Revisiting The Illmatic Track List

Let’s talk Illmatic.

Nas dropped Illmatic 21 years ago (as of 6 weeks from now), so what better time to talk about it? Shit, Illmatic is one of the best rap albums of all time, possibly even the best, and it came out when Nas was just a 21 year old trynna make it outta Queensbridge. What makes it so good? Why is it the shit? Well, to discuss that, we’re gonna revisit the Illmatic track list.

  • The Genesis
  • N.Y. State of Mind
  • Life’s a Bitch (feat. A.Z.)
  • The World is Yours
  • Halftime
  • Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park)
  • One Love
  • One Time 4 Your Mind
  • Represent
  • It Ain’t Hard to Tell

Nas - Illmatic

The Genesis

The Genesis kicks off one of the most iconic albums of all time with what’s easily the most iconic train sample of all time. It’s also got a classic skit that’s not funny or anything but just feels real. It’s not exactly like good kid, m.A.A.d. city where it feels like a movie, but it does feel like a documentary about Nas and where he came from. There’s only 10 tracks on Illmatic, and the first one doesn’t even have any rap on it. But, I mean, it kicks off NY State of Mind.

Produced by: Nas and Faith N.

N.Y. State of Mind

In case you didn’t know where Nas was coming from, it’s from straight out the dungeons of rap. Then Nas says he doesn’t know how to start this shit before kicking one of the best rap verses of all time. Nas raps about both New York and how dope he is, and considering how long he goes between hooks it’s hard to disagree. Another thing is that the hook is just New York State of Mind repeated from a Rakim sample. The hooks in Illmatic are mostly just the track title repeated, and they’re pretty much there to break up Nas’s long narrative verses. Most importantly, Nas never sleeps, cause sleep is the cousin of death.

Produced by: DJ Premier.

Life’s a Bitch

The 3rd track on the album is the 2nd one that’s actually got rap and the only track on the album with a feature (A.Z.) A.Z.’s verse fits in perfectly, because like Nas he’s coming out of the streets of New York and just trynna make it. Then Nas comes in talking about how he’s 20 before the hook hits again and it’s back to life’s a bitch and then you die, that’s why we get high, cause you never know when you’re gonna go. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 2 all-time classic rap quotes in just 3 songs.

Produced by: Nas and L.E.S.

The World is Yours

This album has been my favorite for a long time now, and for about as long this track has been my favorite from the album. It’s of course an homage to the tagline from Scarface, but it’s about Nas as a rapper and his rise (but mainly the grind.) Nas is one of hip hop’s best storytellers, but he can also pack a lot into a short amount of time, so it’s crazy you can follow him as easy as you can. This density is also a reason why Illmatic is only 40 minutes long but considered one of hip hop’s masterpieces. This track is where “I’m out for dead presidents to represent me” came out of.

Produced by: Pete Rock.


This was Nas’s demo type, and it definitely sounds like it. You can also tell why he got signed from it. This is Nas beating his chest, rapping about how he’s the dopest but backing it up in real time by spitting fire. This is a barebones track built for Nas to shine on. The fact that this is called halftime, combined with the dope, simple and playful beats (despite multiple producers) make Illmatic feel like a cohesive project, even though the only concept is the streets of New York.

Produced by: Large Professor.



Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park)

The first half of Illmatic is one of the dopest album halves of all time, but the second half might be even better. Memory Lane really helps this, bringing the chillest beat of all for Nas to do what he does best and tell a story. He actually takes the listener on a trip down memory lane, rapping about his life and kicking it off with a sort of mission statement: I rap for listeners, bluntheads, fly ladies and prisoners.

Produced by: DJ Premier.

One Love

One Love is where Nas shows just how much of a genius he is, if his lyrics haven’t already convinced you. The first 2 verses are addressed to his dude in the joint, and he’s telling him about what’s going on in the outside world. For the last verse he goes back to the usual Illmatic shit, educating through rhyme, but this track is fucking classic considering you wouldn’t notice the verses were going to a friend in prison if you weren’t really paying attention. This is Nas’s talent: he sounds dope enough that you can just vibe, but if you listen closely dude’s saying some shit.

Produced by: Q-Tip.

One Time 4 Your Mind

One Time 4 Your Mind is where Nas really slows it down to do a straight up track for the buddha heads out there. He’s been talking about it all album up to this point so it was only a matter of time. Again, Nas is breaking down his life for folks listening to Illmatic, but he’s keeping it simpler and slower for the folks who can’t handle the fast shit. Nas is an equal-opportunity educator, if nothing else.

Produced by: Large Professor.


This isn’t the catchiest track, but it’s probably where Nas goes the hardest, showing he’s smarter, quicker and doper than any other rapper laying it down. This is about Nas and his crew trynna make it in the streets, and all the dangers they gotta face. In Illmatic, Nas alternates between talking about himself as a man/a rapper, and as a dude trynna make it in the street, hitting some social commentary along the way. For the second to last track of Illmatic, Nas keeps it real so folks think it isn’t all puffing and chilling (after One Time 4 Your Mind.) At the end, he literally shouts out folks living the real life, and some of his producers before telling everyone to come to Queensbridge.

Produced by: DJ Premier.

It Ain’t Hard To Tell

The last track on the album has the most unique production, but the rap is familiar. Remember how he alternates between rapping about himself as a rapper and the streets? Well this is all about how he’s the dopest rapper doing it, and he claims it ain’t even hard to tell that Nas’ raps should be locked in a cell. This is the cockiness of a 21 year old, but also the earned confidence of someone who just laid down one of the best hip hop albums of all time. Folks say Nas hasn’t topped Illmatic in his long career since, but shit, neither has anyone else.

Produced by: Large Professor.

What’s your favorite track?

Shit I know it’s hard, but I still gotta say The World is Yours. They’re all mad dope though and I just end up listening to the full album every time anyways. If you don’t have a copy, you gotta get it in some form, whether it’s mp3, CD or vinyl. If you already have a copy, well buy one as a gift for anyone who would appreciate one of hip hop’s proudest moments.

MP3: Illmatic - Nas

CD: Illmatic

Vinyl: Illmatic [Vinyl]

Spit Talking

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