Street's disciple, my raps are trifle
I shoot slugs from my brain just like a rifle
Stampede the stage, I leave the microphone split
Play Mr. Tuffy while I'm on some Pretty Tone shit
Verbal assassin, my architect pleases
When I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffin Jesus
Nasty Nas is a rebel to America
Police murderer, I'm causin hysteria
My troops roll up with a strange force
I was trapped in a cage and let out by the Main Source
Swimmin in women like a lifeguard
Put on a bulletproof nigga I strike hard
Kidnap the President's wife without a plan
And hangin niggaz like the Ku Klux Klan
I melt mics till the sound waves over
Before steppin to me you'd rather step to Jehovah
Slammin MC's on cement
Cause verbally, I'm iller than a AIDS patient
I move swift and uplift
your mind shoot the gift when I riff in rhyme
Rappin sniper, speakin real words
My thoughts react, like Steven Spielberg's
Poetry attacks, paragraphs punch hard
My brain is insane, I'm out to lunch God
Science is dropped, my raps are toxic
My voicebox locks and excels like a rocket

This verse was the first time I heard Nas. It was 1991 and I was 12 years old. The track was 'Live at the BBQ' by Main Source. It was halfway through their debut album 'Breaking Atoms' that this breakbeat driven gem lived. 'Breaking Atoms' was a slept on classic of the time that has lived on in hip hop history because of the Large Professors incredible production and the career making/breaking verse you have just read. I remember clearly to this day hearing it, the feeling it evoked was something else. I had not heard such a rhyme, and to be honest i didn't understand it all! I was 12 lets not forget, I had no concept of flow, cadence, bars and the procussive power of the voice. All i knew was that the hairs on my neck had stood bolt up and were not going down anytime soon. As soon as the song had finished I picked up the needle and started it all over again. I was bugging out over the fact he said he went to hell for snuffin jesus! For the rest of 91 the only thing I knew of Nas was that one verse. He was a enigma to me, for that 1 minute plus of vocals he was my new MC hero. He had swooped in, blown up the guest spot and was gone again!

 It was 1992 when he reappeared on my rap radar. Mc Serch of 3rd Bass had just dropped his solo album and I had bought it as quick as I could. I had loved 3rd Bass. They were the real deal and hated Vanilla Ice more than I did! They had split in late 91/92 and Serch was the first to drop a solo joint. Now at the time I was a little let down by the album but that's a different story for some other time. One of the stand out tracks was 'Back to the Grill'. It was a T-Ray produced banger and Nas was a un-credited guest on it. As he had done before he blew me away! This kid could rap like no other!

Finesse, keep a Tech-9 in my dresser
Lyrical professor, keep you under pressure
Mind like a computer, the inserter
Paragraphs of murder, the nightclub flirter
This is Nas, kid, you know how it runs
I'm waving automatic guns at nuns
Sticking up the preachers in the church, I'm a stone crook
Serial killer, who works by the phone book
For you I got a lot to shoot my songs in here
My rhymes are hotter than a prostitute with ghonnerea
On the mic I let vocabulary spill
(It's like that y'all) That y'all, kick em in the grill

So as soon as he had reappeared he was gone again. Years later it transpires after that guest verse he had asked Serch if he could help him broker a record contract/deal. Serch offered him a placement on a soundtrack he was putting together for a small film called 'Zebrahead' to be released later in 1992. The track was to be 'Halftime'

So in the summer of 1992 I bought the 12" of 'Halftime without even hearing it from deal real records in London. I had gone to London with my mum to see a west end show and returned with this soon to be classic record. From the moment I placed the needle to the groove I felt nervous. Would this be everything I had wanted it to be? Would Nas fail to deliver and my excitement be dashed? I knew from the sleeve that Large Professor had produced it so I was at ease it would knock hard but what if the lyrics fell flat?

I had no reason to worry.........

Before a blunt, I take out my fronts
Then I start to front, matter of fact, I be on a manhunt
You couldn't catch me in the streets without a ton of reefer
That's like Malcolm X, catchin the Jungle Fever
King poetic, too much flavor, I'm major
Atlanta ain't Brave-r, I'll pull a number like a pager
Cause I'm am ace when I face the bass
40-side is the place that is giving me grace
Now wait, another dose and you might be dead
And I'm a Nike head, I wear chains that excite the feds
And ain't a damn thing gonna change
I'ma performer (?) show the mic warmer was born to gain
Nas, why did you do it?
You know you got the mad fat fluid when you rhyme, it's halftime...........

I couldnt have been more happy with the 4 minutes and 20 seconds of brilliance I had heard. It was everything and more. A perfect combination of beats and lyrics that had my head nodding like my neck was on fire. I remember grabbing a tape and pressing play and record on my stereo. "I need this for my walkman" I recall telling my mum! Its strange thinking back to those times, my dad was always off doing his own thing at the weekends and the evenings. It just left me and my mum and she would always let me play my rap's and records when dad wasn't there. It was something we would share. It must seem odd to others but its how it was.

At this time I recall getting a subscription to Hip Hop Connection magazine. It was my bible, no other way to explain it. Those early 90's issues shaped my rap tastes. I would read it from front to back and was always on the look out for updates on Nas and if he would be dropping a album anytime soon. I waited and waited, I began to think it would never happen for Nas. Then HHC reported that he had signed to Colombia records with Mc Serch as executive producer and his debut album 'illmatic' was on its way. If I remember right this was in 1993. This news made me crazy happy! I knew that this was going to be something special. I was excited, even more so when I discovered via HHC a month later who he had on production duties. It was a who's who of New Yorks best beatmakers. Those producers were going to help birth one of the greatest records I have in my collection. It was the best mix: Premo, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, Extra P and LES. I was familiar with everyone of them but not LES. Oh well in the company of those kings he must be worthy I thought. I was right, he was.

 I remember back to 1994 like it was yesterday, my little town of Andover had one record shop and I was well known to them. I used to move the albums that I wanted around the shop until I had saved my pocket money up. I would remember the hiding place and come back next week and move it again. It never failed me. Looking back I think its more a case of the staff playing along. Well when it came to Illmatic dropping I had been saving to buy up all the formats I could. I hurried in to the record shop with my gears on, backpack on, rocking my pride and joy Lugz boots! Yeah I know they were kinda wack but back then I thought I was the shit. You couldn't tell me different. So I marched up to the new releases wall and grabbed the cd and cassette. I was so happy. My world was about to be changed. I gave my money over like it was burning a hole in my hand. Grabbed the bag and headed for the door and the nearest bench. I sat down and pulled out the tape, removed the plastic and popped it in my walkman. I had been wise that morning and bought some fresh batteries. I pressed play and that now very well known introduction kicked in..........

I don't know if anyone else agrees but I think 'The Genesis' might be the greatest introduction to an album ever. It worked like a trailer for a sequel, it wet my appetite with a slice of the past wrapped up with the classic 'Wild Style' sample as a backdrop. It seemed to me as a statement of intent that we were about to bare witness to something different, something Illmatic.


'N.Y. State of mind' felt like I was on a trip in to the bowels of the projects & blocks. Never had I heard such a captivating story unfolding in my ears. It might sound stupid but I sat there and closed my eyes and it was like a film unfolding in my head. The production was jarring and smooth at the same time, it had complexity and the head nod factor. Premier goes to work at the end of the track like only he can. They make sure we know who the MC is.

'Life's a bitch' felt like like the complete other end of the spectrum to me coming next. It was smooth and incredibly soulful. I hadn't heard AZ before, he dropped a ill verse. He was higher vocally but had a strong flow.  Nas again delivered again. This track touched me, I had recently lost grandparents and the chorus struck a nerve with me. Live life like each day is your last. The trumpet solo is a joyful end to the song. It cemented the deepness behind the the track. I only found out later that the player was Nas Dad. Talent ran deep in that family.

'The World is Yours' blew me away. I knew Pete Rock's work like I'm sure we all did back then. I won't dwell on this track except to say it's the closest thing to musical heaven for me. Nothing beats this track. Nas flows like water over the beat. I will say that I would have loved to see the book of rhymes he mentions at the start of the first verse.

'Halftime' had already been heard but it gave me the exact same vibe as before. The track fitted so well after the previous song. it just showed how important sequencing is to a album. It was something I was mindful of on my pause-tapes I used to sell at school.

'Memory Lane' had me singing Ruben Wilson's 'OOOH' over and over like it was going out of fashion. I remember sitting and really only taking the beat in on that first listen. It was hypnotic, no other way to describe it. Premier did something magical with that record. The way he ends it with the cuts & scratches is perfect.

'One Love' could be the best example of story telling I had heard at the time. It wove a tale that had my young mind wondering who he was writing to. Who was Cormega? What blew me away was how ill the beat by Q-Tip was. I, like others had always thought it was Ali who produced all the ATCQ beats. Of course now we know different but back then I couldn't understand why Tip didn't do more beats! His hook was sublime in its simplicity.

'One time 4 your' mind' was at that point one of Large Professor's finest beats to me. Heavy bass and subtle drums were the order of the day. It felt like Nas was kicking some crazy lyrics like his first two guest verses.
It was descriptive and nasty, just what this kid on the bench wanted. It felt like a freestyle kind of affair.

'Represent' seemed to have that laid back beat that Premier had done many times for Gang Starr. I remember thinking how good a combo him & Nas made. I thought how dope Guru & Nas would be together.
I liked the chanted chorus that was a staple of East Coast rap at the time. I loved the shout outs at the end of the track, so many names!

'It ain't hard to tell' was the last track and the one that had me bugging out the most because of the sample. I had grown up with MJ's records thanks to my Mum. She really dug him back then. It seemed back then to be a really uplifting track for the end of the album. I didn't really listen to the lyrics at that point because I was took hooked in to the beat. The one that did was when he mention Sly Stallone in 'Cobra' as l loved that film! Large Professor crafted perfection.

I sat on that bench for the whole 40 minutes. It still might be one of the best musical experiences of my life. Hands down the most complete production ever. It flows seamlessly from track to track.

I'm not going to go on and ramble on anymore, we have all done that with our friends, crews and fam over the years. We have also read everything we can on it. I'm sure that whoever is reading this is of the same opinion.

So my question is this: What was your first personal experience of Illmatic like?
Chris Cammack 2011


  1. Bang2000xl27.12.11

    I had the pleasure of readin this from Chris, he sent me the email & he was dead on w/his opinion, him comin from the UK & me being from Cali theres no denyin that Nas hit all of us w/the same feelin!!!

  2. @Bang2000xl I totally agree with you. Not only was this album the epitome of classic but the production was something that can never be duplicated. Very rarely will we ever hear another album where lyrics and beats were so on point!

  3. jjohnson28.12.11

    Cammack979! Nicely said. Your account really made me feel like I was learning about Nas and Illmatic for the first time alongside you. Such a powerful thing music is. Pop in an old song or album and you can immediately get transported back in time. Illmatic really took hip-hop to another level. Definite game changer with not only the lyrics, but also the accumulation of an all-star production team. You really captured all of that in this article. Props man. Looking forward to more

  4. Justiceson30.12.11

    As Chris said, if you're reading this, chances are you grew up having a similar experience with this album. To answer the question of what my experience with Illmatic, I would say it was very similar as to how it unfolded linearly with the music, but there is one profound difference and that was with the song It Ain't Hard to Tell. Growing up close to NYC in eastern Connecticut, I had access to the newest music coming out via the UCONN student radio station and would make tapes from the shows. That winter before Illmatic dropped, It Ain't Hard to Tell came out and I was dumbfounded. The beat definitely blew me away because Human Nature is one of my favorite Mike Jack songs, but the lyrics were so vivid I felt like I was watching it unfold. Obviously at that time there were ill lyricists, but no one was saying things like, "Breathing the sniper's breath...", "drinking moet with Medusa, give her shotguns in hell...", sneaking the UZI onto Riker's and countless others references and imagery. This track confirmed what Live at the BBQ suggested, that Nas would change the game. And he did, we're still praising this album to this day, with books being written on the album and all that. I read Born to Use Mics and it was thorough analysis on the album on many levels. If you haven't read it or don't own it, and love this album, get it. On some real shit though, this write up could have come straight out of the book, it's that accurate. The account of only someone that actually lived it and I'm blessed to say that I came up in that era as well. PEACE

  5. I just want to say a big thank you for the comments above. It is the first article I have ever written and the positive feedback has given me a boost that I needed. I'm going through a tough time in my personal life but the writing helped/is helping. It's a therapy of sorts for me. Expect to see more in the near future. Thanks.

    1. Bang2000XL17.1.12

      @cammack979 please continue the articles, the Illmatic joint was fresh!!

  6. All I can is wow fellas nice feature... @buttonpusha you outdid yourself...very well done...and @cammack979 is nice with the words and the story reflects alot of people's thoughts and fellings about the impact of Nas and his come up good hip hop knows no boundaries and it's culture has the same impact no where you live...anyway this is simply a dope read and this needs to be seen by everybody

    1. Thanks yo...A real big ups to @cammack979 for his writing. We plan to do more articles in the future so you know this is only the beginning!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.