He was then and is now, Mr. Streetwise, an eloquent and verbally-in-touch youth with every inner city, project building and crime-ridden urban blight of America.
Only six cuts make up this entire album. The first remix by Tha Arsenal’s Def Jef & Meech Wells is of Illmatic’s “Life’s a Bitch,” and the pace is as hectic as a highway speed chase. Much faster and with raw scratches stopping the beat at times, there’s a continuous hard press on the gas pedal as this East Coast funk explosion sees AZ’s lines kick off this release. This is the song that gave AZ a start on his career just from one verse and a hook. But a verse it was, rap along now: “We were beginners in the hood as 5 percenters but something must ah got in us because ALL of us turn to sinners…” When Nas approached the mic that night in the studio, those present couldn’t be luckier. He paints such picturesque and rhythmic patterns, with such a resounding onslaught of words, that everyone is always queued to recite parts of the verse without knowing just why: “..when I was young at this, I used to do my thing hard/robbing foreigners, take they wallets, they jewels and rip their green cardsÖ”
The ultimate remix is by The LG Experience (Easy Mo Bee’s brother) of “One Love,” a quintessential NYC flavor oozing from that golden era. Blessed with a soulful chorus hook from Ken Staton, this jazzy session of bluesy keys and pulsating bass lines adds to Q-Tip’s original production well, even though it’s at a faster pace. Nas’ flow on the mic doesn’t hurt either. Leaving Illmatic with Large Professor’s remix of his very own “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” we’re introduced to Track Masters’ Tone & Poke on their remix of “Sweet Dreams” featuring R. Kelly, taken from Nas’ sophomore release, It Was Written. R. Kelly’s floating and sailing vocals in the background of Nas’ verses and throughout the chorus and the bridge, compel you to shut your eyes to enjoy. Also off It Was Written, “Affirmative Action” featuring Foxy Brown and AZ sadly finds itself here, but pulling just “One Mic” from his current Stillmatic release, this remix by Ty Fyffe ends this six-track album with class by sneaking just the beat from Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit.” Still smooth, yet dramatic in its build up and crashing to an incredible calm after each of Nas’ verbal climaxes, this remix fits as if it should be the original.
On Illmatic to Stillmatic – The Remixes, you can’t stare at his baby picture amidst the ghostly concrete Queensbridge projects in the background anymore. Instead it’s the velor suit, ice jewelry and NYC skyline (minus the WTC) that graces the cover art, but one thing still remains the same. Never has a rapper expressed thoughts, imagination and a street style so naturally and effortlessly.