Nas first touched on what the atmosphere was like in New York City as he was recording his debut, which was released in 1994. He says the city was picking itself up from what he referred to as “the roaring ‘80s” and soon welcomed an influx of drugs, weapons, and new politicians.
“We were recovering from the roaring ‘80s. The ‘80s was action-packed,” Nas said. “The police were trying to figure out the city. They got a hold on the city better than they had in the ‘70s. Cause I used to hear wild stories about the ‘70s. I was born in ’73. I remember it just slightly. But it was a different place from 42nd Street Times Square to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem. By the time the ‘80s hit with crack and all the—the Nike, and Nike was becoming Nike around then. Adidas was becoming Adidas around then. Just from brands to the economy in New York was really bad. And just getting better in the ‘80s. So, they had this big, big boom of the influx of drugs, semi-automatic weapons, new kind of politicians.”
Among the artists who lent their assistance on Illmatic were DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, and A Tribe Called Quest emcee, Q-Tip. Nas referred to the group of producers/emcees he worked with on Illmatic as “a dream team” and expressed his appreciation for their assistance on the album during his interview with BBC Radio 1.
“It’s my first album, man, and I had a dream team of those guys,” he said. “L.E.S. is from my neighborhood. He’s a friend from around the way. So, he was not even in the game. And I was happy they was not mad that he was on the album. Because to have those guys, the guy behind Tribe Called Quest. You know? And again, all the albums back then were produced inside the camp, in-house kind of projects…So, albums like this in rap were never done before. Especially with a new guy. So, here I am this new guy and I get to have Q-Tip, Premier, and Pete Rock all on my album? On my first album? It was like—And no one had seen nothing like it before. So, I can’t tell you how lucky I was then and how lucky I am now that I was able to get them.”
In honor of the upcoming Illmatic anniversary, Nas appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” to perform both “One Love” and “The World Is Yours” alongside The Roots and Q-Tip. Prior to last night’s performance, Nas spoke on the creation of the Q-Tip-produced “One Love,” which he says was orchestrated by Large Professor.
“Well, Large Professor was the guy I knew,” he said. “He was the one that was putting me in touch with all of those guys. They were friends of his already. Cause he was already in the game and he saw us and everything. So, they already had relationships. So, what I told him, I said ‘Yo, I really wanna work with Q-Tip. You think he’ll do it?’ And he said ‘Yo, Tip’s a cool brother, man. I’m gonna introduce y’all.’ So, I was like ‘Alright cool.’ So, it just was a matter of time of whenever Large Professor was ready to make that meeting. And when he made it happen he brought me to Tip’s crib and Tip already had the idea for me. He had ‘One Love’ and he played it for me…So, I wrote that song just the way life really was. Writing your friends in prison.”
To pay tribute to Illmatic on its 20th anniversary, Nas is slated to release illmaticXX, a 20th anniversary edition of his debut. The album is scheduled for release on April 15 and will include unreleased remixes to the original cuts on the album, unreleased versions of “I’m A Villain,” and audio from Nas’ appearance on The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show from 1993.