: The Album


  1. Ha, before I read this, I had never realized that there was anything wrong with orientated. I've listened to that so many times and never noticed it. Damn I feel dumb.

  2. Back in late '93, we bootlegged our bootleg copies of this masterpiece (still got it in my basement). A lot of those joints were the demo cuts that didn't make the album. The tape was filled with static and we bumped it like crazy! Then about 20 of us (for real) went to the record store at the 'moment' the cashier lady pulled it out of the box and copped it! It's still brilliant today and will always be head and shoulders above every Jay-Z release combined!

  3. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessFebruary 08, 2008

    Unparalleled brilliance. Better than Sgt. Pepper's, Blonde On Blonde, Exile On Main Street or anything else people have boners for. The greatest album of all time.

  4. Man there are no weak tracks on this album. Halftime is a Killer track. Come on man. Step back and admit you're being a bit hasty now.

  5. AnonymousMay 01, 2008

    Well grammar wise what the hell is a minstrel cycle? A bike a minstrel rides or a misunderstood pronunciation of menstrual cycles??? Has irked me for years with a...no he didn't?!?

  6. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessMay 19, 2008

    The other mistake on Illmatic is also on It Ain't Hard To Tell when Nas says, "You're still a soldier/ I'm like Sly Stone in Cobra." Unless he's saying he's seen so much ill shit that even in a setting as chaotic as the Sylvester Stallone movie Cobra, his inclination would be to kick back and relax with the Family Stone. I don't think he's saying that. Still,
    BEST ALBUM EVAR!!!!111!!!ONE!1!!11!!

  7. There is no way that this shit is not the best rap album of all time, the only song on this that i dont hold in the highest reguard is one time 4 your mind (and the intro). This shit still sounds as fresh as it did 14 years ago.

  8. best album all-time. I have to listen to the intro everytime, cuz it just feels like too much of a good thing to go straight in.

  9. even one time 4 your mind is classic....this has no fillers that for sure, one of the few albums that i can throw up and enjoy anywhere, anytime. essential to your music collection+ipod

  10. Best album in hip hop history in my opinion. Still remember the day I first listened to it and can still listen to it today like it was the first time..

  11. Come on! What the hell, the large Prof tracks are also incredible; "A-capella rhymes will make me richer than a slipper made cinderella fella". Raw.
    Aaand, what's wrong with "orientated"? Orientated is perfectly acceptable isn't it? "Orient" and "Orientate" are both words aren't they? And they have the same origins. I DEMAND YOU CORRECT THIS OR I'LL SHIT UNDER YOUR PILLOW AND YOU'LL FIND IT HARD TO SLEEP.

    Seriously though, your blog is awesome, I tend to find we agree on a lot of the same things so I like to use it to look for new artists. For instance; Artifacts, awesome.

  12. Every song is spectacular.. it's hard to pick a favorite but clearly to me is "One Love" i seriously think Q-Tip made a beautiful touch while Nas creates a great story.. starts off well w/ ny state of mind another great story.. i felt the album was just made of many great stories and i think that's why nas maybe slick rick's favorite emcee.. Definitley nas' best work (see rolling stones 500 greates albums of all-time) i don't think u can go wrong w/ any track on here, a spectacular piece here..

  13. In the review for "The World is Yours" you say, "You get a thumbs up if you know what the title is referencing." I guess it's a thumbs down for me..but what is the title referencing?

  14. I think you should be in a better mood while writing. The review is tired as fuck.

  15. to, the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusiness:

    The line "im like sly stone in cobra" means hes like the main character in the movie Cobra which is play by sylvester stallone, and the character is supposed to be a tuff badass soldier type guy which is what nas is referring himeslef too

    BTW Life's a Bitch id have to say is my favorite

  16. he probably meant to say sly stallone, and it should be money oriented

  17. Man you have no idea what you are talkin about. I cannot believe that you can even attempt to call yourself a hip hop fan while writing this unbelievably shitty review. You have to be shitting me saying that the Large Professor songs are weak...damn! Halftime and One Time For Your Mind are two of the best hip hop songs of all time. I honestly don't think you know anything about nas or this era of hip hop. This is a LYRICAL album...they got spare, tight beats that can emphasize the rhymes, and no songs on the album did it better than LP's tracks. If you can't recognize that then you have no business writing hip hop reviews.

  18. "closed my eyes like i was sleep"
    always got me, smarten up, nas.

  19. "Halftime" and "One Time for Your Mind" are weak?? C'mon man, now you're just being picky. Those two tracks may not be the best, but they're still really fucking good. On any other album you'd say those songs are the shit because there weren't many other brilliant songs on it like Illmatic. That's what makes Illmatic the greatest hip-hop album ever created. There are no fillers, (except for the intro), and it's just flawless across the board. Great blog though dude, really enjoy reading some of this stuff

  20. A truly awesome album, but... the greatest hip-hop album ever created? Rap Bible? What the fuck? Maybe not 'The Infamous' or 'The Chronic', but what about debuts of Wu-Tang, GZA, Raekwon, 'Paid In Full', and, maybe most importantly, 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back'? Plus I have no idea who compared Nas to Rakim based on 'Illmatic'.

    Like I said, it's a truly great album, but it's not perfect, and I think most people are just told so and blindly suck at Illmatic's scrotum. It's not like it's a fucking eighth wonder, many people are overrating it (mildly, though).

    PS. Even if Illmatic is a tie with afore-mentioned titles, let's just say - it's 39 minutes of classic music versus ~an hour of classic music...

  21. ^ Word. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is probably the greatest hip-hop album ever. Max, get your ass on that shit :>

  22. world is yours... scarface, right?

  23. What the hell, Max? You said it yourself, this a fucking brilliant album, so why is it that you spent less time and words on it than on a Curtis Jackson album? This was pretty half assed.

    1. I wrote this review over five years ago, when I was first getting my feet wet. All of the reviews from back then (save for the few that I've touched up a bit - guess which ones!) are this short. It's like comparing peanut butter and wax crayons: technically, both are edible, but...

  24. Yeah, this is a pretty awful review. Halftime weak? It's an absolute fucking classic, period. Spending most of the time talking about a grammar mistake whilst reviewing Life's a Bitch? I'm not sure how you managed to do that and then actually move on to the next song content. Needs a retrospective review imo cause your reviews have picked up heaps since then.

  25. "...along with L.E.S. (best known now for producing Jay-Z and Nas's "Black Republicans")..."

    damn shame, since 1994 LES is always best known for Life's A Bitch, this track settled careers both for him and AZ.

  26. Hey Max, by any chance could you review the Pre-Illmatic demo tape?

    1. You mean this one that a reader submitted a while back?


    2. AnonymousMay 04, 2013

      Oh thanks!

  27. I think you were really too harsh on the Large Professor beats on here. halftime is a great song!!