Illmatic dropped 21 years ago today.
On April 19, 1994, Nas dropped his debut album and changed the game forever. We’ve already revisited the track list, but you can never really appreciate this gem of an album as much as it actually deserves. 21 years ago today, the ’90s version of the golden age of hip hop got it’s signature album as did Nas. Finally, since 1994, Illmatic has been the album that every other album is measured against — debut or not.
Nas was young.
One thing you gotta realize about Illmatic is that not only was it Nas’s debut, but dude was mad young considering he was only 20 when it came out. Yes, that means that Illmatic is now older than Nas was when he dropped Illmatic. Think on that, cause that shit’s crazy. A 20 year old was able to articulate the feeling of an entire city in one moment in time (the mid ’90s), and his discussion of 1994 New York has now lived on longer than the entirety of the personal experience Nas was speaking/drawing on.
Not to mention that Illmatic shaped the hip hop that came after it, from having several producers on one album, to expanding the vocabulary one could rhyme with to raising the storytelling levels you could hit with hip hop. It really makes sense that people compare debut albums (and non-debut albums) from dope rappers to Illmatic all the time, as a (completely unfair) test of how good an album is, and how lasting its power is. 21 more years from now, when the rappers of this generation’s kids are coming up, people are still gonna be saying “it ain’t Illmatic though.”
It made and ruined his career.
Obviously, such a groundbreaking album propelled Nas’s career. He reached a real high level of popularity at a real young age, and he handled it well, continuing to make music and not coasting on his accomplishments. Still, Illmatic was the best thing and the worst thing for Nas’s career. Every single album he released after Illmatic, no matter how dope, was just dismissed for not being as good as Illmatic. Even if that was true, very few (if any!) albums released since 1994 have been better than Illmatic, so Nas shouldn’t be the only one suffering for that. He shouldn’t be suffering for it at all, because it’s fucking crazy to devalue someone’s other work just cause you think they’ve done better (especially when no one else has been able to match their early shit either.) Anyways, Nas keeps trucking on, and Life is Good (his most recent album which dropped 3 years ago) is straight fire, so the real heads stay appreciating the hustle.
Library of Congress?
Anyways, if you know anything about Illmatic, you probably share my anger at it not being in the Library of Congress. This is classic discrimination against hip hop, and Obama’s gotta do something about it. But seriously, considering how important this album is, not only for hip hop but as a snapshot of New York in 1994, it needs to be preserved because it’s mad culturally significant. I will not rest until Illmatic is in the Library of Congress, even if it takes another 21 years.
Anyways, go listen to Illmatic.
If you’re like me, there really isn’t much to say at this point because all this talk of Illmatic is making me wanna listen to it. Go on and give yourself 40 minutes of rap excellence, from The Genesis to It Ain’t Hard To Tell. By the end, it’ll be obvious (if it wasn’t already) why folks are still talking so much about this one album over 20 years later.