Essential listening: Illmatic

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August 12, 2013 by HipHopGoldenAge

Nothing’s equivalent, to the new york state of mind Image

At the age of nineteen, Nasir “Nas” Jones began recording tracks for his debut album—and changed the music world forever. Released in 1994, Illmatic was hailed as an instant masterpiece and has proven one of the most influential albums in hip-hop history. With its close attention to beats and lyricism, and riveting first-person explorations of the isolation and desolation of urban poverty, Illmatic was pivotal in the evolution of the genre. (Blurb Born to Use Mics.)

NY State Of Mind 

Rappers I monkey flip ’em with the funky rhythm I be kickin
Musician, inflictin composition
of pain I’m like Scarface sniffin cocaine
Holdin a M-16, see with the pen I’m extreme, now
Bulletholes left in my peepholes
I’m suited up in street clothes
Hand me a nine and I’ll defeat foes
Y’all know my steelo with or without the airplay
I keep some E&J, sittin bent up in the stairway
Or either on the corner bettin Grants with the celo champs
Laughin at baseheads, tryin to sell some broken amps
G-Packs get off quick, forever niggaz talk shit
Remeniscing about the last time the Task Force flipped
Niggaz be runnin through the block shootin
Time to start the revolution, catch a body head for Houston
Once they caught us off guard, the Mac-10 was in the grass and
I ran like a cheetah with thoughts of an assassin
Pick the Mac up, told brothers, “Back up,” the Mac spit
Lead was hittin niggaz one ran, I made him backflip
Heard a few chicks scream my arm shook, couldn’t look
Gave another squeeze heard it click yo, my shit is stuck
Try to cock it, it wouldn’t shoot now I’m in danger
Finally pulled it back and saw three bullets caught up in the chamber
So now I’m jetting to the building lobby
and it was filled with children probably couldn’t see as high as I be
(So whatchu sayin?) It’s like the game ain’t the same
Got younger niggaz pullin the triggers bringing fame to they name
and claim some corners, crews without guns are goners
In broad daylight, stickup kids, they run up on us
Fo’-fives and gauges, Macs in fact
Same niggaz’ll catch a back to back, snatchin yo’ cracks in black
There was a snitch on the block gettin niggaz knocked
So hold your stash until the coke price drop
I know this crackhead, who said she gotta smoke nice rock
And if it’s good she’ll bring ya customers in measuring pots, but yo
You gotta slide on a vacation
Inside information keeps large niggaz erasin and they wives basin
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

Be havin dreams that I’ma gangster — drinkin Moets, holdin Tecs
Makin sure the cash came correct then I stepped
Investments in stocks, sewein up the blocks
to sell rocks, winnin gunfights with mega cops
But just a nigga, walking with his finger on the trigger
Make enough figures until my pockets get bigger
I ain’t the type of brother made for you to start testin
Give me a Smith and Wessun I’ll have niggaz undressin
Thinkin of cash flow, buddah and shelter
Whenever frustrated I’ma hijack Delta
In the P.J.’s, my blend tape plays, bullets are strays
Young bitches is grazed each block is like a maze
full of black rats trapped, plus the Island is packed
From what I hear in all the stories when my peoples come back, black
I’m livin where the nights is jet black
The fiends fight to get crack I just max, I dream I can sit back
and lamp like Capone, with drug scripts sewn
Or the legal luxury life, rings flooded with stones, homes
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, though we live dangerous
cops could just arrest me, blamin us, we’re held like hostages
It’s only right that I was born to use mics
and the stuff that I write, is even tougher than dykes
I’m takin rappers to a new plateau, through rap slow
My rhymin is a vitamin, held without a capsule
The smooth criminal on beat breaks
Never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes
The city never sleeps, full of villians and creeps
That’s where I learned to do my hustle had to scuffle with freaks
I’ma addict for sneakers, twenties of buddah and bitches with beepers
In the streets I can greet ya, about blunts I teach ya
Inhale deep like the words of my breath
I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death
I lay puzzle as I backtrack to earlier times
Nothing’s equivalent, to the new york state of mind

Read the original Source Magazine’s 5 Mic Review (by Minya Oh a.k.a. Shortie)

Nas Illmatic Source Magazine 1994

Further reading on Illmatic:

41-r1WUpGWLNas’ Illmatic (33 1/3 series) – Contradiction, the yin and the yang, the simultaneous existence of two competing realities, and the larger than life persona that depicts populist realism are at the core of Nas’s debut album, Illmatic. Yet Nas’s identity -as an inner-city youth, a child of hip-hop, and a Black American – predicts those philosophical quandaries as much as it does its brazen ambition. Partly because of that recklessly broad scope, the artistic impact of Illmatic was massive. The record finds its place in the greatest transition in hip hop up to that point, the spot where the streets and the charts collided. (Blurb Nas’ Illmatic 33 1/3 series.) Nas’ Illmatic (33 1/3 series) – Get the book here (click where you are): USA / Europe


Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic – Though not an overwhelming chart success when released in 1994, Nas’ album Illmatic has long been hailed as a hip-hop masterpiece, whose sales steadily climbed until in 2001 it attained platinum status (i.e., one million-copy U.S. sales). Editors Dyson and Daulatzai corral a team of all-star commentators, including themselves, to assess the album’s merits and its place in the larger cultural context. Arriving at the very end of hip-hop’s “Golden Age,” Illmatic pointed the way for hip-hop’s post-gangsta crossover into and alteration of the pop-music mainstream. The essays aren’t easy reading, but they constitute a vital book for readers eager to understand the history of the genre. As Daulatzai observes, “There is something about Illmatic that transcends the categories of hip-hop,” though at the bottom line, “Illmatic is just a dope album, embodying everything that is hip-hop while mastering what matters most: beats and rhymes.” An absolute must for serious pop-music collections. (Editorial Review Booklist / Mike Tribby for Born To Use Mics.) Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic – Get the book here (click where you are): USA / Europe

For the people who don’t have the album already (do they exist…?):

nasillmaticNasir Jones made this debut album at the age of 20, already armed with the calm perceptiveness and been-there-done-that attitude of a much older ghetto vet, though sometimes his inner callow youth shows itself. Illmatic is a look back at a life spent in the culture of the projects, acknowledging joy as much as pain and taking note of violence as a fact of his environment rather than a focus of his life. It’s enlivened by Nas’s kicky, deep-threaded multiple rhymes–you can tell he grew up listening to Mr. Magic’s rap show and internalizing the secrets of everybody’s flow–and by tracks from a bunch of all-stars, including the Large Professor, DJ Premier, and, most memorably, Q-Tip (“One Love”). (Editorial Review / Douglas Wolk). Get the album here (click where you are): USA / Europe

Illmatic tracklisting / sample / mp3 download:

1. The Genesis (Intro)  1:45
2. N.Y. State of Mind 4:54
3. Life’s a Bitch (ft AZ)
4. The World Is Yours 4:50
5. Halftime 4:20
6. Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park) 4:08
7. One Love 5:25
8. One Time 4 Your Mind 3:18
9. Represent 4:12
10. It Ain’t Hard to Tell

Last but not least – check out this pre-Illmatic demo recording:


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