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Nas – Illmatic (1994)

July 2, 2016


Artist #1: Pantera
Artist #2: Frank Black
Artist #3: Sleater-Kinney
Artist #4: Nas

[Album 461/1001]

“The other was Illmatic, That’s a one hot album every ten year average”
– Jay Z, Takeover

Now that’s a backhanded compliment. That’s also as close as Jay Z came to ‘constructive’ criticism of Nas, the rest of the Takeover lyrics were considerably less complimentary!

Years after hearing the semi-complimentary line, I believe it’s potentially an even more harsh diss than if he’d issued a flat-out insult. Instead of just saying Nas has no talent, Jay Z’s saying Nas is misusing his talents, or worse, has simply lost whatever talent he once had.

It wasn’t the best flattering insult I’ve heard (that would be Bill Murray’s mid-fist fight assessment of Chevy Chase as a “medium talent”) but I’ve been looking forward to hearing Nas’s “one hot album” ever since.

After a couple spins on my Windsor trek, I think Jay Z was wise to serve his insults with a hint of flattery: Illmatic delivers.



The #1 Life reference above might also be the best hip-hop hook of the 90s.

Though it seems like a pretty pessimistic outlook, there’s another quote from that track that is more of a  half-full approach:220px-NasIllmatic

“I switched my motto, instead of sayin’, (expletive) tomorrow, that buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the Lotto”

It’s probably that balance, those hints of optimism amid the violence/substances/poverty struggles, that makes Illmatic a compelling listen.

And he released this debut after only 2 decades on the planet.

A “hot” album to be sure.

But considering it’s been 22 years since Illmatic, according to Jay Z’s calculations, Nas should have released another 2 hot albums by now.

My question to Nas fans of the world: does Jay Z’s math add up?

Or was he too optimistic/pessimistic?



From → 1990s

  1. YES! I do love me some Illmatic. And not just because the hype says I should, I truly think it’s a great record.

    As for Jay-Z, the fact that he even needs to make jerk comments like that at all speaks to his own insecurities. And who’s to say that NAS’ other records aren’t as good? I haven’t heard them, but they could be gold mines!

    Right on, Geoff, I’m glad you dug it. You’ve inspired me to go give it another spin!

    • Well said Aaron – if he’s stooping to ‘diss’ another artist, that screams second tier to me. If you’re, to borrow a Tina Turner tune, simply the best, you need not advertise nor worry about what anyone else is doing.
      If you have to drag someone else down to bring yourself up, you’re only reinforcing your status as a wannabe.

      • “If you have to drag someone else down to bring yourself up, you’re only reinforcing your status as a wannabe…” I’d add “and a jerk” to the end of that sentence! 🙂

  2. Nice one, Geoff. This is a great album and I reckon Jay-Z’s plain wrong with that assertion. I have a fair few Nas albums and while I wouldn’t say they’re consistently inspired, there are definitely some great albums and some with underrated moments (certainly more consistent than ol’ Jay-Z, though!)

    • Thanks J!
      I was quite impressed here – I find with the genres that aren’t typically my cuppa, if an album like this stands out to me, it makes the record all the more impressive.

      • Completely agree! I got into hip hop via great albums like this (Wu-Tang, Outkast, Mos Def, Cee Lo Green, Kanye *cough* West *cough* and the likes).

      • Outkast was a gateway for me too – with Kanye, I saw an image of David Spade on Jimmy Kimmel Live that summarizes my current feelings: “I hear a song, and I’m like, he’s alright, but then he talks and I don’t like him again!”

      • I like a fair bit of Kanye’s stuff, but I’d agree with that. That said, I’m not convinced that it’s not all just part of the act … no publicity is bad publicity, right?

      • Absolutely – I tend to assume most celebrity public behaviour is calculated & part of the act, if the goal is to get attention (regardless of how positive/negative), in his case it seems to be working

      • It’s all just to keep him in the spotlight – keep him relevant in some way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve ofyen wondered about his mental health, too … but you can’t rule out the potential for all of it to be part of Kanye’s public persona. Protect himself by creating a character that folks will feel safer viewing from a distance …

      • When the public persona doesn’t feel radically different from the person, it’s a strange feeling though – Chuck Klosterman had a great book about Villains where he argued that about the comedian Andrew Dice Clay.
        In theory he performed as “The Diceman,” like you said J the created character, but it was hard to tell where the character ended and the person began. And that might explain his lack of longevity.
        But Kanye’s still kicking around, so who knows!

      • That’s a very good point. I think the same about Tom Waits – it’s all character. Kanye’s character isn’t too far removed from the absurdist Diceman, huh?

        … and then there’s John Lennon. But that’s for another time, perhaps.

  3. I always associate this LP with the amazing film ‘Hoop Dreams’ because I came across them at the same time and they touch on the same worlds.

    • Have yet to see Hoop dreams – I gather it’s one of the most egregious snubs by the Oscars that it somehow was overlooked, I’ve been meaning to see it ever since

      • It is a wonderful documentary, a real eye-opener and very sensitively doen too. I can’t recommend it enough.

      • I can second Hoop Dreams. Great flick. Better than Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot, made by Adam Yauch (which as good, but not Hoop Dreams good). OK they’re different, but the same, still… gah. Um… see both!

  4. Love references 1, 2 , 3! Especially 3, though I’d say life and hell tend to intertwine more often than parallel each other.

    • I thought that #2 line was Oscar Wilde-esque, like his “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
      Didn’t expect to be reminded of Oscar listening to Illmatic, perhaps that’s another reason I was so impressed!

  5. djsubthiphopauth permalink

    Illmatic is a classic Hip Hop album. One of my favorites

    • It was new to me this year but I thought it was really strong, a few months later, I’m still singing a few of the hooks.
      Thanks for reading – was Jay Z right, is this his only good album for the next 10 years?

  6. Nas’ discography is actually more solid than Hov’s. Hov came out in the same era as Nas but he didn’t really blow up until The Blueprint dropped. Nas already has It Was Written on top of Illmatic. Blueprint came, changed the game, then Nas dropped Stillmatic. Then the year before Hov dropped The Black Album, Nas dropped Godson. Four more than solid LP’s from Nas between ’94 and ’02. Hov’s math was off by quite a bit.

    • Thanks for your perspective saintsboro – as they’re 2 artists I haven’t explored much beyond the hits/albums on this list, I appreciate you providing the context of their releases.
      I was skeptical of Jay Z’s math when he said 10/4 = 2, interesting to hear he was way off when it came to the quality of Nas’ output as well.

      • They’re two of the best to ever do it. It’s dope seeing a homage to Illmatic, that’s the album that pretty much shaped my world view during my adolenscent years. And Jay Z also contribute to that too. Great post!

      • Cheers saintsboro!

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