Nas - Illmatic XX

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Aside from an obvious inclusion of classic source material, "Illmatic XX" brings little innovation to a project that still holds up on its own after 20 years.

For the last 20 years, Nas has both run from and back to Illmatic. He’s mocked Golden Era romanticists rhyming, “They thought I’d make another Illmatic, but it’s always forward I’m moving / Never backwards stupid, here’s another classic” on an album whose very title, Stillmatic, incorporated the name of his crowning artistic achievement. Now, two decades removed from his debut, Sony/Columbia offers a re-release of Illmatic. The inherent trouble with such reflections is that without new perspectives, they’re essentially overpriced reminders of the source material. This is where Illmatic XX resides.

Illmatic XX opens with one of Nas’ early demo offerings, “I’m A Villain.” The Jae Supreme-produced track was clearly spawned from the same rhymebook that produced “N.Y. State Of Mind”—and that’s not a bad thing, considering it’s one of the scant few “new” offerings found on this re-release. Nas is in post-“Live At The Barbeque” mode. The bars border on Horrorcore, but aren’t as shocking as the infamous “went to Hell for snuffin’ Jesus” line.

“Full of anger / All about danger / Pullin’ out my banger / Stabbin’ up a stranger,” a young Nas snarls. Between such talk and his threats to catch bodies at block parties, there’s some militant talk (“Rebel, but my country doesn’t want me”). It’s a great insight into the dichotomy of a young Nas—then, clearly influenced by Kool G Rap, but still equally attracted to radical leanings later found on tracks like “Revolutionary Warfare” or the gun-toting machismo of “The Message.”

An appearance by Nas, Jungle, Sudan, 69 and Grand Wizard on The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show provides one of the more candid glimpses into Nas’ career over the past two decades. Likely recorded months before the release of Illmatic, the track features Nas fumbling through a surprisingly rudimentary freestyle:

“Off the top of my head, yo I’m a blunthead / Police, police want a nigga dead / But I’m not going out like that black / I kick the actual facts and solar / Cold as a polar / Bear, I swear…”

It’s certainly not five-mic material, but the nostalgia factor and Nas’ willingness to truly improvise a freestyle on the spot boost the value of this rare inclusion—particularly for listeners outside the Tristate area with no access to WKCR in the early ‘90s.

The trouble with Illmatic XX isn’t what you hear, but what you don’t hear. In a vacuum, it’s an unexpectedly well-preserved snapshot of Golden Era, New York Hip Hop. Sonically, it strikes the perfect balance between cleaning up the original recordings through the advent of digital remastering without eliminating subtleties such as the crackle of a needle over vinyl. But over the past 20 years, Nas fans have either heard or heard about DJ Premier’s alternate versions of “Memory Lane” and “Represent,” as well as the version of “Nas Will Prevail” that ultimately became “It Ain’t Hard To Tell.” None of the above is included on Illmatic XX, which amounts to a significant omission on an album that was originally only comprised of nine full songs.

Sadat X’s elongated, hyponasal hook is laid over a bed of dark keys for one of two “One Love” remixes, and Large Pro’s remix of “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” (powered by Biz Markie’s infamous vocal sample from “Nobody Beats The Biz) also appear. The likes of Godfather Don, Jae Supreme and Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo provide the requisite stacked SP-1200 kicks, high hats and dark instrumental accents that mark quality Golden Era production. And good as they are, they don’t stack up to what Premier, Pete Rock and Large Professor were doing at the time.

The Lost Tapes lived up to its name with by providing tracks that had either been diminished in quality, missing for years or ruined by obscenely loud mixtape DJ drops. Illmatic XX lacks that element, and unlike God’s Stepson, this project is not a reinterpretation either. As long as material from the original Illmatic contributors remains stuck on hard drives and obscure corners of YouTube, projects such as Illmatic XX serve as glorified maxi singles. The remixes provide a nice accent and a reason to give Nas’ old label $14.99. But with only two truly extraordinary, hidden offerings from the original recording sessions, the original version of Illmatic holds up just fine after all these years without the extras.


RELATED: Nas "Illmatic XX" Release Date, Cover Art, Tracklist & Stream


  • jason

    i only like the first part of the album, the best song on the album would be NY STATE OF MIND AND REPRESNT. Nas is still a legend doe.

  • Rick Boss


    • Vinny Vendetta

      Only thing Rick Ross has is big tities. Nothing else special about Officer Ricky. The fuck out of here.

  • a true classic

    Crazy thing to me bout illmatic is how my favourite track on there will change every few years first it was Represent then It aint hard to tell Then NY State of Mind Then One Love and after getting this copy really been feeling Memory Lane was blasting the shit out of it yesterday

  • osasereobayiuwana

    To a large extent I quite agree with you theres nothing so mind blowing about this project

  • Anonymous

    What an old, boring album.

  • 21 gun salute

    I got the original the platinum and this version now.its really dope the artwork n book you get with it are nice as hell classic album and a bonus cd of im a villain a radio freestyle interview session and the best remixes of illmatic including The Q-Tip World Is Yours one that shit is fuckin classic well worth the money IMO

  • snIPez

    Still hanging on, lol. Fuck, you know you suck when all you can keep releasing is your first album. Over and over and over again. Look at the fucking fags still buying your trash. Ho ho ho.

  • Andre Taylor

    Classic DOPE joint


    NaS Lost is the Nas book only Byron Crawford could write, and not just due to literacy issues in the hip-hop community. Billed as a tribute to the little homey, it is in fact a tribute, but not in the way that an article in XXL magazine is a tribute to a rapper. NaS Lost considers the artist's career in its totality, from its amazing highs to its crushing lows -- and some of everything in between. Discussed in NaS Lost: The 2001 beef with Jay-Z. What really led to this dispute? Nas and Jay-Z as Eskimo brothers. How the two of them became related in a sense. Nas' albums. Is it true what Jay-Z said, that Nas has a one hot album every 10 year average? Illmatic's five mic review in The Source. Was it really the best album of its era? The dreaded n-word. If KKKramer can say it, why can't Nas? Ghostwriting allegations. Can anything dream hampton says on Twitter be believed? The Virginia Tech controversy. What is the real cause of most school shootings? The hostage situation in Africa. Who was to blame there, Nas, the promoters, or the continent of Africa? Nas' marriage to Kelis. Bad idea, or worst idea of all time? Nas as a parent. Why is his teenage daughter posting her birth control on Instagram? Cultural tourism. Why is it that SPIN magazine likes a Chief Keef album more than Life Is Good?

  • Back Block

    5 Favourite Nas albums and fav song each Stillmatic (Ether) Illmatic (It Aint Hard To Tell) Lost Tapes (Drunk By Myself) God's Son (Get Down) It Was Written (I Gave You Power)

    • carAnthony

      @Fuck gay Stillmatic was gr8 and besides his fav track, it's pretty relevant list... Don't know if u trollin' or really think that Stillmatic was garbage, but songs like One Mic, You're Da Man or What Goes Around proves you wrong, smh.

    • poor lil gay child wants attention

      This kid mad cause he gets bullied all day at school for being a fat nerd sittin on his own eating cheese. When he gets home his crack-whore mom dresses him up as a schoolgirl and beats the fuck outta him wit her massive black cock

    • Fuck gay block

      Stllmatic is garbage and ether is his worse song. Its the song where he came outthe closet and proved he is a homo. You probably became a ns fan fromthat song becaue you liked his gay words of that and finally found a rapper who is gay like you.

  • Anonymous

    wait only your website reviewed the album. omar burgess is a thirsty ass writer

  • Anonymous

    Does this reviewer know this is a reissue and something like it was released in 2004 ? Also the new songs were bonus tracks. u don't review albums then the bonus tracks. FUCk u. I read your article about macklemore and the grammys and knew dude was a fish head

  • Robbo

    so this is your first experience with a reissue/remaster, then? Seriously, lols at this shitty review.

  • bizzalls

    HIPHOPDX! PLEASE review LOCKSMITH'S new album, A THOUSAND CUTS that dropped today!! INCREDIBLE album! Incredible! It's reminiscent and comparable to Kendrick's SECTION 80. Real talk!!

  • bizzalls

    IS THERE ANY REASON HIPHOPDX HAS NOT REVIEWED LOCKSMITH'S NEW ALBUM, A THOUSAND CUTS, THAT DROPPED TODAY?! It is an INCREDIBLE album, extremely dope!! He's even got R.A. The Rugged man on there! NO UP AND COMER is spittin' like Locksmith right now! It's a damn fact!! Review it DX!

  • Anonymous

    who gives a fuck about 20 remixes from the track it aint hard to tell or one love! This is a let down. Mobb Deep did a better job so Fuck you Nas

  • Rozay O'Donnell

    It's a trash album, cut and dry. I did enjoy Illmatic, but people can't expect more from this; this is basically the same with the exception of a few twists. If you're going to do a remix album, at least have the decency to hire a producer who's not lazy or into that tired ass trap shit. Now, if you really want something original to add to your album collection, then I suggest you go cop that new Mastermind, available now in stores and on iTunes. It's truly a classic with no filler, no skits, all originality. Ross proves to us that he has a far greater penchant for picking beats than Nas'. Hopefully, when Ross reaches another couple decades in the game, he'll hire some up-and-coming producer to create "Port of Miami - 20 year anniversary", the shit will be an even bigger classic than it is today #bawse 3/5

    • Anonymous

      dont feed the troll

    • J pilkington

      Your a f@#kn joke man.. those albums r wak azz, your tripping hard

    • Robbo

      That Ross album is his weakest album since Trilla, dogg.

    • Rozay O'Donnell

      I agree with you to some extent. Yes, Nas is a legendary emcee and is reveled around the world as the greatest, HOWEVER, the time has come for Nasir to step back and make room for an up and coming legend. I'm talking about the magnificent and charming Rick Ross, ladies and gentlemen. I guarantee you that in 20 - 30 years, you'll still be playing Trilla or Teflon Don and so will your kids and grand kids. Nearly ever disc in Ross' discography is considered a hp hop classic. Maybe one day, hip hop will stop considering him a laughingstock and actually recognize him as one of the greats, like Redman, Jay Z, Big Daddy Kane, KRS 1Cube, Ice T, Nas, etc, etc. etc #bawse

    • Stone Jones

      Rick Ross. Are u serious. Nas is true HipHop & ole fat ass is flip flop. I cant tell u how i feel about fat ass album cuzz i dnt waste my time even trying to listed to that bullshit. Nas is a street poet and his rhymes are so complex you must

    • SHOGUN

      Book a flight on Malaysian Airlines

  • triPAUD

    I understand why this is hard to rate. I assume this is just for the bonus material. I think that was the only issue I guess. For people who don't have it, the rating might be misleading.

  • Oakland Badza

    Best Hip Hop Ive Heard In My Generation - Alumwise

  • Harlem's Reckoning

    "Aside from an obvious inclusion of classic source material, "Illmatic XX" brings little innovation to a project that still holds up on its own after 20 years." First off, rating this album is a waste of time because it's already been signed, sealed, and certified. It's not a separate body of work, remixes be damned. That being said, how in the hell do you make a classic innovative? Makes no sense.

  • Senor John

    He should've posted 2 ratings: Illmatic 5/5 Bonus Cuts 3/5 Now he just judged the entire album so so.

    • Omar

      The both of you can go straight to hell. Did you twits not read what the album title was? It's Illmatic XX, meaning 20, as in 20th anniversary, in case you don't know your Roman numeric symbols. Morons. Anyway, if this is going to be an anniversary, then make it sound like one. Don't do no cheesy remixes, do some fresh tracks for a change. Give the people what it is that they TRULY want. Give the people a REASON why you're called NASTY Nas, otherwise, you look old and lazy and can't put out a decent classic to save your life. This is garbage filler at best. Fuck you.

    • wordup

      how dare hiphopdx review this classic....blasphemy!! ANd i hope the dude who did review this isn't some young cat who has no idea how the climate was to be alive when this first came out. This was a 5 mic classic and as mentioned by Senor John, the new cuts should of been reviewed if you have to even make a review. shame on you hiphopdx.

  • on my soul

    a 3? omar burgess yous a fucking faggot a fucking faggot ass motherfucker fuck you and yo bitch ass mom nigga i dont care if its a re issue its fucking illmatic he aint remove no original tracks from it that album>>>>past present and future of hip hop nigga omar fuck you

  • werklgnk

    what the fuck did hhdx think they'd get out of reviewing this and giving it a 3.. SMH

  • Shaggy IV

    Best Album, Nas does it again !

  • John Cretige

    Just a reissue of the amazing album, would have definitely scored a 5 if was released in the 90's

  • rilesum

    Why the fuck are you rating bonus material of a re-issued classic? of course its not going to live up to illmatic standards, but its for the people who want to buy it for its nostalgic value. You guys should just stop reviewing things on this site, you're almost all fucking terrible at it.

    • Fry

      The King agrees. Nobody runs these streets like us Duck....

    • Duck Johnson

      Except Omar is reviewing the album in exactly that context -as a nostalgia piece for die-hard fans- and saying it could do a better job at fulfilling that remit. And in my opinion he's absolutely right - tracks like 'Nas Will Prevail' should be on here, and without them it's a wasted opportunity; a quick cash-grab rather than a definitive tribute to a stone cold classic.

  • hippaToDaHoppa

    Reviewing these bonus cuts as an album has to be in the top 5 wackest/stupidest things y'all have ever done on here.

  • Anonymous

    Wait I dont get it. A 5 over 5 gets three bcos of some bonus tracks

  • Anonymous

    Its crazy cause Illmatic is the first cd I ever bought and its still the best one I own. I can play it from first to last and know all the words. Not too many cds are like that. Time is flying and Nas is just chilling now but man this guy really put on for years

  • Anonymous

    This Omar guy has always been a fool.its not a new album. Why the review?

  • Truth

    HipHopDX's 2014 Strategy for Success: 1. Post at least one "news" article a week about Lord Jamar saying something bigoted. 2. Post at least one "list" every week written by PepsiCo employees. 3. Give classic albums mediocre reviews. 4. Blanket the website with invasive ads that make it impossible to read on a mobile device. 5. ??? 6. Profit

  • jcash

    Classic album, so was Life is Good, Stillmatic and It was written. I don't know how you can rate a re-issue but the original was so far ahead of its time. It stays in heavy rotation on my playlist. I marvel at how a 19 year old wrote those lyrics. Nas raised the bar with Illmatic back in '93. Most albums these days have one or two good tracks. Illmatic had 9 bangers and he went in on each of them.

  • lox all day

    I got the original version n the platinum release so I just told my brother buy this for me it'll do as birthday gift may as well support the best rapper of all time even tho they could of added a lot more extra's too it

  • Truth

    According to HipHopDX: Slaughterhouse - Welcome To: Our House - 4.5/5 Illmatic - 3/5

    • LMFAO That's Low

      No use trying to get through to these die hard fans. Illmatic came out almost 20 years ago, so I'm sure their attention spans have deteriorated and their reading comprehensive skills are on par with a bowl of raisin pudding.

    • Johnny

      It's 3 stars for the REISSUE because it's unnecessary. Is that so hard to understand?

  • lerd7

    Nas, the god emcee...

  • Omar Burgess

    What's your bitching about? Illmatic isn't really a great album. It's a start but others like rick ross built on top of him.

  • Cealix

    Dudes be saying this album is a classic but can't even name the first track off of the album or have never even seen it on cassette before.

  • Drake Til Infinity

    Iggy Azalea will get 4/5 while Illmatic XX gets a 3. Fuck Hiphop DX!

  • A.D.B.

    What a horrific review and giving a classic 3/5 stars! I know Burgess is reviewing the bonus material but regardless its a classic.I have been coming to this site for years and now I am willing to boycott this site.... Who is with me?? This is bullshit and he should be fired!

    • Anonymous


    • YveyQ

      The re-release of this album is simply celebrating its success twenty years ago. Reviews aren't necessary unless you're catering to readers 30 years old and younger. ADB and Kane got it right! And really, Yeezus gets 4.5 for noise and shouting...ugh! Kanye's lyrics are there, but I can't get over the so called music. 1st Time on this site and I'm out!!!

    • Kane

      Site has gone shit and got trained monkeys to review albums, how does Yeezus get 4.5 and this get 3?

    • Anonymous

      fuk dis site

  • Anonymous

    If this site is giving this classic album 3 starts just to get a rise out of us, I understand. I don't respect it but I understand it. I also think you guys are giving the lil waynes of the pop culture 4-5 stars to be funny. I don't think it's funny at all but ya I don't respect it. Here is a tip, live up to your name and get some real hip hop head journalist. Fire all your corny ppl.

  • Anonymous

    is this all nas will be known for let it go already its not that great of a album

    • k

      you are entitled to your own opinion but you do realize just HOW MANY hip hop fans completely disagree with you right? Also it is his most highly regarded album but he is very well known for much of his other work (which includes numerous platinum albums) that is considered classic, including sillmatic, it was written, lost tapes, distant relatives, gods son and many others. most of his best known songs arent even on illmatic. ie ether, nas is like, one mic.

  • Anonymous

    1 of the most over hyped albums ever

  • supreme lover

    this is fuckin stupid, what's the point of reviewing the re-issue. it's pretty much a collector's item

  • Bret Hart

    The Sharpshooter

  • Sika

    Burgess is a 1/5. Dude cant rate real hip hop, all he likes is corny trap music...

  • Anonymous

    I don't understand the point of reviewing a re-issue

  • ELjay

    No serious people, how many times is Nas going to put that album out? I was hoping for some new material. Not a remastered version of an already remastered album. No doubt that Illmatic is a classic album, but this is completely unnecessary.

  • paul

    you've got to be shitting me. 3 stars?. this album is a classic to this day.

  • thisreviewsucks

    This is a terrible review. This album is 5 stars if not 6 on a 5 star scale. No need to hate, this album is a legendary classic status. There wasn't even a need for a review, if you don't know about Illmatic than there's obviously something wrong with you.

  • hiphopdx you have stuffed up AGAIN

    This is ridiculous, 3 stars? its a re release with some bonus material, it shouldn't be rated any differently to illmatic. hiphopdx, I have well and truly lost all respect for your website. How can you say that a problem with the album is that tracks you have "heard about" weren't on the album, that is absurd did nas ever claim they were going to be on the album? no he didnt. Omar Burgess, I will have you know that this review literally sickens me, how dare you step on our culture like this you imbecile, the fact that you work for a site claiming to represent hip hop and then you go on and write this review confirms that you know nothing.

    • cxnj


    • Anonymous

      Production wise, it's really not all that great. Illmatic might be a classic and all, but you can't sit there and tell me that this reissue ain't out for a quick buck, can you?

  • seun

    Nasty Nas is the G.O.A.T

  • baddet

    ONCE a classic ALWAYS a classic , it only gets better with age

  • Anonymous

    Omar Burgess gave 5 mics for Lil Wayne lol

  • dejemen1

    This album should't have been rated at all. It's ridiculous.

  • Robbin Tanks 4 Ammo

    Agree to disagree...but a 3 star rating for Illmatic? With those arguments? Its a remasterd celebration of a classic album.


    HHDX hatin once again, you editors rate the corniest underground rap high 5's but when it comes to true greatness you rating 3 and below. None of you understand hip hop, you are a bunch of nerds that make spelling mistakes and repost shit that's not about rap at all. This is where the gap in the market lies, something must be done.

    • tool

      Nah, you don't understand this isn't rating Illmatic, but the bonus material of this 20th anniversary release.

  • JRich

    Reviewing a re-release of an album that's been reviewed 10 billion times already seems kind of pointless.

  • 80sBaby

    Classic. Point blank.