Album Review | Nas – Illmatic

This album was released on April 19th of 1994. It is Nas’ first album and one of the most celebrated and influential releases of all time. It is widely regarded as a classic and a masterpiece. This review will be kicking off my Nas Marathon. I still haven’t finished my Tech N9ne Marathon, but I’ll be working on both simultaneously. If I realize that I’m slacking on reviews, I will put this Nas Marathon on the back burner and finish the Tech N9ne Marathon as quickly as possible. I’ll be reviewing all of Nas’ solo albums, so projects like Distant Relatives with Damian Marley will not be reviewed. Nas is pretty much a legend in Hip Hop, so, like most legends, he has a fuck load of stans. If you happen to be one and you HATE one of my reviews or HATE me for something I say in a review, please tell me about it in the comment section or hit me up on Twitter @OGNickMarsh. Try to remember that my reviews are completely subjective. The songs will not be graded based on how “good” they are, but rather how much I enjoy them. This is completely about ME because I am THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE. Nah I’m just playin’. The alarm just went off at my house and there are people running around. It’s 12:55 AM and I’m in my room. I wonder what’s goin’ on. Jesus Christ. My right leg is so fucking itchy. What the fuck? I need some lotion. I’m ashier than Donnell Rawlings. I’m sorry about that selfish shit I said a little earlier. I first heard this album… Last year. Yeah. That’s right. The first version of this album I heard was Illmatic XX. I’m only 16. I wasn’t around when it first released. I’m sorry if you already hate me (@OGNickMarsh), but most humans don’t have classic albums played for them at child birth. You gotta start somewhere. Want to get even angrier? The only Wu-Tang album I’ve listened to is A Better Tomorrow. Yup. If you’re gonna get pissed off about shit like that then you better just stop reading right now because there’s a lot of classic shit that I haven’t heard yet. Anyway, let me go ahead and begin the review.

Track 1: The Genesis (Prod. Nas & Faith N.)

This isn’t a song, it’s pretty much just an intro to the album. There’s a sample from the Wild Style movie at the beginning. Part of Nas’ verse from Live At The Barbeque by Main Source plays after that. The beat playin’ in the background right now is so fucking smooth. It’s pretty much just Nas talkin’ with his younger brother Jungle and AZ. It’s just a short introduction to the album. I’m not gonna give it a rating since it isn’t a song. I’m gonna be honest tho… This is one of the few times that I don’t delete an intro or interlude. I actually like to listen to this when I’m listening to the album. It just sets everything up really nicely.

Track 2: N.Y. State of Mind (Prod. DJ Premier)

NY State of Mind

This beat is fucking incredible. This is definitely one of the greatest beats of all time. Even if you don’t think you’ve ever heard this song you’ve probably already heard the beat before. That’s what happened with me. As soon as I heard this song the first time I was like “Awwwwww shit. That’s where this shit is from?” For real this beat is amazing. The piano loop is so fucking dope. It sounds like shit’s about to go down. If there’s ever a fight scene in a movie and it takes place in the hood this is the beat that should play in the background. It’s perfect. This beat is flawless. Good job, DJ Premier. The opening bars to this song are so fucking great. “Rappers, I monkey flip ’em with the funky rhythm I be kickin’ / Musician, inflictin’ composition of pain / I’m like Scarface sniffin’ cocaine / Holding an M16, see with the pen I’m extreme.” Most rappers can’t do shit like that these days. Nas does an amazing job painting the picture of the hood in New York. There are crackheads, dice games and gunshots. About halfway through the verse Nas describes a conflict he had with a group of people who “caught us off guard.” It’s almost like listening to an intense scene from a movie. They caught him off guard, so he ran towards his Mac-10 which was hidden in the grass. He picked it up and shot a bunch of people, but then his gun jammed. What Nas has to say on this song is actually keeping me interested, unlike most mainstream songs these days. Emphasis on the words MOST and MAINSTREAM. Nas expresses his dissatisfaction for younger people who resort to violence and gain notoriety later on in his verse. “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” That is one of the most famous lines in all of Hip Hop. “I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind.” That’s pretty much what this song is about. As I said before, Nas pretty much tells us what he sees everyday in the hood. The hook is a sample from a Rakim song called Mahogany. I don’t see what there is to dislike about this song. It’s pretty much the perfect way to open up the album. I definitely fuck with this song. This song is dope af. 5/5

Track 3: Life’s A Bitch Feat. AZ (Prod. L.E.S. & Nas)

Life's A Bitch

This beat is smooth as hell. AZ. A fucking Z. AZ has one of the greatest verses of all time on this song. It’s unbelievable. The way his flow sounds over this beat is insane. I don’t even talk about shit like this often, but the fucking rhyme schemes… You probably have to be a real Hip Hop nerd to understand what I’m talkin’ about right now, but you can hear the complexity of this verse with each bar. Gold. This verse is pure gold. This verse is legendary. I fucking love this verse. “‘Cause yeah, we were beginners in the hood as 5 Percenters, but something must’ve got in us cause all of us turned to sinners.” If you hear this song I promise you the hook will be stuck in your head forever. “Life’s a bitch and then you die / That’s why we get high / ‘Cause you never know when you’re gonna go.” I love that shit. That’s probably one of my favorite hooks of all time. Nas’ verse is pretty amazing, but to be honest I really think AZ outdid him on this one. It’s not like he didn’t have shit to say tho. His verse is still fantastic. “Cuss while I pus from my skull ’cause it’s pain in my brain vein, money maintain / Don’t go against the grain, simple and plain.” I just prefer AZ’s verse personally. There’s a trumpet solo at the end of the song and it’s so goddamn smooth. There’s not really anything to dislike about this song. The verses are fucking great (especially AZ), the beat is smooth as hell, the hook is catchy as fuck and there’s a great trumpet solo at the end to wrap it all up. I definitely fuck with this. This is dope af. 5/5

Track 4: The World Is Yours (Prod. Pete Rock)

The World Is Yours

Ah shit… I said Life’s A Bitch had one of my favorite hooks of all time, but I don’t know… I really like this one too. It’s so goddamn smooth. Damn. I forgot how good the hooks on this album actually were. This one gets stuck in your head just like the Life’s A Bitch one. Every time you think of this song it just makes you wanna sing “whose world is this?” If you’ve heard it before you’re probably singin’ it right now while readin’ this. This is produced by Pete Rock, so you already know this beat is dope af. It’s so fuckin’ smooth. The piano loop is so great. It just gives this beat a really rich and vibrant sound. “I’m out for presidents to represent me / I’m out for presidents to represent me / I’m out for dead presidents to represent me.” Nas’ first verse is dope. The second one is even better. “Dwelling in the Rotten Apple, you get tackled or caught by the devil’s lasso, shit is a hassle.” The record scratches before the second verse are fucking crazy. The third verse is great too. This song is so fucking smooth. I definitely fuck with this song. This song is dope af. 5/5

Track 5: Halftime (Prod. Large Professor)


“Nasty Nas in your area / About to cause mass hysteria.” I don’t really know why, but I always thought that line was so fuckin’ dope. The beat is cool, but I never really liked the way those horns came in between the verses. Also it got kind of annoying hearing that guy say “right” all the time. “I drop jewels, wear jewels, hope to never run it / With more kicks than a baby in a mother’s stomach.” There are so many dope lines in this song. “‘Cause when I blast the herb, that’s my word / I be slayin’ them fast, doing this that and the third.” The way Nas references people who are important in black culture (Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey) is dope to me too. Not to mention the line about Jose Garcia. I fuck with this song. The beat on this song doesn’t really stand out as much as the other’s and the breaks between the verses were a little irritating to me, but the bars were there. Nas’ verses were great. This song is dope. 4/5

Track 6: Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park) [Prod. DJ Premier]

I fucking love this beat. It sounds like some church music. The first time I heard this beat… This is kind of embarrassing, but the first time I heard this beat was in an Ace Hood song. Yup. The guy who made Bugatti. I know what you’re thinking, but trust me. When he isn’t desperately trying to reach a mainstream audience Ace Hood can actually rap pretty damn well. The song was called Forgivin’. It’s not the exact same beat, but he sampled this song and it didn’t really change that much. I don’t even know why the fuck I told y’all that. I think that’s the reason this song makes me think of church tho. The Ace Hood song is actually pretty religious. Alright lemme stop pissing off old heads and talk about the classic here. The beat is dope af. Nas’ flow is great. “Grew up in trife life, the times of white lines / The hype pipes, murderous night times and knife fights invite crimes.” Goddamn. Did you read that shit right there? That shit is fuckin’ crazy. He rhymed 13 words with each other in like 2 bars. That shit is crazy. He fuckin’ killed this shit. He was so much better at… Not even flowing over a beat and having interesting shit to say, but just putting words together and rhyming. He was so much better at that shit than rappers these days. Nobody raps like that anymore. Well, I haven’t really listened to any of Your Old Droog’s music yet… This shit is fucking dope tho. That’s really the point I’m trying to make. This shit is just dope. The scratches on the hook are dope af. That second verse is real af too. I definitely fuck with this shit right here. This shit is dope af. 5/5

Track 7: One Love (Prod. Q-Tip)

One Love

Oh wow I didn’t know Q-Tip produced this song. Actually that’s a lie; I did know. I don’t know how to put this… This song is… The lyrics are… Nas is rapping a letter that he wrote to one of his friends who is in prison. This beat is great. The bells in the background are real nice. Nas is talkin’ about how the prisoner’s baby mama is a “snake,” Jerome’s niece got shot in the head and little Rob is “selling drugs on the dime / Hanging out with young thugs that all carry nines.” There’s a song in which that line was sampled for the hook, but I can’t remember… Fuck. What song was it? Damnit. I’m gonna be thinkin’ about this forever. I can’t remember a damn thing about the song. I don’t even know who the song is by or what the beat sounds like. I just know the way the line was sampled for the hook. Fuck. Anyway, Nas just mentioned Cormega. Are they still mad at each other or are they friends again? It’d be dope to hear a new song with both of them… I don’t know how I feel about this hook… The way Q-Tip is singin’ doesn’t really sound like it fits over this beat. The second verse is dope, but the third verse is definitely the climax of this song. He’s pretty much describing a conversation that he has with his friend. The way he paints such a vivid picture is like listening to a scene from a movie. It’s really like he’s reading a book that just so happens to rhyme and flow well over a beat. I’m not exaggerating either. It’s really that good. I’m not in love with the hook, but I am in love with the verses and the beat is dope too. I fuck with this shit. This song is dope af. 5/5

Track 8: One Time 4 Your Mind (Prod. Large Professor)

This beat is much more laid back and mellow than a lot of the other ones on this album. Nas’ flow is slower and more relaxed on this song for the most part. That’s not a bad thing tho. The song just has a much smoother vibe. Yo I am so fuckin’ tired right now. You wouldn’t believe how fuckin’ tired I am right now, man. It’s fuckin’ ridiculous. It’s 2:58 AM. I really should go to sleep, but I’ve been on like a 7 day spree of posting shit everyday. This might have to be the review to end that shit man. I’m ’bout to pass out for real. Goddamn. To be honest I specifically chose Nas for this marathon because Illmatic is so short. I’m fuckin’ tired as a motherfucker. Alright I’m gettin’ side tracked. Let’s see… It seems like he’s rappin’ from the perspective of a younger version of himself in the first verse. It’s a cool verse, but shit really gets poppin’ on the second one. Shit gets poppin’? What the fuck? Why am I talkin’ like this? I never say that shit… I need to sleep. “I’ma lamp, ’cause a crime couldn’t beat a rhyme / Niggas catching 3 to 9’s, Muslims yelling ‘free the mind.'” I fuck with this song. This song is dope. Fuck. I really didn’t say much about this one… To be honest this song really doesn’t stand out that much. I still really like it tho. There’s just not much to say about it. The beat really doesn’t stand out that much to me. Nas did his thing tho. The hook is average. 4/5

Track 9: Represent (Prod. DJ Premier)

This beat is dope af. This beat gets stuck in my head every fucking time I hear this shit. This shit is gangsta as fuck too. “We all stare at the out-of-towners / They better break North before we get the four pounders and take their face off.” Nas’ flow is on point. The hook is pretty simple, but it gets stuck in your head just like the beat and I like that it doesn’t last too long. “Somehow the rap game reminds me of the crack game.” This is another one of those incredibly famous lines from Illmatic. I’m not gonna lie. Before I heard this album I thought Jay Z made that comparison first. I’m 16. I love the way Nas ends the last verse. He just says “I’m ghost, one love.” That’s so fuckin’ dope to me. I don’t even know why. I definitely fuck with this song. This song is dope af. I just yawned so fuckin’ hard just now. 5/5

Track 10: It Ain’t Hard To Tell (Prod. Large Professor)

I fucking love this beat. This beat is fucking incredible. It’s just so fuckin’ great. It sounds like something that would play at a huge ass celebration. This is the beat that plays in the background of the celebration that a tribe is having when they appoint a new leader or something. This beat is fucking incredible. I love this beat. The fucking horns and the voices in the background are great. The first verse to this song is one of my favorite verses on the album. I don’t even know why. I just love the way he comes in saying “it ain’t hard to tell!” It sticks in my head every time I hear it. “Nas is like the Afrocentric Asian, half-man, half-amazing.” I don’t even know what the fuck that line means, but I fucking love that shit. Half amazing? Amazing isn’t a thing tho. That’s an adjective. I was so confused by that shit the first time I heard it. I fuckin’ love it tho. The vocal sample used for the hook is incredible too. This beat is fucking flawless. This is definitely one of the best beats I’ve ever heard. I love everything about this song. The verses, the flow, the beat, the bars I don’t understand… Everything. I fucking love this song. This song is dope af. 5/5

Final Thoughts:

This album is absolutely dope af. Y’all are probably already mad at me for not giving this album a perfect score, but I’m not saying every track isn’t fantastic. I’m saying I enjoyed some tracks more than others. It’s clear why this album is considered a classic. Nobody raps like this anymore. Nas rhymed shit so well. When I was like 4 years old I used to think that rap was just rhyming. I didn’t know what flow or production was. It was rhyming. That’s always kinda been the most important part to me. This is the reason I’m blown away by people like Tech N9ne. This is the reason I’m amazed when Nas says shit like “Grew up in trife life, the times of white lines / The hype pipes, murderous night times and knife fights invite crimes.” Nas will always be one of my favorite rappers. He may put out shit like Summer On Smash, but that doesn’t cancel out N.Y. State of Mind. You Owe Me doesn’t cancel out The World Is Yours. Big Girl doesn’t cancel out It Ain’t Hard To Tell. Fuckin’ Nastradamus doesn’t cancel out Illmatic. It’s not a flawless album, but there’s a reason people put Nas up there with Biggie & Pac. There’s a reason that Nas is one of the most well-respected musicians in history. This album is a classic. I can’t not fuck with this shit. This album is dope af.

Favorite Song: It Ain’t Hard To Tell

Least Favorite Song: One Time 4 Your Mind




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