It’s been 23 years since Nas released Illmatic, a life-changing album in my opinion. Each track of this record has passion, depth and carefully executed messages to help portray Nas’ thoughts. Not only did this album lay the groundwork for Nas’ career, Illmatic spotlighted inner New York city culture.
Out of Harlem, Nas was surrounded by the OG’s of Hip Hop like, EPMD and Public Enemy. Similarly, Nas has built his career by focusing on Conscious Rap, a term that categorizes songs that discuss equality, violence, police brutality, story telling (referencing personal experiences), and politics.
Illmatic is without argument the greatest hip hop album of all time.
Illmatic is an album that makes me feel something – anger, sadness, hope – every time I listen to this record. I, like many other white hip hop writers (see @Cassidy Kakin) can only understand the black community’s experiences through our headphones, no matter if we grew up in East Cleveland or rural Texas. That is one of the reasons I am so appreciative for Hip Hop artists, because they share their truths, comparatively to pop artists and boy bands who just sing about heartbreak.
Every hip hop song (okay most of them) are a teaching moment for anyone willing to listen to 3 minutes of lyrics. Not only do records create awareness, they instill empathy in listeners and open minds to those who may not be racist, but who may not “see color” either. As an active audience of the genre, we must take what we hear and help improve conditions for the neighborhoods down the block from us.
Since its 1994 release, Illmatic has paved the way for other artists to attempt to recreate the beauty of awareness in their music, to force open the minds of their audience and be more informed of the world around them. While few artists have successfully done so, Nas is still an influence that will carry weight on rapper’s shoulders for decades.