It would be very difficult to fathom Nas’ debut album Illmatic without certain (very specific) components. That absolutely includes the legendary production of DJ Premier and Pete Rock. A few years back, during DJ Premier & Pete Rock – A Legendary DJ Battle Round 1, the two discussed the project and what a future Illmatic should/would look like. Here are just some pull quotes from that piece, for your reading pleasure.
DJ Premier: I went first after Large Professor, because I used to see Large Professor at Chung King [Studios] a lot, and he was playing me stuff like one of the first records. I remember I was there when he made “One Time For Your Mind.” Him and Nas would just be in there just bullshitting…just making random stuff. I was like, “Yo that’s gonna be on the album?” And they was like, “Nah, we just messing around.” “One Time For Your Mind” was just a mess around song, then I heard the original way Large Professor did “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” then I remember when he remixed it. Really the remixed version is the one that’s on the album. I’m talking about when he re-did the Michael Jackson version. [He] did the “Human Nature,” but they had the original when they had the “Human Nature” playing all the way through, and then he remixed it. Then he did the remix, the Nas with the “King of Disco” on it, ‘cause I remember they were talking about how Biz Markie said, “I’m highly recognized as the King of Disco.” It sounded like he saying, “Nas,” and they did that version too.
I did “New York State of Mind” already, but I knew I had to do a third record, which was “Memory Lane.” Even with “Memory Lane,” I didn’t like the sample which was Reuben Wilson. I liked the sample, but I wanted all mine to be really hardcore and Nas was like, “Nah, we gotta do something different to show something different.” I was like, “Alright, I’ll do that. The “Represent” that’s on the album was the last version that I did to close out the album. Actually “Life’s A Bitch” might’ve been the last song on the album, ‘cause I went to that session to drop off the mix of “Represent” to let Nas hear it. And that’s when I met Nas’ father; he was in the studio at Chung King doing the horns to “Life’s A Bitch” and all that. I remember [Nas] was like, “Pop, you gotta do it like this,” and [Olu Dara] was like, “You want me to go down or you want me to go way down?” He goes, “Go way down.” I remember the last take he did is the one that’s on the record. That was the day I met AZ. With “The World is Yours,” I don’t know what you was on then. [Turns to Pete Rock], Had you heard any of the songs on the album besides that? You hadn’t even heard any of my stuff yet?
Pete Rock: Nope. [“Life’s A Bitch”] happened from hanging in Queens. I used to hang in Queens — like in Jamaica and Flushing a lot. I was hanging with other Rap artists like Dres from Black Sheep, Royal Flush and Mic Geronimo. We would go hang out in Queensbridge and go mess with Havoc and P. Large Professor used to bring me all around, and he brought Nas up to my house like, “Yo I want to introduce you to my man.” He brung him up, and I started playing beats for him. I went through a couple of discs, and then found it. It was already made, so I found it and played it for him. He was like, “Yo that’s the one.” He was vibing to it for like an hour, and he was like, “Yo Pete, I want you to sing this.” He started singing it to me, and I was like, “Nah I don’t want to sing on it.” He was trying to convince me–you know how they be like tryin’ to convince you all the time–like, “Yo, Fam.” So that’s what he did, and it took them a lot to get me on it to sing. He was like, “Yo, just do it like this, ‘Whose world is this.’”
DJ Premier: I remember when I heard the beat then I heard the “Break it down…” I was like, “Damn.”
Pete Rock: I was really proud of it…it actually made Premier go back and do a better beat.
DJ Premier: I remember how Nas, whenever he was coming up with his rhyme, he would cover his mouth and rhyme to himself…speakers blasting. If you cup your mouth like that and the music is playing in the background, you can hear yourself like if you’re in your own room in the circumference.
Pete Rock: I was really happy the way the song came out, everybody’s reaction to it was great.
DJ Premier: And to be at the session, a lot of times producers aren’t at other peoples sessions. We’re like nah.
Pete Rock: He was perfect…invited. Like, “This is Premier.”
DJ Premier: Even the scratches on here, he did it in one take–no punch in from there. He literally sat there, and I watched him just keep cutting.
Nas needs to do this again with the same people; it would be a smash.
DJ Premier: He should do it before it’s too late.
DJ Premier: Come on, Nas. Whats up? We’re ready, baby…were charged!
Pete Rock: I’m over ready for that.
DJ Premier: We’d slaughter that record. He knows that, and if he doesn’t he can sit down with us.
Pete Rock: He would just anoint people with what we’ve been waiting for…a remake with us; we still make hot beats. It should be done, and you still out here spittin’. You should really be considering us.
DJ Premier: Our budgets are lower now, and we got discount prices.
Pete Rock: I believe honestly, he can’t actually have the idea of doing this album again without the guys who…without me or him. You can’t do it without us. I’m not saying he can’t, but I’m saying you gotta include us. It won’t be the same without us, because people are going to look like, “Are Premier and Pete Rock on it? Oh, nah.”
DJ Premier: With somebody like Nas, it makes you want to go make it from scratch. You’re not gonna give something you already have.
Pete Rock: We go hard for him. Me and [Premier], if we know were really gonna work for him and this is really gonna go down, were in battle mode. We’re battling each other. I know he’s gonna come with it so I’m like, “Damn!” It’s vice versa. I think he’s gonna do it.