Memory Lane: Nas – ‘Illmatic’ At 30

An unearthed feature from our archives documents the influence of Nas’ debut on a generation of artists…

Today marks 30 years since Queens, NYC legend Nas dropped ‘Illmatic’, his seminal debut album. 

Setting a new standard for what was achievable within the rap album format, Nas’ work has continued to influence people working within the medium generation after generation. 

“Things go in circles,” Nas told us ten years ago, while reflecting on the album’s impact. “That’s what happens; rap music comes through different generations and everybody kind of just appreciates everybody. And I guess that at this time that particularly applies to ‘Illmatic’.” 

To celebrate 30 years, we’ve gone back into the archives to unearth a decade old feature, never published online, that documents how ‘Illmatic’ was influencing seven rappers who were releasing their own new music around 2014’s  ‘Illmatic XX’ re-release…

Killer Mike

When did you first hear ‘Illmatic’?

My partner worked at a shipping warehouse and stole tapes. I was amazed at how perfect it was. [Nas] was even better on this than his ‘Live At The BBQ’ verse.

How has it influenced you?

‘Illmatic’ has made and makes me strive for perfection on every album.

What is your favourite track?

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’.

EL-P

When did you first hear ‘Illmatic’?

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 6 times in a row.

How has it 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.

What is your favourite track?

My favourite track is ‘One Love’.

A$AP Nast

When did you first hear ‘Illmatic’?

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, that 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 it 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.

What is your favourite track?

Honestly I think the whole album is ill, I don’t really have a favourite song. I fuck with the album in general. That’s like [Jay-Z’s] ‘Reasonable Doubt’, I don’t have a favourite song, I fuck with the music as a whole.

Chuck Inglish

When did you first hear ‘Illmatic’?

I first heard ‘Illmatic’ in 1995 in my cousin, Boldy James’, basement. I was in 6th 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 it influenced you?

It’s a mile marker of lyricism. Anybody that raps thinks of Illmatic as one of the pinnacles of lyricism.

What is your favourite track?

‘Represent’ is my favourite track. I dont know why, but it’s my favourite on the album…by a longshot. ‘NY State of Mind’ after that.

Homeboy Sandman

When did you first hear ‘Illmatic’?

I had a boy named Paul Zapata, we were always talking hip-hop, and he put me onto [‘It ‘Ain’t Hard To Tell’]. I’m not sure I heard ‘Live At The BBQ’ or ‘Halftime’ when they came out, so when I heard the rest of the record it was all new to me. 

What is your favourite track?

‘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’s 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. 

Bishop Nehru

When did you first hear ‘Illmatic’?

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, Pac, Biggie, DOOM etc. After seeing that, I looked further into each record. 

How has it 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.

What is your favourite track?

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 one!

Vic Mensa

When did you first hear ‘Illmatic’?

I first ‘Illmatic’ in about 7th grade I’m sure, aged 12. I can’t remember if I got it off a mixtape off Nico (Segal) 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 it 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.

What is your favourite track?

‘Memory Lane’ was always my favourite song.

Words: Grant Brydon // @GrantBrydon


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