Why Nas didn’t live up to the hype
Thursday June 10th 2004,
Filed under: Features
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In my post about Akinyele’s classic debut album, I mentioned that “unlike Nas, Akinyele lived up to the hype”. While such a comment might seem to be a textbook example of attention-seeking behaviour, it’s a point that I’m more than happy to qualify.
Cast your mind back the first time you caught a sample of Nas’ microphone-melting techniques – whether it was on Main Source’s “Live At The BBQ”, MC Serch’s “Back To The Grill” or his contribution to the otherwise woeful Zebrahead soundtrack, “Halftime” (which stands alongside “Time’s Up” and “Come Clean” as the dopest singles of the 90’s), Nasty Nas had your attention. Add to that a cover story in The Source (which was at it’s peak in terms of credibility and influence) which basically declared him to be “the second coming” of Rakim, and an all-star selection of A-list producers, Nas had a lot to live up to. Not to mention the fact that New York had been playing second fiddle to LA for the last couple of years in the wake of Dr Dre/Ice Cube’s commercial dominance, and the expectations were raised to hights which were going to be almost impossible to attain.

Im all fairness, it wasn’t Nas’ fault that the entire East Coast placed the weight of the rap world on his shoulders. He was just trying to make a good album (on second thoughts, based on his frequent egotistical outbursts, he was trying to a make a GREAT album). And for all intents and purposes, he suceeded. However, as Ego Trip magazine noted in their end of ’94 round-up, Illmatic was both the best album of the year AND the biggest dissapointment. The fact that the record consisted of a meagre nine full tracks, two of which had already been released previously, was the first let-down. Of the new material, only “New York State of Mind” and “One Love” matched the vocal intensity of his earlier appearences. Sure, you had moody, introspective efforts like “The World Is Yours” and the more straight-forward brag rap of “One Time For Your Mind”, but where was excitement of “Halftime”? And why the hell would you name a song “Represent”, given that it was the most over-worked cliches of the time? As much as Nas brought a new level of verbal complexity to the game, he also delivered a package that was too subdued for it’s own good. Even his beat choices were at times underwhelming, considering the talent he had access to.

Admittedly, having been raised on Schoolly D, Criminal Minded and Critical Beatdown, I’m expecting a lot. I’m also comparing two very different musical eras, which could be seen as unfair (but hey, “Lifes a Bitch”, isn’t it Nas?). However, the fact that fellow “BBQ” graduate Akinyele was able to make an entertaining, hardcore album with a twisted sense humour and, dare I say it, better beats, with only one producer and a fraction of the budget at his disposal makes Nas’ failings seem even greater. Even to this day, Nas is letting me down. After being given one of the most slamming/hypest/freshest (insert your choice of outdated slang here) beats in recent memory with “Made You Look”, he failed to deliver a vocal performance worthy of the track.

So, while “Illmatic” is undoubtably a great album, it could (and should) have been so much better.

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18 Comments so far
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FUCK ALL U HATERS….only 2 joints worth of good lyricism on Illmatic?…that’s blasphemy!! What about Memory Lane, Ain’t Hard to Tell….That album is the best hiphop album ever…young ignorant haters

Comment by john 12.15.04 @

You are retarded. Give me a break? AK’s album is nowhere near better than Nas’. The sound on Nas’ album is not subdued at all; it’s intricate. That’s like saying rakim didn’t live up to the hype.

Comment by Anonymous 01.09.05 @

ever since that lp dropped i haven`t found anyone who shared my opinion until now…the beats are incredibly bland considering the hype over this lp.
i never told many people because of the obvious backlash but i bought this lp as soon as it came out and sold it(knowing i wouldn`t play it)a month later.
respect due robbie..

Comment by beatlover 01.24.05 @

I don’t want to take away from the fact that the music is the critical barometer in determining whether an album lives up to the hype or not, but the sheer importance of the album made that virtually impossible.

(Sorry for the media theory fodder) The east-centric Hip Hop media machine looked for an Right Coast answer to the dominant West Coast giants at the time, an Nas’ ability to capture the zeitgeist in New York at the time was paramount to the album’s label as “classic material.”

Although I do agree that there were a handful of tracks that did not reinforce the same beat consistancy and lyrical intensity as the stellar gems, the album’s ability to strike a chord w/ the listeners made it worthy of its hype. And to be honest, when an album produces 3-4 “classic” records, it’s definitely hard to argue that this album did not live up to its hype, in fact, that’s perhaps why others believe it may have exceeded it.

Comment by private 02.04.05 @

Possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Illmatic is the perfect LP, and I’m not even a huge Nas fan. There’s absolutely no flaws on that album.

And Vagina Diner is a dope LP, but you are definitely out of your damn mental brother if you think it’s on Illmatic’s level. Say that to any respected Hip Hop head and you’d get laughed out of the room, c’mon now. Don’t tell me you didn’t type this just to get a reaction. Please, of course you did.

Comment by M 06.22.05 @

That’s my honest opinion. As I said, Illmatic is a classic and influential album, but I was hoping for twelve songs like “Halftime”.

I’d still rather listen to Ak’s LP than Nas’ if I had the choice.

Comment by Robbie 06.22.05 @

Wow, that is one of the dumbest and just plain hatin’ critique of an album I have read. Whether or not you are a fan of Nas, you still have to admit that Illmatic was one of the illest albums to come out (ask Jay-Z). This is not a question of coastal bias or even ridin Nas’ jock, without question that album was one of the most lyrically tightest (keyword: lyrically) hip hop albums ever produced that offered a whole lot more than the mysoginistic and gangsta life inspired records of the time. With each song he intricately told his tale in the manner he wanted to.

Music is about opinions and not necessarily a science, but you have got to be kidding me when you say it was an overhyped album. If you did not like it that may have been because you just were not feelin the array and the introspective nature of some of the songs. Expecting him to spit as violently and fiercely as he did in “Live at the BBQ” in 50 percent to 90 percent of his tracks is ridiculous. No one, not Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, or any mainstream rapper could achieve this or attempt to because it make for a very monotone played out album.

Comment by E Banneker 08.02.05 @

What you might call “a very monotone played out album” I’d call “a hardcore classic”. According to that logic, “Critical Beatdown” was a complete failure?

Comment by Robbie 08.02.05 @

I would have to say the reason why i would label nas as the Top 5 MC’s of today,… has a large part to do with Illmatic…

like someone else says even Jay-z had to say it
infact if u ask any of the Best MC / rappers at this time,.. they would have to say that Illmatic is a genius album…. I look at it like this
Nas was a teenager at the time,.. how did he get to tour with Wu-Tang, mentioned one of the best by Jay-z,.. Big respected him and 2Pac thought he was the EastCoast ringleader (quoted on Makaveli)
due to Illmatic,…I mean i know people who loved “It was Written” but everyone knows Nas best album was Illmatic. I also love Stillmatic but there wouldnt be that w/out Illmatic

Comment by RipCity 11.06.05 @

I have to disagree with the comments on Nas!! I followed the kid from day one “live at the BBQ”. What took me on that verse was the use of the compound words “Strange force/Main Source”; “life guard/Strike hard”; “uplift your mind/Riff and Rhyme”,and of course the ill religious punchlines “snuffing Jesus” No one in the game was spitting like that and using nice funky cadence and vocabulary!! I would say Ced and Keith and Lord Finesse all used double compound words, but alot of Mc’s didn’t have that in there repetoire at the time. Nas then changed up on the Illmatic album. He went from Less battle Punchliners to more in depth science imagery, “drink moet with medussa/give her shot guns in hell”. He spoke about a real raw New York perspective with knowledge and street savy and showed us his soul.

I will admit that the production was a bit “tri state” sounding with Primo, Large, Pete and Tip, but that’s what he was around at the time. I remember cats in Chicago sleeping on Ilmatic until they heard “lifes a bitch” with that Gap band sample which had that old groove that midwest and west coast cats could easily relate to. I am still a fan of Nas to this day, he is one of the last from that era holding it down!!

Comment by Marc Davis 11.08.05 @

what really killed that album was Columbia/Searchlight. That album circulated for 8-12 months, before it was released. They also passed on dope production by K-Def. Who was @ his full powers back then. Nas was really too young to put the pressure on the powers that be, but its still a classic….

Comment by ron 11.08.05 @

I think its simple…Every1 knows that Nas is the greatest emcee cuz hes capable of spitting lyrics better than anyone else ever to hold a mic…
Hes compared to Rakim in that way cuz the same th9ing could be said about Rakim before Nas came on the scene…
But u cant expect event he reatest rappers to spit their best lyrics all the time on every song!!!
If 50 Cent or the Game were to release an album to the same quality of Nas’ albums you would be callin it the best album u ever heard cuz u dont expect 50 to release ne thing as good as Nas…
The thing is you are expecting better from Nas and hes not delivering what you think he is capable of on his album…
Also it doesnt help that he released such a great debut album in illmatic cuz its always gona be difficult to live up to for any artist…
I’ll make it simple cuz u obviously dont understand. NAS IS THE GREATEST MC EVER!!!
Like Mohammad Ali was the greatest boxer ever…not every punch ali threw would be the greatest punch but every1 knows he is the greatest regardless…In the same way you cant expect every word of Nas’ raps to be the best rap you’ve ever heard!!!
So stop hating on Nas for ur own misinterpretation on good music…and start lovin the music he does…i think ur too busy criticising and wantin to be critical to actually hear how good his albums are compared to every other artist out there!!!

Comment by MAB 12.11.05 @

it might not have lived up to your expectations, but regardless, nas over akinyele any day, especially those two albums. i mean, illmatic was damn near flawless, even if it didn’t meet expectations.

Comment by Mtoda A 12.12.05 @

Okay, first and foremost, your expectations seemed to be for something a little different/hardcore, on the raw tip, I would say you were looking for something not so perfect, or ‘subdued’ as you’ve put it; this is my interpretation. The beats, whilst nothing ground breaking, were all amazing. The producers as well as Nas did exactly what they set out to do, they crafted a perfectly rounded LP. That’s the thing, they released halftime to get the attention, the buzz, it worked. Illmatic was copped, people were amazed. If every track was like halftime, well it would have been bland. And the fact it only has 9 tracks is barely a reason to classify it as overhyped, due to the mere quality of the music. I thought the saying was ‘quality over quantity’? Illmatic is 9 songs of pure perfection. With a few more tracks its energy could have lost track or it may have just been reduced to a ‘fantastic’ album instead of a classic. It was short and fuckn sweet. But obviously if you were looking for that raw hardcore halftime/bbq shit throughout, you may have been let down. I found that the many differing sounds, and the way nas approached these sounds lyrically, i mean the words fit so amazingly, it’s a perfect album for me. “And why the hell would you name a song “Represent”, given that it was the most over-worked cliches of the time? ”
I mean is this a real arguement? sure it’s a cliche, welcome to hip hop, regardless, the song is amazing.

Comment by Taylor 12.23.05 @

I grew up in that era. Right after PE, Eric B & Rakim and KRS, Kool G, I delved head first into everything East Coast Goldenage. Not that it makes me an authority, but SON YOU ARE FUCKING SMOKING CRACK if you think that Illmatic was anything less than the best hiphop album of that decade, possibly THE benchmark, the gold standard, for every rapper to aspire to. The lyrics, you cannot even fuck with one of them. Nas wasn’t even of legal drinking age and had Large Pro, Pete Rock, Primo, LES and Q-Tip among others giving FUCKING CLASSICS and yes, less is more, psycho! Who needs fillers, skits, bullshit throwaway tracks about the same old topics when you have STRAIGHT FIRE throughout the entire album. To this day, Illmatic is the only rap album that I can listen to from beginning to end, on repeat, and still catch the goosebumps at every fucking TKO line he smacked everybody with. And who the fuck cares that Tribe made the word “represent” a tired cliche?!?!? Can you fuck with REPRESENT’s ill ass drive-by tempo opening? “Straight up, shit is real and any day could be your last in the jungle…”
I can’t even believe I’m writing this much, suggesting that your little Ak showed up Nas vis-a-vis ‘what could have been’. I’m sorry but it’s times like these that I wish there were a record nerd Blog Police. I can assure that even TALKING about Illmatic in the same DAY as “Vagina Diner” (?!?!?! you’re buggin! i still can’t believe you’re that hard up for material that you’d do that) is a crime of the worst order, and signals the last time I’ll peep this site. Man oh man. Can i just tell all y’all before I sign off that even just NY State of mind holds its own against Ak’s ENTIRE FUCKING CATALOGUE.
TO this site’s moderator/loud mouth critic: JUST PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH.
meanwhile i’m a run like a cheetah with thoughts of an assassin.

Comment by ABEL 02.10.06 @

Personally I fuckin’ hate Ak. All he ever raps about is pussy. Dude is awful to me. To me Nas’ detractions are his relentless jiggyness/wannabe back to africa shit/consciousness.. He is a bit of a hypocrite and I cannot stand hypocritical rappers. Nas is still far superior to Ak any day of the week, no matter the era, and money has been way too diverse a rapper to ever sink to the league that ‘Nele dwells in. Just my opinion though Chill Rob G

Comment by El Huero Loco 05.12.06 @

The problem with the truth is that it often gets in the way of making a point.

I partially agree with Robbie on this one. ILLMATIC is better than VAGINA DINER, but only by the skin of Nasty Nas’ balls. I don’t feel like reinforcing the excellent points he made in the article, so read it again, fools.

“Even his beat choices were at times underwhelming, considering the talent he had access to.”

Screw DJ Premier and L.E.S., Nas should’ve let The Extra P & Pete Rock handle productions duties.

And not all of Akinyele’s rhymes are about pussy.
Take “I Luh Her”, which deals with such issues as: His frustration at his lady friend for getting pregnant (and himself for getting her pregnant). His feelings of guilt at cheating on her. His determination to retain his youth by NOT having a child. The knowledge that he’s far too young to have a child. And the fact that even after all that, he still wants to stand by his main squeeze.

What Robbie is saying is that after all the hype, Nas should be ashamed to let Ak come CLOSE.

Comment by master gee 07.31.06 @

Nas is overrated tho…4 or 5 good songs on first album…2 or 3 on second..third and fourth were wack…2 or 3 on Stillmatic…4 or 5 on Godson..Well his latest untitled may acutally be his beat I think i like 8 songs on there…I can name the songs if anyone wants to get into it..lol

Comment by Johnny Hardcore 10.28.09 @

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