In my late twenties, my music buying plummeted drastically for two reasons. The city I lived in no longer had a second-hand record store, while I got married and we bought a house together limiting my disposable income. I did still pick up some CDs sometimes – I scoured the bargain bins at the local department store, while my work was a block away from the local pawn shop. I snagged some good albums from that shop, often for a few dollars – one of my favourites was Nas’ Illmatic.
Twenty year old Nas released one of the most critically acclaimed hip hop albums of all time with his debut Illmatic. It was recorded in New York, and along with contemporary releases from The Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Depp, the period was known as the East Coast Renaissance.
Illmatic is structured like a rock album – a tight ten-track, forty-minute record that eschews the skits and long running times of 1990s hip hop. With its realistic portraits of street life in New York and lack of glamour, it’s a natural hip hop album for rock fans to gravitate towards, and it’s not surprising that it’s a fixture of best album of all time lists.
Nas is the son of trumpeter Olu Dara Jones, who plays the cornet on ‘Life’s A Bitch’. Nas is also accompanied by AZ, and the pair deliver memorable and nihilistic lines like “And my mentality is money-orientated/I’m destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it.”‘The World Is Yours’ provides a note of optimism on a streetwise, realistic record. Nas wrote the lyrics for ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ in the studio during the recording session, but it was later featured in the Norton Anthology of African American Literature.
Illmatic is generally regarded as one of the best hip hop records of all time, and I’m not going to disagree.