When Nasir “Nas” Jones was 20 years old, he released his 1994 debut album Illmatic, rightfully considered one of the finest albums in the history of rap music.
A confluence of factors contributed to its legendary status, including the fact that it came at a time when hip-hop was blasting its way onto pop radio and that, following the huge success of Dr. Dre’s L.A.-centric The Chronic in 1992, there was a general hunger for an East Coast counterpart. (New York obliged with not only Illmatic, but also the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, and Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).)
But even without any sort of context, Nas’s contribution would still be an all-time great — an album of twisty, brooding narratives delivered with the wisdom of a man twice his age and the skill of a master lyrical craftsman. (It also doesn’t hurt that the production on Illmatic is a delightfully icy mix provided by a team of legends including DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Large Professor.)
Though that album will always (and rightfully) hold its spot in rap history, Nas has spent the subsequent 18 years learning a hard lesson in art (and especially in pop music): Sometimes you have nowhere to go but down. READ FULL STORY »