Illmatic – Nas

Released April 19, 1994 this is Nas’ debut album. It landed at #12 on the charts and sold 94,000 copies in its first week. It initially fell well below expectations for sales despite critical praise. Since then it has been recognized by writers and critics as a landmark album in East Coast hip hop and has influenced countless recording artists and started a revival of the New York rap scene. As of 2019 it has sold over 2 million copies in the U.S.

Jason: Okay, Nas. I don’t know any songs by him, I don’t think. This album didn’t ring any bells.

Brad: I feel like you may have heard a couple of these songs before. Like “Life’s A Bitch” or “The World Is Yours”.

Jason: Maaaaaaaybe? I recognized the Michael Jackson sample in “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”. Does that count? Had you listened to this before? 

Brad: I haven’t listened to it a lot but I’ve listened to it before. In fact, I saw him perform this entire album at Lollapalooza 2014 which was the 20th anniversary of its release. 

Jason: Was it good?

Brad: I remember liking it. I think he’s a really talented rapper. I like his delivery. However, I’m not as familiar with his songs/lyrics and sometimes it is difficult to understand or hear hip hop lyrics very well at concerts. You almost have to know the lyrics in advance to fully enjoy it. 

Jason: I listened to this album a few times and I realized that I don’t really pay attention to rap lyrics. I just zone out and listen to the music. And then my brain snaps to attention whenever I hear “faggot” which, of course, he says a few times. 

Brad: Yeah, once again, those 90s rap lyrics don’t always age well. I only recall him saying that on the song “Halftime”. I will say, I do give him credit for no longer saying “faggot” when he performs that song live. I think he omits that entire line now. If only Eminem would learn and grow too. 

Jason: I think it is that one time in that one song. I kind of like his rap style. He’s not my favorite rapper (Not sure who that would be: Snoop? Missy Elliott? Q-Tip in the Dee-lite song?) Who is that one rapper that I like?

Brad: You always love Q-Tip in every song he’s in.

Jason: Yes him and Big Freedia too. Before this I knew nothing about Nas. Not his real name (Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones), not his age (46) not a single song. Not what he looks like, nothing and after this I can’t say that I know that much more about him either but I do feel like his raps are more personal.

Brad: Well, I do like that he is more of a storyteller in his songs. He seems to be painting a vivid picture of the world around him. Although, I’m not always in the mood for that style of hip-hop. I tend to respond more to hip-hop that has dance-y beats and sung choruses. I’m sure me saying that would make rap purists cringe but that is what I like. It is interesting to hear the difference in the style between East Coast (Nas) and West Coast (Dr. Dre).  

Jason: Oh! That might be why this list put them back-to-back. I hadn’t considered that. Explain East v. West style to me. 

Brad: Not necessarily something that I can describe very well. There just seems to be more storytelling in the East Coast rap and West Coast rap tends to be more aggressive and sometimes violent. But I’m by no means an expert on either.

Jason: I am going to pick a side: East Coast. So now what rappers would I have a beef with from the West Coast? 

Brad: You would have a beef with Tupac for sure. Especially, when he was dating Madonna.

Jason: Well he’s dead so who cares. Would Nikki Minaj say “Jason, what’s good!?”

Brad: Well, she’s also East Coast but I don’t think the East Coast vs. West Coast rivalries are as big a deal now as they were in the 90s.

Jason: That’s good/too bad. Anyway, back to this album….I don’t have much else to say. It’s fine. I didn’t hate it. I liked it better than Dr. Dre’s from last week. I am ready to move on.

Brad: Do you feel like you are broadening your rap horizons?

Jason: I suppose so. Were I to pick one of the songs on this album to listen to repeatedly, I would pick “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”. How about you?

Brad: Maybe “One Love” with Q-Tip?

Jason: OH! You know what I DO Like about this album? No skits!

Brad: The first song is kind of a skit but it doesn’t bother me.

Jason: It’s very subtle. I wouldn’t count it as a skit per se.

Brad: What grade would you give this one?

Jason: B+. Because I do find it listenable and also I like the storytelling aspect. It’s a good rap debut album because in my limited knowledge of rap, it feels like it is trying something new.

Brad: That’s higher than I would have expected from you. I think I’ll give it a B. I appreciate it more than I enjoy it. 

Jason: Next up is something completely different. Bon Jovi! I am already preparing my puns.

Brad: Great.

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Below is the scratch-off artwork from the 100 Bucket List poster.