No topic comes without its quibblers, particularly when it comes to labeling anyone being the indisputable best at any given task, within any given genre. And you know how folks get when it comes to arguing over something like hip hop. That being said, take a poll around any smokey after-hours, nightclub or house party and ask who is the best emcee ever to hit the microphone, in all time, ever, and the answers will be far-flung. Rakim. Biggie. Pac. You’ll probably get some Meths thrown in, Eminems and Jay-Z’s. There’s no fixed answer. But one thing can be said, you can be damned sure someone in that room is going to mention Nas, and he will hear very little dissension. And one thing Nas has above many of the above is longevity. Sure, the man has had many forgettable raps — but even today, there’s always a chance, whenever he steps in the studio, that you might get another “One Mic” or “Made Ya Look”. Bookend that with his landmark verse on Main Source’s “Live At the Barbecue”, and you have nearly a quarter century of dominance.
But without question, Nas’ greatest contribution to the musical landscape was his debut, Illmatic. Which, undoubtedly you’ve heard ad nauseum this week, is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. Almost 20 years ago to the day, April 19, 1994, the man known as Nasir Jones stamped his name on the musical map in black ink.
So as the interwebs have been going all nutty in celebrating said fact, and Nas has been making the rounds like Liam Neeson promoting a Taken sequel, we decided to collect some of the best recent Illmatic-related posts and put them all together — so all y’all can enjoy about 47 hours of Nas-inspired lyricism. First comes Fuse TV‘s 5-part documentary Time Is Illmatic highlighting the hard work and high art that went into and came out of the record. Interviews include the Queensbridge rapper himself, as well as dudes like DJ Premier, Large Professor and Pete Rock who speak fondly on camera of their involvement with the album. All as instrumental (pun intended) on the success of Illmatic as Nas himself, so it’s good to hear from the legendary producers. Others include Miss Info, Irv Gotti and Nas’ kid brother Jungle. The Time Is Illmatic documentary just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, shown to an audience that included the likes of Raekwon and Robert Dinero, the latter of whom commenting that it has now been 20 years since he was 20 years too old to listen to hip hop. Look out for screenings soon.
After comes his monumental set at Coachella this past weekend, which was without a doubt one of the highlights of the entire festival — and in our humble opinion, one of the best hip-hop performances in the entire history of the music festival (coming in second to only that Tupac-hologram extravaganza that Dr. Dre dropped on attendees two years back). Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard that his once-bitter rival Jay-Z even dropped in to spit some tracks. We were there, as we were at his pool party celebrating Illmatic at the Ingleside Inn, where we took the photo above of God’s Son puffing away in celebration.
Last comes a series of remixes of three of Illmatic’s biggest tracks — “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”, “The World Is Yours” and “One Love” — by the Shaolin Orchestra, just because. The tracks are remixed from Illmatic’s 20-year anniversary album, titled Illmatic XX, which features the entire album remastered plus a gang of other unreleased tracks. If you’re interested, Illmatic XX can be bought (and streamed) here on iTunes. OK, enough talk — press play on the various videos below to reminisce on a landmark of hip-hop…
ATTENTION: please excuse the sizing issues we’re having with the players below. Like a teenage Nas, you just never know if, and how, they’re gonna show up.
Watch FUSE’s three-part series on Illmatic at 20 documentary, the Full Coachella set + the Shaolin Orchestra remixes below…