Released in April 1994, Illmatic is the debut full-length album from NYC-based rap legend Nas. While it originally sold only 60,000 copies in its first week, it has since been certified Platinum and is now considered one of the best albums of all time, hip-hop or otherwise. Together with Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, Illmatic represents the foundation of 1990s East Coast hip-hop, providing a gritty alternative to the then-popular dance-oriented sound of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice while introducing a worthy (and ultimately tragic) adversary to the West Coast G-funk of Dr. Dre, 2Pac, and Snoop Dogg.
Why I’ve Been Avoiding It
In high school, I went through a phase where I refused to listen to anything without guitars. In my warped little teenage mind, that meant absolutely no pop or rap music (even though there are totally guitars in pop and rap music). Regardless, when my musical taste eventually began to expand, hip-hop felt like a foreign language. I could wax rhapsodic about why I loved Nirvana or Weezer for days, but I couldn’t find words to explain why I kept songs like Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” on repeat other than, “It’s catchy, I guess.” Since then, I’ve come to enjoy quite a bit of modern hip-hop — particularly Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city — but getting into Nas in particular seemed like a daunting task. He comes across as the consummate rapper’s rapper, the kind of guy you can’t really enjoy without knowing the genre’s intricacies inside and out. But after a deep dive into Illmatic, I’m beginning to see what all the fuss is about.