Nas — Illmatic 20 years later

Standing in front of the same man who proclaimed that “Hip Hop is dead” in 2006, last night the James Cabaret in Wellington, New Zealand was taken back to 1994 — a time when it was very much alive and still growing into the revolutionary genre and street news broadcaster it serves as today. Some people say that it was Illmatic that sparked such a development for the hip hop culture because it changed the way rap music was made at the time; it is recognized as the first album to feature more than one producer on it and valued as “the album that ushered in the era of superproducers”. As Busta Rhymes said in the 2014, Tribeca Film documentary, Time Is Illmatic: “What he was able to do lyrically, completely shift the climate of how the emcee was supposed to rhyme.”

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@nasnyc In Wellington 🙌🙌

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Nas told the sold out venue, “I was writing, thinking what I was going to say to you before I came”, what he did say stuck with me:

“It’s up to the hip hop generation.” He said reflecting on the diversity of the people in the room and the reach his beloved genre and culture had extended to after going for 40 years strong. “I don’t know what they’re doing in politics, don’t know what the Police are doing in America..It’s up to us,” he shared.

“When did you first start listening to hip hop?” He asked. “80s, do we have 80s babies?” There were some. “What about the 90s?” James Caberet lit up, 90s babies were definitely in the house and keen to walk down memory lane with their host who played through the different chapters of his life from Nasir Jones to Nasty Nas, then Nastradamus to God’s Son, “Thank you for coming out..this is such a beautiful place..If you had told me 20 years ago that I would be here with you, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he remarked.

As Hip Hop observed its 40th anniversary last year, being able to witness one of the kings of the 90’s baby hip hop generation, was very special for me. To see him now, as an older man grown out of rap beefs, void of themes in his music probably best left to those in their youth, Nas “the King”, reminded me, as a person of a maturer age in the culture, in 2015, there’s still work to be done in terms of uplifting the culture of hip hop and rap music. Nas is here for it.

He told 106 and Park in December 2014:

“Lets be talented, lets make music that’s gonna move people, that’s going to be daring and bold, lets do something that radio might not play, lets do something that we really feel in our hearts that is really saying something to our people, and that’s what I’m into now.”

Nas remains a revolutionary to today’s hip hop generation, and a sound role model for those trying to keep up integrity in a modern, technological age; where hip hop exists in mainstream arenas that reserves back-seats for those trying to sell records with ethics, and VIP, comp seats for those looking to conform to mainstream realities in order to realise personal dreams of success, money and fame; Nas’ presence in Wellington provided reassurance that hip hop has a conscious tomorrow. Hopefully. As long as artists continue to strive for the type of consciousness that Illmatic started. In the documentary he said:

“When I made Illmatic, I was trying to make the perfect album. It comes from the days of Wildstyle, 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 was 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.”

And that he did. People like Pharell, Alicia Keys, Swizz Beats, Dr Cornell West, Erykah Badu, Q Tip, Kendrick and others featured in Time Is Illmatic to say, the album was more honest and raw compared to anything else they’d heard about their experience as black people living in America.

“In 1994 I was nine years old. ..He hit us with life lessons and insight on how to maneuver through this world as just young black man in America” — J Cole.

All the way in the country that experienced the first dawn of the new millennium, it was made clear to Nas, the love and respect for what Illmatic did to Hip Hop and subsequently, music culture worldwide, is not measurable and still revered today. He told 106 and Park, “As long as they can remember me as being somebody who added something good to the game that’s all I need— somebody who’s real — that’s all I want. It’s bigger than me, it’s about the music because my music will be around longer than me, I’ll be dead and gone, my music will be here.”

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