We live in an era of overnight success. Since the nineties, record labels have put millions of dollars launching new artists making it hard not to get at least one minor hit with enough promotion. Back in the day, even some of the biggest stars took a while to hit; Bruce Springsteen did not have a top fifty album or top one hundred single until his third album. Billy Joel’s first album did not even crack the top one hundred. Even Prince needed five albums to hit the top ten on either Billboard chart.
Even though we live in an era of instant fame, most of those overnight successes are lucky to have more than two good songs on their debut albums. It is very rarely that any artist comes out the gates with a five mic album but Nas did that with Illmatic, this month’s induction into the Scooter Hall of Fame. In a time when rap was moving to the west coast, Nas reminded everyone where the genre was birthed bringing the focas back to the east coast with the help of Wu-Tang Clan and The Notorious B.I.G..
Ten tracks, not a weak or skipable one among them or even a misplaced lyric in the forty minutes. Illmatic is one of the rare albums you ripped to your computer as a whole in a time before iTunes. Nas had the laid back delivery of A Tribe Called Quest with the street knowledge of KRS-One. And the production was on point, from Gang Starr’s DJ Premiere on New York State of Mind (which has been gone on to be sampled more times to count) to the Human Nature sampling It Ain’t Hard to Tell.
After Illmatic, Nas spent the next twenty years chasing the next classic. He created some better songs like If I Ruled the World and came close with Stilmatic but never a finer album he created than Illmatic. But of course his debut is one of the best in history, not just rap but of all music.