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Nas – Illmatic

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Illmatic (1994)

I like hip hop, but when I listen to Nas, I love hip hop.  I get that surreal feeling the most when I listen to N.Y. State of Mind.” It leaves me speechless, stunned, and floored every time I listen to it. It’s the perfect rap song – word play, rhymes, beats, production, and most importantly, truth and poetry combine and hit you like an emotional sledgehammer.

I reviewed Jay-Z last week, and nothing of that can compare to this. There is no pop here – it’s all hip hop, the bare bones and roots. The rhythm of Nas’s lines catch you from the moment he says “Rappers I monkey flip em with the funky rhythm I be kickin, Musician, inflictin composition.” It’s not just rhymes, its flow, pentameter, internal rhymes – all that stuff you learned in English class.

Though the rapping itself is beautiful, the subject is bleak. Nas paints stark reality with words and does not apologize for it. He doesn’t just allude to life on the streets like so many rappers do -the entire song is a series of stories that puts you there in N.Y.’s gritty reality . Nas raps about losing innocence, violence, pain, and the sad reality of the human condition. I am convinced that people in the future, if they don’t already, are going to analyze the shit out of this song.

There are many amazing lines, but just to pick a few:

“I got so many rhymes I don’t think I’m too sane,

Life is parallel to Hell but I must maintain,

and be prosperous.”

“It drops deep as it does in my breath

I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death

Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined

I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind.”

“I’m taking rappers to a new plateau, through rap slow,

My rhymin’s like a vitamin, hell without a capsule.”

The other tracks are great, too, but nothing compares to “N.Y. State of Mind.” “Life’s a Bitch,” is good, and sums up existentialism in a few words: “Life’s a bitch and then you die, that’s why we get high, cause you never know when you’re gonna go.” Depressing as hell, but that’s what Illmatic is – one way of looking at reality. “The World is Yours” is also very good.

Sadly, it goes downhill from there, at least for me. Maybe I just need to listen to it more.

If you guys know of any other albums that will floor me like this one, please post them below. My favorite thing about rap is probably clever lyricism and delivery, which is probably why I like this one so much – so if you know anything like that, let me know about it in the comments section. I want to continue exploring this genre.

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