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58 of 64 found the following review helpful:
5 stars Mar 18, 2006
By Big D
Before I am, Before Nastradamus (Nastra-Garbage), Before It was Written, Before Stillmatic, Before God's Son, Before Nas "Big Chain" Escobar, Before Commercial Nas, there was Illmatic. Illmatic is considered by many to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time, and perhaps.... the GREATEST. When Illmatic was released, jaws dropped, and people went running for the hills. At this time, the lyricism and storytelling was unmatched by any emcee. This is the album that put Nas on the map. This is the album that labeled him the "New Rakim." This is the album that will put Nas in the book of the greatest rappers of all time. This is the album that put him at the top of the New York rap scene, next to KRS, Rakim, Biggie, and of course, his rival Jay-Z. Bottom Line, Nas will never make an album this good...
The first thing you notice about the overall sound of Illmatic, is that it has a very underground feel to it, and never ceases to leave you amazed at the wordplay that Nas delivers from his vocal cords. Like he said on "Got Yourself a Gun", Illmatic had no famous guest appearances here. Only his protege AZ appears on one track, which is good because it would introduce AZ to the world, which is a cool thing by Nas. Plus, AZ is skillfull, like Nas. However, other famous people do appear on this album, but dont fully rap. Illmatic uses several voice samples from such artists as Rakim, Biz-Markie, Q-Tip, and Pete Rock.
Honestly, there is nothing else left to say about this album that cannot be said in the body of the review. This is one of those kind of CDs that just never ever gets old, and is STILL in heavy rotation in my house, and i believe it will be for years to come. With that said, its time for me to try to capture the very brilliant essense found on Illmatic, so read on and feel baptized...
Track List & Rating
1. The Genesis f/ AZ (NOT RATED)
2. NY State of Mind (5 Stars)
3. Life's A B*tch f/ AZ (5 Stars)
4. The World is Yours (5 Stars)
5. Halftime (5 Stars)
6. Memory Lane (Sittin' in Da Park) (5 Stars)
7. One Love. (5 Stars)
8. One Time 4 Your Mind (4 1/2 Stars)
9. Represent. (5 Stars)
10. It Ain't Hard to Tell. (5 Stars)
Illmatic kicks off with "Genesis", the closest that we get to a "Skit" is this intro. But its good. It begins with an eerie subway train sound, and a faded sound sample of Nas rapping on "Live at the Barbeque" with Main Source, which is one of his very early joints. AZ and Nas begin to talk about all of these weak rappers, and Nas even claims that he is underground, and that he is ready to rap about the real sh*t. The background gives us some eerie subway sounds, probably taken from the Queensbridge Projects themselves. Afterwards we get a thumping, sort of purposely distorted drum loop to match Nas and AZ's vocals. This intro gives you a real feeling of the backpacker, sort of underground taste that Nas has to offer with Illmatic. Its a great intro, but skippable after a few listens. I like at the end when Nas intoduces the album... "I'm saying man, ya know what I'm saying? N*ggaz don't listen man, representing It's Illmatic."
This leads right into "NY State of Mind", the first instant classic from this album. Immediately the beat kicks with smashing saxophone sounds, thumping bassline, and some light piano tunes in the back, produced by the legendary DJ Premier. Then Nas' lyrics explode into the speakers and/or headphones. This is the first of many street narrative tracks on this album, as he speaks about how it is in New York, with the excessive violence and crime in his home town. He describes through ghetto storytelling what he's seen, and what he thinks. His delivery and lyrics are top notch, like in the whole album. He uses illuminary and skilled, well-written lyrics and a multi-syllable flow to get his thoughts out on wax. This is the perfect introductory track to showcase his skills as he spits about 60 bars, split in two verses. The chorus samples the voice of Rakim, which adds to it that much more because Rakim is a native New York citizen, and Nas is the so-called "New Rakim", so why not use him.
"Life's a B*tch" features Nas' protege AZ, in the only guest appearance on all of Illmatic. This is an instant rap classic. My only complaint, is i dont really like the chorus too much. This song is produced by Large Professor, a legendary producer in his own right. It uses soft clapping sounds, an old Eric B.-style Bassline, and has some jazz and soul sounds. Lyrically, there isnt much to say. The wordplay and poetry is at its highest level, as both emcees adopt a multi-syllable flow, excellent vocabulary, a great choice of words, and a very tight delivery make this track a classic. Both emcees complement each other perfectly, and many think AZ outshines Nas, but i however, dont believe so and i think they are pretty much equal. They both give us an incredible lyrical showing, which is still jaw-dropping by today's standards of hip-hop. Few emcees can give us this much pure skill within just one song, and this much of a perfectly orchestrated verse.
Its funny because to decide who has a better verse, would take quite some time. Its honestly a toss-up. As we already know, Nas is excellent on this song, but of course, AZ flourishes with his brilliance and intelligence as well: "Visualizin the realism of life and actuality, F*ck who's the baddest a person's status depends on salary, And my mentality is, money orientated, I'm destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it, cause yeah, we were beginners in the hood as five percenters, But somethin must of got in us cause all of us turned to sinners, Now some, restin in peace and some are sittin in San Quentin, Others such as myself are tryin to carry on tradition, Keepin the schwepervesence street ghetto essence inside us, Cause it provides us with the proper insight to guide us".
"The World is Yours" is one of the singles from Illmatic, and is yet another classic. Pete Rock appears here, but he is uncredited, strangely enough, but does the chorus and the beat. A lot of songs have tried to copy this song, but none have been able to attain its level. Nas raps about his own personal thoughts, instead of just street poetry, showcasing his prophetic view on life. This has a lot of originality, and parts from the rest of Illmatic, when it comes to that factor. He retrospects on his own life, and rap about some of the situations in his life. He uses an amazing vocabulary and rhymes them skillfully. Pete Rock supplies the memorable beat with a tight piano medley, bass, clap, snare, and drums. The scratching is excellent for the chorus.
Lyrically? This is pure Street Poetry and Introspection at its best: "I sip the Dom P, watchin Gandhi til I'm charged, Then writin in my book of rhymes, all the words pass the margin, To hold the mic I'm throbbin, mechanical movement, Understandable smooth sh*t that murderers move wit, The thief's theme, play me at night, they won't act right, The fiend of hip-hop has got me stuck like a crack pipe, The mind activation, react like I'm facin time like, 'Pappy' Mason with pens I'm embracin, Wipe the sweat off my dome, spit the phlegm on the streets, Suede Timb's on my feets, makes my cypher, complete, Whether crusin in a Sikh's cab, or Montero Jeep, I can't call it, the beats make me fallin asleep, I keep fallin, but never fallin six feet deep, I'm out for presidents to represent me (Say what?), I'm out for presidents to represent me (Say what?), I'm out for dead presidents to represent me".
The lead-single "Halftime" is the next track, and it is suitable to be placed here, as we are halfway through Illmatic. This is a pure head-bobbing, old school braggadiocio track. The feel of the track sounds a lot like an old Rakim track, which explains why Nas was dubbed the "New Rakim" after Illmatic hit shelves. Nas spits some tight-a** punchlines, with a multi-syllable flow, multi-bar rhyme scheme as every line is on point and spat perfectly. His rhymes are well-written, and carefully crafted to match with the instrumental, which is a perfectly organized track of horns, trumpets, mixed with hard and deep bassline, which i enjoyed, and some Christmas-like chimes in the background, which was a pretty cool idea. As usual, Often Imitated, but never duplicated: "Before a blunt, I take out my fronts, Then I start to front, matter of fact, I be on a manhunt. You couldn't catch me in the streets without a ton of reefer, That's like Malcolm X, catchin the Jungle Fever, King poetic, too much flavor, I'm major, Atlanta ain't Brave-r, I'll pull a number like a pager,Cause I'm an ace when I face the bass, 40-side is the place that is givin me grace, Now wait, another dose and you might be dead, And I'm a Nike head, I wear chains that excite the feds, And ain't a damn thing gonna change, I'ma performer strange, so the mic warmer was born to gain, Nas, why did you do it?, You know you got the mad fat fluid when you rhyme, it's halftime"
DJ Premier returns to supply the beat for "Memory Lane (Sittin in da Park)", which is another PURE CLASSIC. Lyrical Classic. Nas uses incredibly well-crafted, intelligent and complex lyrics which are as poetic as they are rugged, which makes a great balance in this song. Nas' vivid lyricism, excellent vocabulary, and hardcore, on-point delivery is nothing but pure magic on this track, as his vivid lyricism actually make you picture life on the porch, though the eyes of Nasir Jones. The lyrics are among the greatest ever written in Nas' entire career, which puzzles me that an individual can create a track this great, and then return years later to give us Nastradamus. As for the instrumental in this track, DJ Premier puts an incredibly soothing old school instrumental which is pretty easy to rap over, signifying his place as one of the all-time great producers in history. Has a very basic drum loop, sort of moderately speeded tempo, and nice scratches. Has a very underground and soft feel to it, which makes it a classic. The chorus also samples Biz Markie's voice, which is interestingly good, and makes it better.
But of course, its Nas' unbelievably well-written, poetic lyrics that truly spark the mind: "One for the money... Two for p*ssy and foreign cars, Three for Alize n*ggaz deceased or behind bars, I rap divine Gods check the prognosis, is it real or showbiz?, My window faces shootouts, drug overdoses, Live amongst no roses, only the drama, for real, A nickel-plate is my fate, my medicine is the ganja, Here's my basis, my razor embraces, many faces, Your telephone blowin, black stitches or fat shoelaces, Peoples are petrol, dramatic automatic fo'-fo' I let blow and back down po-po when I'm vexed so, my pen taps the paper then my brain's blank, I see dark streets, hustlin brothers who keep the same rank"
"One Love" is a very original song for its time, and still hasnt been topped for its style. Production-wise, the beat is made by Q-Tip, who also samples his own voice in the chorus. A very unique strumming sound covers this song, and has a little bit of a jamaican influence. Lyrically, its a pure 100% Classic. Nas raps to his friend who is in Prison, and basically writes him a letter about what has been happening so far to him since his friend's incarceration, and all of the situations in the projects. He tells more street stories here, but he aims it to his friend. He also raps about how he misses him. Nas puts it down amazingly with very crafty lyrics and storytelling like almost no other rapper has been able to emulate, giving us sheer street poetry. Eminem sort of used this as a plateau for "Stan", but thats another story.
Large Professor returns to collaborate with Nas in the production on "One Time 4 Your Mind". The beat is pretty good, and sounds like a few other songs here. Nas continues to tell more stories of everything that is happening or happened to him in his lifetime, and in Queensbridge, giving us street poetry. My only real complaint is that the chorus is kind of boring. "Represent" is next, and is another classic. The beat picks up here from the previous slow tempo beat and speeds it up, with a tight keyboard medley, mixing perfectly with Nas' voice. The beat is awesome in this song. Nas spits vivid and detailed lyrics about the violence in the streets, with haunting narratives and stories, as he almost perfectly pictures the life, as well as some street braggadiocio. Nas' well-written, classy lyricism is intact, and his delivery is awesome as well. The song is deep, and the message is clear, he wants his hood to survive.
"It Aint Hard To Tell" is the final song on Illmatic, a close to an incredible album. It picks up with a Michael Jackson sampling beat. This time we got a very soul / jazz sort of instrumental. Lyrically, it strives away from ghetto true stories, and brings us back to the day of old school hip hop with artists like Run-DMC, Rakim, and KRS. The wordplay, descriptiveness, and delivery is all still there. It really makes us think of the golden age of hip hop, before all this P. Diddy / Nelly garbage. Before the shiny suits and jewelry and cars. When hip hop was about telling stories, being poetic, and giving out opinions on subjects. I miss those days, and this is perfectly exemplified on here.
Illmatic is something believe belongs in everybody's collection, even if they aren't a hip-hop fan. Here you will get everything you could ever want in music: True Stories, Poetry, Production, Nearly Unmatched Lyricism, its awesome. Nas raps his best when he raps about his hard times, tells stories, uses originality, and simplistic instrumentals without all of the commercial bopping and whining sounds. Never again would we ever see an emcee, much less Nas, ever rap this hungry, at least i havent yet. The only emcee who sounds just as hungry would possibly be Ras Kass and his Soul on Ice album.
Since Illmatic was released, Nas has not been able to top the album at all, at least in my opinion. He commited the crime in 1999 when he sold out to commercial rap. By listening to Nas albums, you can easily tell he began to slip after this. Slowly, which each new LP, he began to descend more and more into commercialism. Sort of like a slow hill coming down. He wasnt the only one. This pattern was followed by his rival Jay-Z as well. When i heard the song "You Owe Me", on his 1999 LP Nastradamus, i knew he was a complete sellout. I figured the glory days of lyricism and storytelling were over, all i had left was Illmatic. That is, until he released Stillmatic in late 2001, which he snapped out of it and returned to his roots. Its funny, Jay-Z did the exact same thing with Blueprint. They may be rivals, but their careers have followed a very similar path.
So should you buy Illmatic?.... YES!!!! NOW!!!!
24 of 24 found the following review helpful:
Nas deserves more than 5 stars! Mar 16, 2000
By Cary Sommers
When I first laid this incredible piece of vinyl on my turntable, I wasn't sure of what to expect. I saw the credits, the amazing producers recruited (Primo, Large Professor, Q-Tip, etc.), but I definitely wasn't ready for the lyrical masterpiece that painted pictures of the sorrowful ghetto life right in front of my eyes, with so much depth that even Mr. Suburbanite could understand the trials and tribulations of the streets. Nas stepped into the studio with his skills and a blunt (or two or three) and spit description-packed lyrics that tell stories in a way nobody else ever can. There are greats like Slick Rick and others, but Nas' smoke-filled voice graces the track and compliments the beat so perfectly that you'd almost think the pulse of the music ran through his veins. And maybe it does. Nas feels the rhythm and gives a new melody to the songs with his original style, a style that many have emulated, but no one can master. Nas was truly ahead of his time with this album. In a time when slow, easily understandable rhymes over mainstream bass beats were popular, Nas stayed true and kicked wisdom for those true rap heads in the streets, displaying a mastery of the language with abundant metaphors and intensely descriptive flows that draw you into the music. Nas' true heart-felt emotion is apparent on all of these tracks, and in songs such as 'One Love,' where Nas is writing a letter to a friend in prison, it's easy for the listener to get caught up and lament the losses of all those other 'not-so-fortunates.' In a time when knowledge-based, lyrically-focused, rhyme-oriented hip-hop is on the B Side, and even Nas himself has fallen off into the league of the Ruff Ryders, this is a record you should have on your top shelf as a constant reminder of times past and possibilities to come, because Nas truly dropped a classic gem.
33 of 37 found the following review helpful:
Maybe they'll get it right for the 20 year anniversary Apr 02, 2004
By J. Nypaver
Let me preface my review by saying that the original Illmatic album (Disc One of this edition) is an undeniable classic, five stars, without a doubt. But as a whole, this 10 Year Anniversary Edition only gets three stars (I really wanted to give it two), and the primary reason is Disc Two.
The bottom line: this is so much LESS than it could have been.
I love remixes, but the four remixes included here...they just don't work. I don't want to hear Illmatic-era lyrics over 2004-radio-rapper beats. The best of the four is the "It Ain't Hard To Tell" remix, which does have a hardcore, yet updated feel to it. Nas spits some different lyrics (perhaps he re-recorded them for this edition), which is cool. The worst is the "One Love" remix; it inexplicably features censored lyrics, which completely ruins the song, especially when they edit words like "nine" and "L's." Come on. What a waste.
Perhaps the biggest problem I have with including these subpar remixes is the fact that there are already some great remixes of these songs THAT WEREN'T INCLUDED! I'm referring to the remixes done back in '94 and '95 when these songs were released as singles. The Q-Tip remix of "The World Is Yours" and the Arsenal Mix of "Life's a B****" are outstanding. "One Love," "It Ain't Hard To Tell," and "Halftime" were all remixed back in the day, and quite well too. I would argue that these remixes make up a large part of the Illmatic mystique, and they should have been included in this celebratory anniversary collection. I mean, why not? OPEN UP THE VAULTS!
Another thought: if you are going to create some new remixes of these songs, why not bring in the original producers to do the job? Get Primo, Extra P, Tip, Pete Rock and Big LES and have them either remix their own songs or let them swap. It would be pretty cool to get those legends to give us an updated version of their classic tracks.
The two new songs on Disc Two (produced by Marley Marl and Extra P) are pretty good, worthy of inclusion here. Although, again, I would have liked to hear something from 10 years ago...weren't there any unreleased tracks that were scrapped when the 10-song Illmatic sequencing was finalized?
My other complaint about this collection is the lack of liner notes. A small thing, perhaps, but when I buy a greatest hits disc, anthology, or anniversary edition, I expect to get liner notes--and I am disappointed when I don't.
It basically all boils down to this: this collection doesn't live up to the greatness of the very album it was created to celebrate. Quite a disappointment.
22 of 24 found the following review helpful:
This album stands on a pedestal....all by itself Jun 23, 1999
You know how adults always say they wish they could be younger again. I wish Nas could be younger again. At age 20 (?) Nas released "Illmatic".....then as he grew in age, his tight grip on the edge of the streets began to slip...this is a review by myself, a professional critic (lol), of possibly the greatest hip-hop album ever released.
Positive: Basically everything about the cd was positive. With head-noddin' beats, and Nasty Nas' compelling lyrics, describing his life as he grew up in the projects. The dopest songs? "The World is Yours" (with assistance from the soul brother, Pete Rock), "Halftime", the deep, "One Love", with Q-Tip, and "It Ain't Hard to Tell", my personal favorite. Every one a classic, everyone amazing.
Complaints: That Nas ever left his Nasty Nas form to transform into Nas Escobar. =(
Beats: 5 Lyrics : 5
Best Song: It Aint Hard to Tell Beat: 5 Lyrics : 5
29 of 33 found the following review helpful:
To say this CD isn't among the top 3-4 of all time is crazy! Mar 23, 2003
OK, some cats come on here saying don't believe the hype, or that the album lacks beats, but they don't know what they're talking about. One cat even had the temerity to compare the Illmatic Nas to Eminem. To question the beats on this album is to show your stupidity in relation to the hip hop game. DJ Premier is known as one of, if not the best producer ever along with Dre. One is the best on the east, the other on the west. Large P is also thorough on the beats, and this album has nothing but the best beats. The lyrics are fresh, hungry, and still steeped in the streets.
The best albums in hip hop history all came out right around the same time : 1994. Illmatic, Ready to Die, Southernplayalistik, Illadelph Half Life and Reasonable Doubt each vie for that title. In reality, it comes down to the debut albums from the Kings of NY, BIG and Nas. BIG had filler on his album, and stupid skits. Illmatic is just pure hip hop from beginning to end. A 40 minute oasis of what hip hop should always strive to be. A window to the streets combined with storytelling ability and lyrics that weave themselves together seamlessly.
New York is Hip Hop, and this is the best NY has ever produced.
Don't ever forget, this album is widely acknowledged as the finest in the history of hip hop by all the wisest rap scholars. You think some joker from Toronto or Washington State knows more about hip hop and what's raw than the sages of hip hop culture? I think not.
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