Rappers' Delight: Under The Influence Of 'Illmatic'

Vic Mensa, El-P and more on Nas’ classic debut…
Nas - Illmatic

Hip-hop’s own Holy Grail, Nas’ classic debut album ‘Illmatic’ celebrates its 20th birthday in April 2014. Clash recently talked to the Queens, NYC rapper about the impact that the record continues to have on the genre – read that interview here.

As well as getting its maker’s own take on the way that ‘Illmatic’ continues to inspire, we also reached out to a range of today’s best MCs and producers, to find out when they first got their hands on the record, and the effect that it has had on their careers since. In their words: it’s a “pinnacle of lyricism”, which “raised the bar permanently”. Yeah, it’s pretty great.

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Bishop Nehru

When did you first hear the album?
The first time I heard ‘Illmatic’, I was around 13, and it was recommended in a list of the best rap albums of all time, with other classic projects from like Wu-Tang Clan, 2Pac, Biggie, DOOM and so on. After seeing that, I looked further into each record. 

How has ‘Illmatic’ influenced you?
It has been a huge influence on me! The lyricism of each track is amazing – each track has its own story, and that’s something I really like about it.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?
If I try and pick a favourite track, later on I'm going to wish I said a different track. I seriously can’t pick just one!

Read our Next Wave Class Of 2014 interview with Bishop Nehru


Bishop Nehru, 'Fickle Mind$'

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A$AP Nast

When did you first hear the album?
I heard ‘Illmatic’ and I was like, “This is that shit,” and that was it from there. I had older homies around me that was actually into music in that era, who put me onto it, like, “This is the shit”. Pretty much all of the music I listened to was brought to me that way. It was all very organic.

How has ‘Illmatic’ influenced you?
I’m just a very big fan of Nas’ wordplay, forever. He’s definitely one of the illest lyricists to even record a record, alongside Eminem. Those two are probably my favourite artists of all time.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?
Honestly, I think the whole album is ill, I don’t really have a favourite song. I f*cks with the album in general. That’s like (Jay Z’s debut LP) ‘Reasonable Doubt’, I don’t have a favourite song [from that either], I f*cks with the music as a whole.


A$AP Nast feat. Method Man, 'Trillmatic'

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Vic Mensa

When did you first hear the album?
I first heard ‘Illmatic’ in about seventh grade, I’m sure, aged 12. I can’t remember if I got it off a mixtape off Nico (Segal, ex Kids These Days member), or if I got it off LimeWire. I think Nico had a hard copy – he had the CD, and he burned it for me.

How has ‘Illmatic’ influenced you?
I mirrored so much of my style in my earlier days around Nas and ‘Illmatic’. I was really trying to rap like that. I used to print out pages of Nas raps and imitate them, count the syllables and bar structures and make clone raps. Same flows, but just different words.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?
‘Memory Lane’ was always my favourite song.


Vic Mensa, 'Hollywood LA'

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Chuck Inglish

When did you first hear the album?
I first heard ‘Illmatic’ in 1995 in my cousin, Boldy James’, basement. I was in sixth grade. Boldy had the tape. He was a couple of grades older than me. That's what he and his friends were on, so they put me up on it.

How has ‘Illmatic’ influenced you?
It's a mile marker of lyricism. Anybody that raps thinks of ‘Illmatic’ as one of the pinnacles of lyricism.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?
‘Represent' is my favourite track. I don’t know why, but it's my favourite on the album... by a long shot. ‘NY State Of Mind’ after that.

Read a longer interview with Chuck Inglish.


Chuck Inglish, 'Drops'

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El-P

When did you first hear the album?
A friend brought the tape over about a week before it dropped – I’m not sure how he had it. We smoked a joint and listened to it at least six times in a row.

How has ‘Illmatic’ influenced you?
I consider it one of rap’s perfect albums, something that every rapper afterwards had to strive to live up to. It raised the bar permanently.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?
My favourite track is ‘One Love’.

Read a longer interview with Killer Mike and El-P, discussing Run The Jewels.


El-P, 'The Full Retard'

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Killer Mike

When did you first hear the album?
My potna (friend) worked at a shipping warehouse and stole tapes. I was amazed at how perfect it was. He was even better on this than his ‘Live At The Barbeque’ verse (with Main Source).

How has ‘Illmatic’ influenced you?
‘Illmatic’ has made and makes me strive for perfection on every album.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?
My favourite track from the album is a tie between ‘Life’s A Bitch’ – he and AZ are magic on that track – and ‘Memory Lane’.

Read a longer interview with Killer Mike and El-P, discussing Run The Jewels.


Killer Mike feat. T.I., Bun B and Trouble, 'Big Beast'

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Homeboy Sandman

When did you first hear the album?
I first heard ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’. I had a boy named Paul Zapata, and we was always talking hip-hop, and he put me onto that. I’m not sure I heard ‘Live At The Barbeque’ or ‘Halftime’ when they came out, so when I heard the rest of the record it was all new to me.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?
‘One Love’ is a masterpiece as brilliant as the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel, anything that’s ever been done artistically and creatively. There are a couple of songs that I’ve heard in my life where I think, this is the standard for what I want to achieve, and that’s one of them. It was brilliance throughout, but One Love from a storytelling standpoint is as good as anything ever done.

Read a longer interview with Homeboy Sandman.


Homeboy Sandman, 'Bad Meaning Good'

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As told to Grant Brydon

Related: read our interview with Nas, discussing ‘Illmatic’.
Related: read our Spotlight feature on the album.

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