Filed under: Albums,Features,Great Moments In Rap,Killa Queens,Large Pro For Prez,The 90's Files,The Unkut Opinion
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Like many of you, the first time I heard Nasty Nas was through his stirring performance on Main Source’s seminal “Live At The BBQ”, but it was initial exposure to “Halftime” on a local radio show that really got me amped. I was so impressed with the track that I eventually went on to describe it as “The Best Brag Rap Song of The 90’s”: “The lyrics are a ‘Good Combination’ of declarations of poetic superiority, explanations of his daily operations, product name checks, witty punchlines, casual blasphemy and a healthy dose of Eff The Police sentiment. What more could a rap fan ask for?”
It would be another two long years before the Illmatic vinyl was in my grasp, and all that rap fanatics had to whet our appetites in the meantime was that brolic guest spot on MC Serch’s “Back To The Grill” and the addictive “Human Nature” flip of the superior “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” single. Yet despite the anticipation – or perhaps because of it – my first couple of spins of Nasir’s debut proved to be a little underwhelming. Coming off the back of the raw energy from his previous appearances, much of the record seemed too laid back and reflective to my ears, which were thirsty for more talk of “waving automatic guns at nuns” and less street corner wisdom about buying lotto tickets instead of 40’s. It was also surprisingly short, clocking-in at a paltry 40 minutes and only featuring seven new songs.
In retrospect, these complaints are largely irrelevant since the album now stands as one of the pinnacles of an almost forgotten era in New York hip-hop, in addition to serving as a testament to the abilities of a carefully selected group of producers at the height of their powers. Not to mention that the relentless mining of lines from Illmatic accapellas for hooks and chorus scratches have made this record a blueprint for traditional Queens rap ever since.
Listening to Illmatic again with a fresh set of ears revealed some details I may have overlooked way back when. ‘NY State of Mind’ remains as one of the greatest rap songs ever laid onto magnetic tape. “Life’s A Bitch” is Grown Man Rap that’s over a decade ahead of it’s time. The final verse of “One Love” paints the most vivid visual picture since Rakim’s astral projections from “Follow The Leader”. “Represent” hasn’t aged as well, coming off as somewhat of a token “hardcore” song with it’s cliched shout hook and excessive name-dropping of local tough guys (although the beat is still top notch), while “One Time 4 Da Mind” remains as the hidden jewel of the record, allowing The Villain to kick a vintage Rec Room technique as he boasts of shooting his way out of ma dukes over a deceptively simple Large Pro track. What may have been initially disappointing to my unsophisticated teenage mindset in 1994 now stands tall as a timeless B-Boy document which has forever cemented Queensbridge in the history books as “the place where stars are born”.
Note: This was something I wrote late last year for GetOnDown‘s Nas re-issue, but it was never used.
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