Nas: the milestone "Illmatic" turns thirty

Nas: the milestone “Illmatic” turns thirty

To understand the weight it has taken on “Illmatic” over time, just think that for many critics and fans it is considered the best rap album in history. The debut album by Nasir Jones, aka Nas, published on 19 April 1994, entered the annals not only for its songs but also for the message it conveyed and continues to convey: “Illmatic” contains a sharp narrative that, just like a camera pointed at the street, captures gang rivalry, the desolation and devastation of urban poverty. A raw and vivid documentary. Nas, who was twenty when the album was released, focuses on representing his own experiencescreating very detailed first-person narratives that analyze the problems of life point by point a teenager from Queensbridge. Thirty years of a milestone that the rapper has decided to celebrate with a world tour that will also pass through Italy on 30 October 2024 at the Fabrique in Milan.

The album has also become a cult for its cover, designed in its definitive version by Aimee Macauleywhich portrays a child with afro hair, is none other than Nas himself at the age of seven, and in the background a glimpse of Queens, one of the largest neighborhoods in New York. Nas' immortalized face was recovered from a photo taken by his father, musician Olu Dara. It was precisely at the age of seven that Nas, as he himself declared, began to become aware of what was around him: the rapper admitted that in those years he became aware of living in a ghettoin a context where the majority of African Americans did not have great opportunities to access the social development of the United States, thus remaining on the margins and on the outskirts. His journey, his “formation novel” in music starts right from there. In an early promotional interview, Nas claimed that the title “Illmatic” (meaning “beyond evil” or “the ultimate”) was a reference to his prison-bound Queensbridge friend, Illmatic Ince. In addition to his truthful and sharp account, “Illmatic” is also notable for its many depictions of places, people and interactions.

In his songs, Nas takes the listener into the corners and avenues of Queensbridge, mentioning street names, friends, local crews and drug dealers, using the slang of his hometown. Contributing to the production of the project were, in addition to Nas himself, names like DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip and L.ES making the album a point of reference for the entire East Coast rap scene. Nas, in fact, brought about a rebirth of New York hip hop thanks to a series of stylistic innovations and the evocative lyrics of the ten songs. His creativity and extreme attention to detail in his verses, between rhyme combinations and total mastery of rhetorical figures, significantly differentiate his work from the trend of those years that characterized the Los Angeles scenebased on self-aggrandizement, stories of women, money and luxurious cars.

Despite the great praise received from critics, the success of “Illmatic” was not immediately dazzling. After selling 60,000 copies in the first week, the initial sales numbers did not perform as expected, so much so that the five launch singles did not enter the Billboard Hot 100. The recovery came in the following years, with the certification of the Gold record in January 1996 and the Platinum record in 2001. The success of the album, on a numerical level, was therefore not immediate, but gradual over time.