First, a brief note: because I am lazy/awful ima do this bitch Buzzfeed style because from what I understand 1-Little Content 2-List Style 3-? 4-$$$. This week each category will have a brief explanation so you know where I am coming from. Alright let’s hit it.
Banger of the Week:
(This is the one you want to blast through the stock speakers in your Taurus.)
N.Y. State of Mind-This JAM has it all. The beat makes my head move as soon as it starts even if I’m not really paying attention. It works on a sub-conscious level. The melodic part that sounds like low keys makes this whole beat for me, the other elements just frame the melody so there is never doubt as to where the beat is. This song doesn’t require attention, it draws it. “N.Y. State of Mind” is a perfect example of how the correct pairing of style, flow and a beat creates something that sounds complete. I can’t really think of anything that, if added, would make this a better song. Lyrically speaking it does a great job of giving us the setting and mood for the album we are about to explore.
(This is just the line I liked best, usually these make me chuckle the first time I hear them. It doesn’t even need to rhyme I guess.)
You couldn’t catch me in the streets without a ton of reefer/
That’s like Malcolm X catching the Jungle Fever
Right in the Feels:
(This is sort of the slow jam category. I feel like slow jams don’t get enough love but they are just as important as the bangers folks.)
One Love-The intro sets the stage for a pretty sad story. We’re hearing a letter from Nas to a younger member of the crew, perhaps a younger brother, giving him an update from home while he is locked up. There isn’t really any good news. The track then transforms into a general love jam from one man to another. In an album that feels dated and difficult for someone like me to connect with at times, this one still feels really relevant. FEEELS
Beat of the Week:
(For me the quality of a hip-hop song completely depends on my perceived quality of the beat. Here I will break down the beat that MADE a song for me.)
Halftime-From the start I know this base groove is only going one place: the TIPPITY top baby. I mean that driving line relatively high up the bass guitar neck is just so dope. Any song that uses that as a foundation is gonna be rad. I love the hook in this song, I mean its nothin’ fancy but what more could you ask for? We get a lead in from the baseline moving up then outta nowhere HORNS! A sexy little brassy trumpet melody paired with the female backing voice singing “ay” on a descending line and it just works so well for me. Over that stuff the echoing hype man “right right right right” along with Nas reminding me what time it is just fits right in the melody. The party sounds underneath make this a perfect mid 90’s hook for me. This beat slaps.
Honorable Mention: One Time 4 Your Mind
I Don’t Get It:
(I’m not saying this is a bad song, I’m just saying I don’t get it.)
Represent-It’s just too hard. With a really spacious beat that has little movement and no melodic hook to bring it back I don’t think it fits with the rest of the record. The listening experience is jarring. On a different record (four years later) it could be a solid B-side. Here I just don’t get it.
Hook Line n’ Sinker:
(My favorite hook from the week’s record.)
Life’s a Bitch- No matter how many times I listen to this hook it all comes back to 1 simple element: execution. It is perfect. If 100 people tried to perform that hook I don’t know if I would like any of the better. It completely captures the attitude of the whole song. Also this bitch was stuck in my head all week.
(A short album summary)
Illmatic falls into a fascinating transition period for east coast rap and hip-hop in general. This can be seen in the gradient of song styles that appear on the album. From “Memory Lane” to “Represent” songs on this record could be at home in albums anytime from ’91 to ’01. I dig it. The variation makes it an album that flies by and seems to offer something new every time it’s played.