If you ask me as a record collector, a Hip Hop head or anything else that is related to these two terms, I will tell you that ‘Illmatic’ is a straight-up classic. I also think it’s one of the few records that every Hip Hop fan has in his collection or knows about. Nas is an artist that has remained relevant throughout, and despite all years of change in the sound, and the continued evolution of the genre. He is well respected by the community and has an amazingly relatable catalogue of music.
So here we are, 24 years since the release ‘Illmatic,’ undoubtedly one of the greatest debut albums in the history of Rap, and indeed in the history of music, period. Since there are so many versions and special editions of the album, it was about that time that Nas gave it to us as a live album. To understand the meaning of this record, I think I need to recap the words Nas said about his music in recent Netflix series ‘Rapture’: “Its not for dancing. I don’t wanna hear my shit at the club. You know… I don’t want to hear me. I want to hear shit that takes me away from me.” That being said by one of the most famous Rap artists that ever lived on this planet, is in my opinion, a great way to tell people in a few seconds what they can expect from your music.
I’ve seen Nas perform just once; with Damian Marley just after their amazing collaborative album ‘Distant Relatives,’ but it doesn’t take a huge amount of exposure to know that you can expect great atmosphere, great delivery of his work, most importantly a great show.
Right from the start, ‘Illmatic: Live From The Kennedy Center’ evokes the kind of feeling one gets from a Broadway musical, owing in part to the way the music is so synonymous with Nas’ native Queensbridge, and also equally through Nas’ unrivalled ability to put you right there in the middle of the story he’s trying to tell. What makes it such an authentic new version of an old album is the way he introduces every song with honest thoughts, side notes and things that happened after he released them. Songs you’ve known for many years are shown in a cast in a different light, and because of the quality and the flawlessness of Nas’ performance they feel immediate. Close your eyes and you could be standing right in the crowd in front of The National Symphony Orchestra with him. We all know the tracks, but let me put it together like this: Nas takes you on the trip down down Memory Lane like never before, with Queensbridge the story of a teenager growing up in Queensbridge still every bit as much front and centre as ever. It’s honest, it’s deep, it’s dirty – and it’s exactly what a live album by a New York rapper should sound like.
Nas’ huge impact on Hip Hop culture is indisputable, now as much as ever. Not only is he bringing new artists to the fore through his label deal with Mass Appeal, but also because his own music will forever remain an integral part of Hip Hop’s blueprint.