I am trying to think of a way to sum up the most prominent feelings I have on Illmatic. The subject matter of the album take us inside the life of growing up in New York City in the early 90’s, something I never have or never will experience. So as a preface, personal relatability to this album is fairly low.
In a time where Reagan’s anti-black, pro-incarceration policies still ran rampant, Nas enlightens us with tales of dealing with discriminatory cops, his streets filled with crack, murderous cops, and troubled youth. “N.Y. State of Mind” tells of kids with guns, crack addicts, and how nothing is like New York city. “Life’s a Bitch” offers a theme that still resonates with today’s rappers: get paid while your here cause who knows long that’ll be. “Represent” is a trans-generational anthem documenting police brutality and standing up for one’s hood.
Growing up in one of the whitest suburbs in Minnesota, I cannot relate to the situation Nas grew up in. But there are similarities between his experiences then and the world we live in now. Police brutality against African Americans is still a large problem in this country. One could even argue we have taken a step backwards in recent years. The crack epidemic (Thanks Reagan…) is comparable to the heroine epidemic we are dealing with now. Nas’ Illmatic and its themes and lyrics are still relevant 22 years later, and continue to have a lasting impact on the hip hop community.
Every track has a memorable beat and good producing, culminating in a well-polished album. Lyrically, Nas has rhymes that this generation can compare to Kendrick Lamar, but their flow is very different. Nas’ flow is not flashy in the slightest, but is perfectly timed to mesh with the beat behind him.
Overall, I enjoyed this album. It gets a little tiring near the end, leaving listeners clamoring for something closer to the first 5 tracks. It has those classic 90’s beats that everyone enjoys. The lyrics are potent and raw, finding relevance even today. I would recommend this album to anyone looking for a good album with historical significance that has held up over time.
Favorite Song: “Life’s a Bitch”
Favorite Lyric: “I woke up early on my born day; I’m 20, it’s a blessing, The essence of adolescence leaves my body, now I’m fresh” – “Life’s a Bitch”