On April 19, 1994, Illmatic was first introduced to the world. Little did everyone know, it would become one of the most celebrated hip hop albums of all time. It’s been 20 years since Nas released his first studio album and till this day it is still considered a classic to many. But what makes this a classic record?
In the documentary Nas: Time Is Illmatic, which was released last year, it goes into depth of Nas’ upbringing all the way into the making of Illmatic. Nas explained the reasons why he made the record:
“When I made Illmatic, I was trying to make the perfect album. It comes from them days of wild style. I was trying to make you experience my life. I wanted you to look at hip hop differently. I wanted you to feel that hip hop is changing and becoming something more real. I gave you what the streets felt like, what it sounded like, tasted like, smelt like, all in that album and I tried to capture it like no one else could.”
When you think about that statement, how many hip hop artists do you know have felt that way when they were trying to make an album? How many of them have that same mentality right now? From what I’m hearing on the radio, there’s not a lot. There is a new wave of hip hop artists that are steering the game in the wrong direction. I think more emphasis is being placed on the beat than the actual lyricism. The only emcees that I feel come close to the art of storytelling and exhibiting great lyricism is Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. They are the only one’s that have the same mindset when it comes to approaching an album. Lamar’s second album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City came out in 2012. Cole’s album 2014 Forest Hills Drive came out late last year. They both exuded great storytellilng within their albums from start to finish. You got to understand the artist for who they really were. You got hear the struggles that they went through to survive in the tough streets and even in their own homes. We got to step into their world, one song at a time. I don’t hear that in hip hop anymore. No one is creative with their lyrics. The art of lyricism is slowly disappearing.
What I appreciate about Nas was his honesty and rawness and his ability to be uninhibited. That’s one of the biggest reason why Illmatic is as timeless as it is now. The real question in my mind is whether Lamar and Cole’s album will reach the same level of success as Illmatic. I really believe they can. 20 years from now, I can imagine that those albums will still be talked about for years to come. Music in general has drastically changed and it will continue to change. Who knows; maybe another artist will come along and change the game for the better. Until then, I have yet to witness that.