Illmatic is overrated

young Nas


Anyone worth their salt loves hip hop and, if you love hip hop, you will know how important Illmatic is. I loved Illmatic for so many reasons. Firstly the music was perfection itself, Primo and Pete Rock in their prime plus Large Pro and Q-Tip providing classic beats. Secondly there was Nas. His lyrical content was peerless, futuristic yet humble but with insightful, almost childlike observations housed in a worldly wise shell. Thirdly, no filler tracks, no skits, no bullshit just 9 songs of joyous, golden age hip hop. The whole album could fit on one side of a C45 tape meaning I had the album in on both sides of a cassette and would just play the other side when I got to the end. Most listeners were aware of Nas before he dropped Illmatic, ever since his debut on Main Source’s ‘‘live at the BBQ’’ people were fiending for more. I got the ”Halftime” 12” based upon his one verse on the seminal posse cut and I was waiting for Illmatic to come out after again, this blazing 12’’. The first single from Illmatic was a weird promo only 12” which I got and was very slightly underwhelmed. Then Illmatic was finally dropped and I got my vinyl copy the week of its released plus all the subsequent 12” singles from the album. You could say I was a paid up member of Nas fan club. And, being honest, I wasn’t 100% blown away with the album.

Thousands of my readers will tell me I am wrong because it now received wisdom that Illmatic is The Greatest Hip Hop Album Ever. Well I disagree. Firstly, there is the context of Illmatic. Let us not forget around the same time we had Ready to Die, Sun Rises in the East, Cuban Linx, Midnight Marauders, 36 Chambers and The Infamous Mobb Deep amongst others. Of these, for some reason, only Illmatic is now fondly remembered and as I recall Ii was listening to other albums as much as Illmatic such was the abundance of quality around at the time. Of these aforementioned records I would argue that The Infamous and Cuban Linx are, in 2007, better albums. The sheer depth of Cuban Linx and lyrical dexterity of Rea and Ghost coupled with the Rza’s finest work is still breathtaking and every new listen throws up something you didn’t notice previously. But for me, The Infamous is my all time classic and it is, when you really think about it, better than Illmatic. The hard minimalist beats (one track produced by the same golden era Q-Tip) and simple but very effective rhymes make this album pure head nodding perfection. I am not sure why Illmatic is held up as the only classic worth bothering with and in terms of genre defining 3ft High and Rising was just that whereas Illmatic is just very very good. It wasn’t a revolution. I’m not hating on Nas, although I think he is a shadow of his former self these days, I’m hating on those that tell me Illmatic is classic when they wasn’t listening to it at the time (Illmatic sold poorly on its initial release) and seeing as I was there I can say, with authority, that Illmatic is no better or worse that a slew of other records released at the time. Life’s a bitch.


6 Responses to “Illmatic is overrated”

  1. jesse says:

    ill admit, i was only 13 at the time and not yet into rap, but im familiar with all those albums. mobb deep cannot hold a candle to nas’ rhymes on illmatic, and that, to me, is what places his album on top. illmatic also has greater mass appeal within the entire hip hop community and has better stood the test of time.

    nice blog by the way. im gonna check out more of your hip hop reviews.

  2. jingjok says:

    Jesse, I was there at the time and I can tell you that in terms of the nod factor that Mobb Deep and Cuban Links was superior. Like I Say, we are told Illmatic is the best but I haven’t listened to it for a while (apart From Life’s a Bitch) whereas Cuban Links I still listen too. Besides, Nas is wack these days whereas Ghost and Rea still hold the underground in the palm of their hands. It’s all about opinions.

  3. Vikesco says:

    Wow, i totally disagree with you saying that Illmatic is overrated. Infact, I think it’s underrated, the lyrics he uses are insane. I’ve been listening to Nas since he dropped “Live at the BBQ” to “Hip Hop is Dead”. His lyrics are deep, you have to think about what he’s rapping about.

    “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death” – Nas on NYSOM.

    A lot of cats are sleeping on this album, it had no mass appeal because no one knew who he was when coming out of Queensbridge. Why do you think his following albums did well? “It was Written” and “I am”, they were riding the success of “Illmatic”, it is even a 5mic album, rated by the source.

    There’s not one song in my opinion that you can skip, you start off at New York State of Mind (imagine rapping over that beat! Nas killed it). “One Love” is such a great story will intellectual lyrics. Just wanted to share my 2cents with you.

  4. RubyRed says:

    I still don’t know why people are so overly obsessed with illmatic. Being in the 7th grade at the time, I didn’t really understand why people thought his lyrics were so amazing. Rakim, Kane, and KRS was doing that yrs before that. And till today still don’t understand it. That basicaly says I’ve heard rhymes like that before. The real fact of the matter is the beats were disappointing. Pete Rock’s beat didn’t serve justice with ” the world is yours”. Because “Mecca and the SoulBrother” album beats were way better. And believe it or not I’m a big time Nas fan. I have all of Nas’s albums, Stillmatic is clearly to me the better album to me. Mobb Deep’s “Infamous” album I think was way better. Cause to have a great album or one of the best albums, the (beats and the lyrics) have to be on point. The only beat that served justice to me was “memory lane”. The lyrical content of the album of course was one of the best. But the beats, people, were horrible. When Dr. Dre and snoop first came out. OH! my goodness, snoop’s style with dre’s beats. I don’t think should say anything else.

  5. joululaulu says:

    Good post once again! I am looking forward for your next post:)

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