IT AIN’T HARD TO TELL
In it’s inception, Hip Hop was a thing of authenticity. So to be considered a good mc, authenticity and adherence to culture is,or was, above all. It used to be that as an mc you had to prove yourself within a cypher, on a verse, and on an album to even have credibility within the community, especially on the streets. It used to be that initially mcs had to build their credibility by putting out these immaculate albums before they ever got the room to gain commercial success. This was the HIP HOP Nas came into.
In 1991, a 17 year old high school dropout by the name of Nas, would spew a hot sixteen on the famous track “Live at the BBQ.” A track that not only helped make the critically acclaimed album, Breaking Atoms, a classic but also put the name of Nas in the mouths of heads everywhere. This ONE VERSE, and collaboration with the GOAT, Large Professor, would land Nas a record deal, with the help of MC Serch, and the once in a lifetime opportunity to execute the album of all albums. An album that is revered by most head’s as the perfect Hip Hop album.
Illmatic, would take nearly two years to conceive, with an all star producer cast that included, Pete Rock, Premier, Q-Tip, to name a few. The first album of its kind to ever incorporate more than one producer to create one sound. The Source would reward it five mics. Five mics. Five mics, crediting it to be an “instant classic.”
Sometimes, all you need is five mics. And Sometimes greatness doesn’t take time to be recognized. With Nas, “it [wasn’t] hard to tell.”
Similar to the Big Three, Nas would solidify his legacy early.
25 years, and 2 million copies later, the album would deem itself to be such a classic, that Nas would be the first tenured hip hop artists to go on tour off the clout of one album. One album.
Nas would go on to release eleven other solo projects but none would ever come close to the greatness of Illmatic.
Some people would argue that he indeed has other classics besides Illmatic, but how could his other albums compare. A lot of people want to throw out numbers and accolades, but that can’t be used as a frame of reference with the Hip Hop of yesteryear due to the limited accessibility. As I stated earlier, Illmatic has only sold 2 million copies to date, and did not officially go platinum until 2001, which was 8 years after its official release.
Stillmatic, was also rewarded 5 mics by The Source, but it seemed a hasty decision influenced by the smoke around the release. The album included the infamous ETHER, which drove its numbers, with circulation of the beef between him and Jay. It is also regarded as a classic because people claim that Nas came back to his original mission of being a street “disciple,” but Nas never steered away from that persona.
The trouble was never that he was not adhering to his original mission statement. The collaborations with Lauryn and Puff were not far fetched, they rang true to his braggadocio style, seeking power and having power. The trouble was abandoning the same focus he had at 17 to produce an immaculate album to solidify him. That comes with the demand to push units, that comes from not having the same people in the room with you, it comes sometimes from not being inspired.
Historically, a broken Nas makes for the best rhymes, and the best moments. After Illmatic, Nas’s discography becomes about moments (amidst songs we wish he never penned-owe me).It’s those moments within his albums where he gives you the heaviest bars and vivid stories that you remember why Nas can be chiseled onto someone’s top 5. No, he hasn’t been the most consistent, but who has? (Not Jay) Nas’s essence is reminding you that he’ll let you live on any given track, but fuck around and forget and he’ll make you remember. Make you remember that he embodies what a true mc was set out to be —a braggadocio poet with a history degree. This is his greatness.
This is THESIS.
P.S. Nas won the battle, but Jay won THE battle. The tee is set.