April 19, 2021

Nas "Illmatic" (Daily News, 5/1/94)

"Little gets in the way of the words on the debut album from Nas. In an age when hip hop regularly distracts listeners from the rhymes with pop melodies, pungent horns and conventional R&B beats, New York rapper Nas strips this form back to its verbal roots. 'I make music for the crowd that keeps rap alive, not people who just found out about it yesterday,' he says. Small wonder the 20-year-old mike master from Queens has earned such juice in the rap underground. Among the jeep-and-beeper set, the anticipation surrounding the release of Nas' first album rivals the treatment the mainstream media built around Snoop Doggy Dogg before his debut. Which explains why Nas' "Illmatic" album is the highest-ranking debut on this week's Billboard Top 200 charts, arriving at No. 12 after moving nearly 60,000 copies in the last seven days. Not bad for a guy virtually unknown to the pop audience. Arch hip-hop fans first clued into the performer after he put in a guest rap on the track "Live at the BBQ" on the respected Main Source LP "Breaking Atoms." Nas, who says he has been writing raps since he was 9, got his break by tracking down Source member the Large Professor at his studio in Queens. The exposure earned him an audience with MC Serch (late of 3rd Bass), who cleared a spot on the "Zebrahead" soundtrack for the Nas track "Half Time." Nas' connections helped with his debut album. At the Large Professor's urging, some of hip-hop's hottest producers oversaw various tracks, including Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest) and DJ Premier (from Gang Starr). 'They put me with the right [musical] material,' says the wordsmith. 'I found out you can't just rhyme to any beat.' As insistent as the album's beats may be, it's the words that make the record move. The album basically tells Nas' life story growing up in the Queensbridge Houses filled with journalistic detail and cinematic plots." Revisit Nas classic, Illmatic, cont'd below...

'In the projects we always say, 'I wished they made a movie here 'cuz they wouldn't need no story line, just show what happens,'' Nas explains. 'My album is like a movie. I just made my s--- verbal instead of visual.' His descriptions can be ugly and blood-soaked, but Nas avoids cheap shocks by always giving the violence human consequence. Whether writing a letter to a friend in prison ("One Love") or explaining why he likes to get high ("Life's A Bitch"), Nas has a knack for fleshing out his grit with wit and pathos. The sheer credibility of his writing could help swing some attention back on East Coast rap after years of media focus on West Coast gangstas like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. In contrast to the pop-funk-driven sound of those performers, Nas aims for a more spacey, jazzy feel. Combined with his harsh words, that may keep him off radio, but Nas doesn't mind. 'I never made a record for radio,' he says. 'I rap to brighten my mind.'" - Daily News, 5/1/94.