It drops deep as it does in my breath
I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death
Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined
I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind"
April 19th, 1994. The birth of one of the most celebrated hip-hop albums. The album cover shows Nas as a child with the projects behind him, is often regarded as one of the greatest covers of all time. I often remember that afternoon when one of my cousin’s friends played it for us and at the time, I didn’t even know what I was listening to. He was spitting about life experiences at his young age. For years, this album was often debated about its impact on the hip-hop culture. Is it the best debut album by a hip-hop artist? Is this the best album of Nas’ career? Commercial impact? This album only sold 59k in its first week and only has gone platinum. The low sales was attributed to bootlegging. But album reviews from critics were rave (The Source gave it 5 mics.) So I’m going to run through this album and offer my thoughts on this great album.
1. “The Genesis“: The beginning, the ground level of this album as Nas talks with his brother, Jungle and AZ. There’s a sample from the movie, Wild Style and also you hear Nas’ spitting his verse from Main Source’s “Live At The Barbeque“. “Niggas don’t listen man, representin’ it’s Illmatic”
2. “N.Y. State of Mind“: “Rappers, I monkey flip ‘em with the funky rhythm I be kickin/Musician, inflictin’ composition/Of pain; I’m like Scarface sniffin cocaine/Holding an M-16, see with the pen I’m extreme, now“. Nas rapping over DJ Premier’s production was one of the most wonder sounds that hit our ears. Nas gave listeners a glimpse into what goes on in New York City at that time. Then when Nas dropped these bars at the end of the first verse (“It drops deep as it does in my breath/I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death/Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined/I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind“), I was like damn this shit is crazy dope. Another dope line from this record is “The smooth criminal on beat breaks/Never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes“.
3. “Life’s a Bitch“: What I like most about this track is The Gap Band sample of “Yearning For Your Love“. This is the track that nabbed AZ a record deal. The first two bars of AZ’s verse were fire (“Visualizing the realism of life in actuality/Fuck who’s the baddest, a person’s status depends on salary/And my mentality is money-orientated/I’m destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it“) Then the hook was one of the most repeated at the time (“Life’s a bitch and then you die/That’s why we get high/Cause you never know when you’re gonna go“) Nas’ verse was about reflecting whenever I listen to it (“Got my first piece of ass smokin blunts with hash/Now it’s all about cash in abundance/Niggas I used to run with is rich or doing years in the hundreds/I switched my motto; instead of saying “fuck tomorrow”/That buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto”) Just incredible that this song is still dope twenty years later. Nas’ father Olu Dara is playing the trumpet on the outro of the record. Timeless music here.
4. “The World Is Yours“: “I sip the Dom P, watching Gandhi til I’m charged/Then writing in my book of rhymes, all the words past the margin” Hearing this reminds me of when I write and when you’re feeling it, the words just goes beyond the margin. Years later, some lines within this first verse would be used in later songs. “Understandable smooth shit that murderers move with/The thief’s theme – play me at night, they won’t act right” was used in 2004′s “Thief’s Theme” and “I’m out for presidents to represent me (say what?)/I’m out for dead presidents to represent me” was sampled on Jay-Z’s “Dead President’s II“, which would be used as fuel as the beef between the two artists years later. The third verse was famous for the reference of Mike Tyson’s rape conviction in 1992. (“And I’m amped up, they locked the champ up, even my brain’s in handcuffs/Headed for Indiana, stabbing women like the Phantom“) Pete Rock’s jazz like production makes this one that you can vibe out to on a chill night.
5. “Halftime“: This track was actually featured in the movie Zebrahead back in 1992. Nas’ flow here was different than was popular from other rappers during that year. (“Back in ’83 I was an MC sparkin’/But I was too scared to grab the mics in the parks and/Kick my little raps cause I thought niggas wouldn’t understand/And now in every jam I’m the fuckin’ man/I rap in front of more niggas than in the slave ships“)
6. “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park)“: Man Nas got off on this track and DJ Premier’s laid back production… BRUH!!!! Nas talking about the old days on this record. (“I hung around the older crews while they sling smack to dingbats/They spoke of Fat Cat, that nigga’s name made bell rings, black/Some fiends scream, about Supreme Team, a Jamaica Queens thing/Uptown was Alpo, son, heard he was kingpin, yo/Fuck “rap is real”, watch the herbs stand still/Never talking to snakes cause the words of man kill”) You could learn game from the older ones while growing up as a shorty and that’s what Nas alluded to towards the end of that verse.
7. “One Love“: I didn’t know at the time that Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest was producer as well. Nas on this track is penning a letter to a friend that’s locked up and he’s talking about what’s going on in the neighborhood. (“But yo, guess who got shot in the dome-piece?/Jerome’s niece, on her way home from Jones Beach/It’s bugged, plus little Rob is selling drugs on the dime/Hanging out with young thugs that all carry nines/And night time is more trife than ever/What up with Cormega, did you see him, are y’all together?/If so then hold the fort down, represent to the fullest“) The last verse on this track was acted out in the movie, Belly.
8. “One Time 4 Your Mind“: Listening to Large Professor’s production here makes me miss how the music and rhymes meshed in the 90′s. (“Right, right, what up niggas, how y’all? It’s Nasty, the villain/I’m still writing rhymes, but besides that I’m chillin’/I’m trying to get this money, God, you know the hard times, kid/Shit, cold be starving make you wanna do crimes kid/But I’mma lamp, cause a crime couldn’t beat a rhyme“)
9. “Represent“: Nas takes it back to Queensbridge on this track. From what Nas spits on this track, it’s not a walk in the park. (“Straight up shit is real and any day could be your last in the jungle/Get murdered on a humble, guns’ll blast, niggas tumble/The corners is the hot spot, full of mad criminals/Who don’t care, guzzling beers, we all stare/At the out-of-towners, they better break North/Before we get the four pounders and take their face off“)
10. “It Ain’t Hard to Tell“: If I had one to chose one song from Illmatic that I absolutely fucked with, it would be this track. Armed with production from Large Professor (who samples Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature“), it was just a great way to end the album. (“This rhythmatic explosion is what your frame of mind has chosen/I’ll leave your brain stimulated, niggas is frozen/Speak with criminal slang, begin like a violin/End like Leviathan, it’s deep, well let me try again/Wisdom be leaking out my grapefruit, troop/I dominate break loops, giving mics men-e-strual cycles“)
Ten tracks from an album that help defined an era of the 90′s. Twenty years later, it’s no denying that Illmatic is a classic album. Today’s music is unfairly given that title but once you reach this landmark, you can fairly assess that album deserves to be mentioned among the greats. If you ask the majority of hip-hop heads from the 90′s, this album would be mentioned as one that was a must have in your collection. Pay homage to the great.
Five thoughts for the middle of the week. Let’s get this cracking.
1. Jameis Winston Investigation: The New York Times has an article published discussing the failed investigation of a rape allegation involving the Florida State quarterback. The article talks about how the Tallahassee Police Department didn’t conduct a full investigation into the matter and that new key points were found in the NYT investigation. There’s also a detailed outline of events surrounding the allegations. Reading the article, these are some serious allegations made against Winston.
2. Jay-Z and Beyonce Set To Tour This Summer?: Page Six announced that The Carter’s will be embarking on 20 city stadium tour that will kick off in late June. Now while it hasn’t been announced yet, the talk of these two gracing the stage together has fan talking. I’m sure those tickets will run those pockets so start saving.
3. Illmatic Turns Twenty: One of the most celebrated albums in hip-hop history turns twenty this weekend. Nas and his fans have been discussing the impact this album since dropping in ’94. I’ll be sure to have something written up on this album by the weekend.
4. NCAA Approves ‘Unlimited Meals and Snack’ Allowance: When University of Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier stated during the Final Four that some nights he would go to bed without eating because he couldn’t afford meals, the NCAA approved a proposal that would provide unlimited meals and snacks to all Division I athletes, including walk-ons. You would think that with the service that the student athletes provide for the schools, that they would be better taken care of.
5. US Airways Tweets Lewd Photo In Response To A Consumer Complaints: Monday had to be high alert for the social team at US Airways. A photo of a naked woman showing where a toy airplane goes (if you catch my drift) was send out in a tweet. So many jokes were made and US Airways deleted the tweet and said they would be investigating. I just want to know who had the photo and what triggered inside their brain to send out that tweet. Crazy times, I tell you.
It’s Wednesday… You already know what that means. So let’s get it on.
1. Xbox Entertainment Developing A Series Based On Nas Life: I’m wondering who would play Nas in the early years of his rap career? Xbox Entertainment is set to develop a series based off of the Queensbridge born MC’s early rap days. Jonathan Levine, who directed The Wackness, is set to write and direct the half hour series.
2. Bone Thugs -N- Harmony Admits To Forgetting Their Lyrics: This shouldn’t be surprising since rappers record so many songs. TMZ caught up with Krayzie and Flesh -N- Bone and they offered that tidbit of information.
3. Lita Will Be A Member Of The 2014 WWE Hall of Fame Class: I’m happy that Lita is being inducted into this year’s WWE Hall of Fame Class. She helped redefine the Diva’s division and made it what it is today.
4. NBA All Star Weekend: Aside from groupies heading to NOLA for the come up, there will be some basketball this weekend. But of course, if certain players get outplayed, the All Star Game will be dismissed. Funny how that often works out.
5. Valentine’s Day: Cupid’s time to shine is this upcoming Friday. Do something nice for that special person in your life. But I know saying that is like telling that light switch to turn itself on.
1. Nigga On The Run: This Christopher Dorner manhunt is getting iffy by the moment. One hand, people are praising him because he’s standing up for what he believes in. Some are saying that what he’s doing is wrong and he needs to be in jail. The rest of the people just want this shit to be over so they can move on with their lives.
2. Twisting Tales To Their Advantage: Speaking of the media, it’s funny how they had to backtrack from those initial reports saying that Dorner was killed in the apartment fire. Also it’s clear of the blatant racism that still goes on in the media.
3. Shunned At The Grammy Awards: Despite having one of the best albums in 2012, Nas was shut out at the awards on Sunday. Doesn’t matter, I’m still bumping that album constantly.
4. Being Rude Is The Way To Go: Seems as if showing someone that you care isn’t the wave any longer. Being rude and not sharing those feeling will get you more honey than vinegar.
5. Fuck That Valentine’s Day: If you are participating in this day, remember that love can be shown on the other 364 days as well.
Nas made a special tour stop in Baltimore for his Life Is Good Tour. This was my first time seeing Nas in concert so I knew that I would be in for a special performance.
First up, we had a performance from SoulBlock. Never heard of him before then and probably won’t hear of him ever again.
He was rambling on about how he was opening for Nas and I really couldn’t make out what he was trying to rhyme. He had an Asian dude as his hype man and then these two young ladies came out there dancing towards the end. Yeah…
Next up, Jhené Aiko came to the stage to perform.
Jhené, who came on the scene being billed as the ‘cousin’ of former B2K member Lil Fizz’s. She reappeared in 2011 with her mixtape, Sailing Soul(s). She has just the center stage presence since that’s where she stood during her whole performance. She performed mostly songs from Sailing Soul(s) such as ‘you vs. them’, ‘Higher’ and the fan favorite ‘Stranger’.
My only issue with Jhené is that her voice was too soft. If she’s going to make a household name for herself, that voice needs to be more commanding.
God’s Son hit the stage to a rousing ovation and held the audience attention for over an hour. The young lady whose photo I have at the top of the post got a shout out from Nas. He ran through a slew of hits from the beginning (“NY State Of Mind”, “The World Is Yours” and “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)”) to the current faves (“The Don”, “Daughters” and “Cherry Wine”).
Nas has a lot of songs under his belt so at a point during his performance, he would do the hook or let the beat play. (i.e. his verse from ‘We Major’). I would have enjoyed to hear some rarities from him (“Star Wars” next time.)
The audience gave him much love and energy during the performance and that’s how you know that you’re a legend in hip hop. I was highly pleased with my first viewing of Nas in concert and I am sure that when the Life Is Good tour stops in your town, you won’t be disappointed.