Nas’ Illmatic has influenced many rappers to pay homage. Fashawn paid tribute to the 1994 album in 2010, for example, with Ode To Illmatic, the California rapper’s reinterpretation of the New York emcee’s heralded debut album. As Illmatic turns 20 years old, Fashawn provides HipHopDX with an exclusive track-by-track breakdown of what many people believe is Nas’ greatest album, a project that is celebrated today as much, if not more, than when it was first released.
“I actually feel like it hasn’t aged at all,” Fashawn says in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “Illmatic is a timeless body of work in my eyes. It’s one of the only albums in music that still resonates with listeners today as much as it did twenty years prior to being released. Every time I hear that album, it always feels like the first time.”
I love how they took one of my favorite scenes from Wild Style and put it in the introduction. That movie told the story of a generation just like the album Illmatic did for any kid from the ghetto in the early ’90s. “Stop fucking around and be a man.” It was only necessary that this was at the top of this album.
I knew this album fell in the right hands as soon as I heard Jungle ask Nas, “What the fuck is this bullshit on the radio?” It had my undivided attention straight out of the gate. I couldn’t take my ear away from the speaker at that point. Moments after, “N.Y. State Of Mind” took me on my first trip through the Queensbridge projects.
“N.Y. State of Mind”
DJ Premier provided the perfect canvas for Nas to paint the picture that he painted. Those huge drums at the beginning hit me right in the heart and transported me right to the streets of Queens. When the bass comes in and Nas finally starts spitting, it was the perfect marriage of music and words.
I always wondered what New York was really like. Coming from California, all I knew was Madison Square Garden, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty. Nas invited everyone in to the mind-state of a New Yorker on this record. I could only hope to come close on my debut album and bring people into my world the same way Mr. Jones did in 1994.
“Life’s A Bitch”
I’m glad Nas decided to have at least one feature on this album, AZ. The conversation they had at the beginning of the record let me know that they were cut from the same cloth. AZ bodied the first verse and set the tone just right.
Nas’ laid back tone balanced out AZ’s intensity on the song and gave it a kind of contrast within itself. “The buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto” is one of my all time favorite lines. I even chose to put it on the cover of Ode To Illmatic when it was time to be released.
Have to give props to Olu Dara on the horn at the end of the record. The fact that he got his pops on this record was cool to me, as well. Perfection from beginning to end.
“The World Is Yours”
This song always motivates me when I hear it come on. To this day, I still have debates about if the remix is better than the original version, but we all know the answer to that.
Any one of the three verses on this song could’ve easily made The Source’s “Hip-Hop Quotable” section. Doesn’t hurt to have a beat from Pete Rock in his prime either.
“Before I blunt, I take out my fronts.” To me, Nas was being braggadocious for the first time on this album. Not rhyming about a particular subject, but simply showing you that he knew how to rhyme. I think the title alone was aptly titled and a perfect segue to the next half of the album.
“Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park)”
This one is more of a lyrical ballad to me. I heard rhyme patterns I never knew we’re possible on this record. Aside from creating that feeling of nostalgia, Nas’ pen game was on point. Premo also makes his second appearance on the production. I always love it when they collaborate. Those two go together like Hennessy and Coke.
The sample Q-Tip chose to loop on this was ideal and very familiar to me. My uncle would play that Roy Ayers record around the house when I was a kid, so I automatically connected to it. I have to admit I was amped when Green Lantern left this particular beat in my inbox [in preparation for Ode To Illmatic].
What I connected and related to most though were the stories in this song. It reminded me of my own upbringing. It reminded me of my close friends that I lost due to the consequences of their decisions. This is definitely one of my many favorites on this album.
“One Time 4 Your Mind”
This one always reminded me of “Halftime,” but on a way more relaxed vibe. His verses almost sound like they weren’t even written. The pace of the song was also like nothing else on the album and couldn’t have come at a better time. It was the first time during the whole time listening that I realized Nas had a sense of humor.
This is the epitome of the New York sound to me. Rough, rugged and raw are the only three words to describe this song. In the 90’s, representing where you were from was like an unwritten law. For me this song stands as a tribute to a Golden Era in Rap.
“It Ain’t Hard to Tell”
This song probably stopped a lot of careers before they even started. From Large Professor’s production To Nas’ flawless three verses, I was mesmerized. Never heard someone from the ghetto put words like those together before. Everything I heard prior to this made me feel like I knew Nas, but after hearing this record, he was in a godly realm to me. Perfect ending to the perfect album.
Photography By: Andres Tardio