Happy 20th Birthday, Illmatic! A Salute To Nas’ Classic Album

Tomorrow, April 20th 2014, marks the twentieth birthday of one of the greatest (rap) albums ever: Nas’ Illmatic. You don’t even have to be old enough to have witnessed its release live back in the days. Even us young’uns can’t deny the fact that Illmatic is one of those real special pieces of art and that its quality can’t be matched by the majority of recent rap releases.

I actually remember “napstering” the album track by track back when it took half an hour to download one track encoded in 128kbps. And I remember listening to the recently downloaded tracks over and over again until the next one was downloaded completely. And I admit that this is not really a “cool story, bro”. So I’ve got a better one here: Big Ghost Ltd a.k.a. Cocaine Bizeps a.k.a. Hand Of Zeus recently offered a very well-told little narrative on the relevance and importance of Illmatic via Instagram. Check it out below and make sure to read his full throwback review:

In another 10 yrs its probably still gon sound as timeless as it did the first time I tore the plastic off it in April ’94. I remember the shit well…I had took all the loose change I could find n copped the tape early that morning. I didnt go into it thinkin I was gon remember every single detail of my first time hearin this particular album but I can remember everything right down to the scuff on the toe of my suede timbs n the way the clouds looked that day.

First thing I thought when I looked at the tracklist was YO WHY IS THIS SHIT ONLY 10 SONGS? But the album was gettin bootlegged so heavy that the record company had to rush it out “unfinished”. Either way the anticipation was wild high… My expectations even higher… I popped that shit in n after the intro I said to my man who was there at the time …HISTORY IS BOUT TO BE MADE or some corny shit like that.

After the beat for NY State Of Mind dropped I knew I was right tho. I still get chills whenever I hear that joint. This man really said “Ionno how to start this shit..” then commences to body the track in one take. Then Life’s A Bitch comes on n some unknown dude named AZ comes outta nowhere n spits one of the craziest verses I had ever heard in my life…

The elegance of shit like The World Is Yours vs the ruggedness of Represent showed you how much ground son could cover in the span of 9 songs. Son’s storytelling on One Love was so cinematic his convo wit shorty doo-wop became a scene in a movie forreal. But listen to or read the lyrics to Memory Lane if you wanna kno what the best poetry Nas ever spit in his life was. Damn near any line on the album was tattoo-worthy tho.

The production raised the bar on cats too. This was more than jus some music to me..It became a bookmark in my life. This was also a time where albums like Midnight Marauders, 36 Chambers, Doggystyle, Hard To Earn, n Southernplayalistic… could all drop within a six month period n nobody was thinkin that shit was outta the ordinary or weird. Cuz rap music was mostly dope…it was jus normal shit in ’94. But even by those standards Illmatic was incredible. 20 years later its still the bar for this hip hop shit.