24 years ago today.
— HYPEBEAST Music (@HYPEBEASTMusic_) April 19, 2018
On this day, 24 years ago, Nas CHANGED the WORLD! April 19, 1994 was the day Nas’ debut album, ‘Illmatic’ dropped. Nas recorded the album in 1992 and 1993 at Chung King Studios, D&D Recording, Battery Studios, and Unique Recording Studios in New York City. Its production was handled by DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S. and Nas himself. Styled as a hardcore hip hop album, Illmatic features multi-syllabic internal rhymes and inner-city narratives based on Nas’s experiences in Queensbridge, New York.
— christopher (@chrisgonzz6) April 19, 2018
The album debuted at number 12 on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 60,000 copies in its first week. However, its initial sales fell below expectations and its five singles failed to achieve significant chart success. Despite the album’s low initial sales, Illmatic received rave reviews from most music critics, who praised its production and Nas’ lyricism. On January 17, 1996, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, and on December 11, 2001 it earned a platinum certification after shipping 1,000,000 copies in the United States.
— Christian Hyatt (@ChristianHyatt3) April 12, 2018
Since its initial reception, Illmatic has been recognized by writers and music critics as a landmark album in East Coast hip hop. Its influence on subsequent hip hop artists has been attributed to the album’s production and Nas’ lyricism. It also contributed to the revival of the New York City rap scene, introducing a number of stylistic trends to the region. The album is widely regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time, appearing on numerous best album lists by critics and publications.
Illmatic contains discerning treatment of its subject matter: gang rivalries, desolation, and the ravages of urban poverty. Nas, who was twenty years old when the album was released, focuses on depicting his own experiences, creating highly detailed first-person narratives that deconstruct the troubled life of an inner city teenager.
In an interview in 2001:
“When I made Illmatic I was a little kid in Queensbridge trapped in the ghetto. My soul was trapped in Queensbridge projects.] In a 2012 interview, he explained his inspiration for exploring this subject matter:
“[W]hen my rap generation started, it was about bringing you inside my apartment. It wasn’t about being a rap star; it was about anything other than. I want you to know who I am: what the streets taste like, feel like, smell like. What the cops talk like, walk like, think like. What crackheads do — I wanted you to smell it, feel it. It was important to me that I told the story that way because I thought that it wouldn’t be told if I didn’t tell it. I thought this was a great point in time in the 1990s in [New York City] that needed to be documented and my life needed to be told.”
Illmatic has been noted by music writers for Nas’s unique style of delivery and lyrical & poetic substance.[ His lyrics contain layered rhythms, multi-syllabic compounded rhymes, internal half rhymes, assonance, and ear-bending enjambment. Music critic Marc Lamont Hill of PopMatters elaborates on Nas’s lyricism and delivery throughout the album, stating “Nas’ complex rhyme patterns, clever word play, and impressive vocab took the art [of rapping] to previously unprecedented heights. Building on the pioneering work of Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, and Rakim, tracks like ‘Halftime’ and the laid back ‘One Time 4 Your Mind’ demonstrated a [high] level of technical precision and rhetorical dexterity.” Hill cites “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)” as “an exemplar of flawless lyricism” while critic Steve Juon wrote that the lyrics of the album closer, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”, are “just as quotable if not more-so than anything else on the LP – what album could end on a higher note than this?”
The buddha monk’s in your trunk, turn the bass up
Not stories by Aesop, place your loot up, parties I shoot up
Nas, I analyze, drop a jew-el, inhale from the L
School a fool well, you feel it like braille
It ain’t hard to tell, I kick a skill like Shaquille holds a pill
Vocabulary spills I’m Ill
plus Matic, I freak beats slam it like Iron Sheik
Jam like a tec with correct techniques
So analyze me, surprise me, but can’t magmatize me
Scannin’ while you’re plannin’ ways to sabotage me
I leave em froze like her-on in your nose
Nas’ll rock well, it ain’t hard to tell
— Nas, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”