Illmatic came out in 1994. I got round to buying a copy in 2020 on the back of watching a mini-series on the history of rap and hip-hop.
I’ll confess to not knowing a huge amount about Nas prior to watching the episode in which he featured, but I was quite taken by him, both in terms of the music and the things he had to say many years after the album, which was very much a product of his upbringing in Queensbridge, the largest public housing project not only in New York but anywhere in the United States.
Illmatic wasn’t a huge success on its release, and indeed it took two years before it was certified as a gold disc in the USA and a full seven years before it was deemed to have sold 1,000,000 copies and eligible for platinum status.
There’s been millions of words written about the album over the years, the vast majority of which are incredibly complimentary. Some critics and fans have deemed it to be the best/greatest hip hop album of all time. I’m nowhere near qualified enough to say whether or not that’s a fair statement, but I am able to add my view that it’s an album which has a great deal going for it and that it stands up to repeated listens. It certainly doesn’t sound like an album, written and recorded by someone who was barely out of his teens. It’s a cinematic-like piece of work, or more accurately perhaps a series of one-off but linked documentaries reflecting on an upbringing amidst urban poverty with no likelihood of an easy way out.
I can’t quite put my finger on why I get so much out of listening to Illmatic – I hesitate to use the word ‘enjoy’ as it could come to represent a form of being a ghetto or poverty tourist – but there feels as if there’s a lot of Gil Scott Heron in the record, and as such, I was listening to someone who was really more than capable of having his voice make a difference.
This is the album’s closing track:-
There’s so much going on….it’s one of those tracks that I found myself picking up on different things with each and every listen. Much like all the other nine pieces of music on the album.