1994, Music

Illmatic (1994) by Nas

I am not a fan of hip hop and I pay no attention to hip hop or hip hop oriented media. One advantage of that, when I actually listen to hip hop, is that I have no expectations. I don’t know what albums are considered good or not good, beyond seeing some ratings or reviews, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to like or supposed to not like. For many other genres, when I hear an album the first time, I’ve already got oodles of expectations about that record, fair or not. That’s not true of any hip hop album I’ve ever listened to, until this one…

This record is the only hip hop record which was ever hyped up for me. After I reviewed my first Public Enemy record a friend read the review and told me about this. I don’t actually remember his words but the gist was that it was essential and perhaps the best ever. That’s a tall order. And it’s something I nearly always struggle with when I listen to, say, a rock album which others have claimed is among the greatest ever.

I must admit that, on first listen, I didn’t understand that big deal. At this point I have listened to some early ’90s hip hop and there was nothing about this record that seemed to stand out to me, at least in terms of the sound of the record. My first impression was “This is the best hip hop album ever made?” (To be fair, that’s almost always my reaction when I listen to anything that is considered by some to be “the best” of a given genre.)

I’m not the person to review this, as I don’t know anything about Nas, I know little about hip hop, I’ve heard only a little East Coast and Boom Bap in my life and I know basically zilch about the evolution of rap as an art form, having only listened to mainstream hip hop when I have listened to it. But what I read about Nas and his rapping on this record makes it sound like he’s almost rap’s Bob Dylan, that he uses poetic techniques that few rappers had bothered with before, and/or that he uses them in combination with a number of other techniques in a way that hadn’t been done (much?) before. I have no idea if this is true, but I have to assume that based upon this record’s reputation.

Can I tell? Not really. I don’t know enough. I now that Nas sounds like he knows what he’s doing and the record is definitely free of some of the cliches I’m aware of. But that’s about all I know.

Reputation says it’s at least a 9/10 What do I know?

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