Illmatic is the debut studio album by American rapper Nas. It was released on April 19, 1994, by Columbia Records. After signing with the label with the help of MC Serch, Nas recorded the album in 1992 and 1993 at Chung King Studios, D&D Recording, Battery Studios, and Unique Recording Studios in New York City. The album’s production was handled by DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S. and Nas himself. Styled as a hardcore hip hop album, Illmatic features multi-syllabic internal rhymes and inner-city narratives based on Nas’ experiences in Queensbridge, New York.
The album debuted at number 12 on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 63,000 copies in its first week. However, its initial sales fell below expectations and its five singles failed to achieve significant chart success. Despite the album’s low initial sales, Illmatic received rave reviews from most music critics, who praised its production and Nas’ lyricism. On January 17, 1996, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, and on December 11, 2001, it earned a platinum certification after shipping 1,000,000 copies in the United States. The album has sold 2 million copies in the United States as of February 6, 2019.
Since its initial reception, Illmatic has been recognized by writers and music critics as a landmark album in East Coast hip hop. Its influence on subsequent hip hop artists has been attributed to the album’s production and Nas’ lyricism. It also contributed to the revival of the New York City rap scene, introducing a number of stylistic trends to the region. The album is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time, appearing on numerous best album lists by critics and publications.
As a teenager, Nas wanted to pursue a career as a rapper and enlisted his best friend and neighbor, Willy “Ill Will” Graham, as his DJ. Nas initially went by the nickname “Kid Wave” before adopting the alias “Nasty Nas”. At the age of fifteen, he met producer Large Professor from Flushing, Queens, and was introduced to his group Main Source. Nas made his recorded debut with them, performing the opening verse on “Live at the Barbeque” from their 1991 album Breaking Atoms. Nas subsequently made his solo debut on his 1992 single “Halftime” for the soundtrack to the film Zebrahead. The single added to the buzz surrounding Nas, earning him comparisons to influential golden age rapper Rakim. Despite his buzz in the underground scene, Nas did not receive an offer for a recording contract, being rejected by major rap labels such as Cold Chillin’ and Def Jam Recordings. Nas and Ill Will continued to work together, but their partnership was cut short when Graham was murdered by a gunman in Queensbridge on May 23, 1992; Nas’ brother was also shot that night, but survived. Nas has cited that moment as a “wake-up call” for him.
In mid-1992, MC Serch, whose group 3rd Bass had dissolved, began working on a solo project and approached Nas. At the suggestion of producer T-Ray, Serch collaborated with Nas for “Back to the Grill”, the lead single for Serch’s 1992 solo debut album Return of the Product. At the recording session for the song, Serch discovered that Nas did not have a recording contract and subsequently contacted Faith Newman, an A&R executive at Sony Music Entertainment. As Serch recounted, “Nas was in a position where his demo had been sittin’ around, ‘Live at the Barbeque’ was already a classic, and he was just tryin’ to find a decent deal … So when he gave me his demo, I shopped it around. I took it to Russell first, Russell said it sounded like G Rap, he wasn’t wit’ it. So I took it to Faith. Faith loved it, she said she’d been looking for Nas for a year and a half. They wouldn’t let me leave the office without a deal on the table.”
Once MC Serch assumed the role of executive producer for Nas’ debut project, he attempted to connect Nas with various producers. Based on his buzz at the time, numerous New York-based producers were eager to work with him and went to Power House Studios with Nas. Among those producers was DJ Premier, recognized at the time for his raw and aggressive production with jazz-based samples and heavy scratching, and for his work with rapper Guru as a part of hip hop duo Gang Starr. After his production on Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth’s Funky Technician (1990) and Jeru the Damaja’s The Sun Rises in the East (1994), Premier began recording exclusively at D&D Studios in New York City, before working with Nas on Illmatic.
Prior to recording, DJ Premier had listened to Nas’ debut single, later stating “When I heard ‘Halftime’, that was some next shit to me. That’s just as classic to me as ‘Eric B For President’ and ‘The Bridge’. It just had that type of effect. As simple as it is, all of the elements are there. So from that point, after Serch approached me about doing some cuts, it was automatic. You’d be stupid to pass that up even if it wasn’t payin’ no money.” Serch later noted the chemistry between Nas and DJ Premier, recounting that “Primo and Nas, they could have been separated at birth. It wasn’t a situation where his beats fit their rhymes, they fit each other.” While Serch reached out to DJ Premier, Large Professor contacted Pete Rock to collaborate with Nas on what became “The World Is Yours”. Shortly afterwards, producers Q-Tip and L.E.S. chose to work on the album. “Life’s a Bitch” contains a cornet solo performed by Nas’ father, Olu Dara. The song also features Brooklyn-based rapper AZ.
In an early promotional interview, Nas claimed that the name “Illmatic” (meaning “beyond ill” or “the ultimate”) was a reference to his incarcerated friend, Illmatic Ice. Nas later described the title name as “supreme ill. It’s as ill as ill gets. That shit is a science of everything ill.” At the time of its recording, expectations in the hip hop scene were high for Illmatic. In a 1994 interview for The Source, which dubbed him “the second coming”, Nas spoke highly of the album, saying that “this feels like a big project that’s gonna affect the world […] We in here on the down low […] doing something for the world. That’s how it feels, that’s what it is. For all the ones that think it’s all about some ruff shit, talkin’ about guns all the time, but no science behind it, we gonna bring it to them like this.” AZ recounted recording on the album, “I got on Nas’ album and did the ‘Life’s a Bitch’ song, but even then I thought I was terrible on it, to be honest. But once people started hearing that and liking it, that’s what built my confidence. I thought, ‘OK, I can probably do this.’ That record was everything. To be the only person featured on Illmatic when Nas is considered one of the top men in New York at that time, one of the freshest new artists, that was big.”[1 During the sessions, Nas composed the song “Nas Is Like”, which he later recorded as a single for his 1999 album I Am….
Concerning the recording of the album’s opening song “N.Y. State of Mind”, producer DJ Premier later stated “When we did ‘N.Y. State of Mind,’ at the beginning when he says, ‘Straight out the dungeons of rap / Where fake niggas don’t make it back,’ then you hear him say, ‘I don’t know how to start this shit,’ ’cause he had just written it. He’s got the beat running in the studio, but he doesn’t know how he’s going to format how he’s going to convey it. So he’s going, ‘I don’t know how to start this shit,’ and I’m counting him in [to begin his verse]. One, two, three. And then you can hear him go, ‘Yo,’ and then he goes right into it.
The intro, “The Genesis”, is composed as an aural montage that begins with the sound of an elevated train and an almost-inaudible voice rhyming beneath it. Over these sounds are two men arguing. It samples Grand Wizard Theodore’s “Subway Theme” from the 1983 film Wild Style, the first major hip hop motion picture. Nas made another ode to Wild Style, while shooting the music video for his single, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”, on the same stage as the final scene for the film. His verse on “Live at the Barbeque” is played in the background of “The Genesis”. According to music writer Mickey Hess, in the intro, “Nas tells us everything he wants us to know about him. The train is shorthand for New York; the barely discernible rap is, in fact, his “Live at the Barbeque” verse; and the dialogue comes from Wild Style, one of the earliest movies to focus on hip hop culture. Each of these is a point of genesis. New York for Nas as a person, ‘Live at the Barbeque’ for Nas the rapper, and Wild Style, symbolically at least, for hip hop itself. These are my roots, Nas was saying, and he proceeded to demonstrate exactly what those roots had yielded.”
Setting the general grimy, yet melodic, tone of the album, “N.Y. State of Mind” features a dark, jazzy piano sample courtesy of DJ Premier. It opens with high-pitched guitar notes looped from jazz and funk musician Donald Byrd’s “Flight Time” (1972), while the prominent groove of piano notes was sampled from the Joe Chambers composition “Mind Rain” (1978). The lyrics of “N.Y. State of Mind” have Nas recounting his participation in gang violence and philosophizing that “Life is parallel to Hell, but I must maintain”, while his rapping spans over forty bars. “N.Y. State of Mind” focuses on a mindstate that a person obtains from living in Nas’ impoverished environment. Critic Marc Hill of PopMatters wrote that the song “provides as clear a depiction of ghetto life as a Gordon Parks photograph or a Langston Hughes poem.”
In other songs on Illmatic, Nas celebrates life’s pleasures and achievements, acknowledging violence as a feature of his socio-economic conditions rather than the focus of his life. “Life’s a Bitch” contains a sample of The Gap Band’s hit “Yearning for Your Love” (1980), and has guest vocals from East New York-based rapper AZ. It also features Nas’s father, Olu Dara, playing a trumpet solo as the music fades out. A columnist for OhWord.com wrote that Dara’s contribution to the song provides a “beautifully wistful end to a track that feels drenched in the dying rays of a crimson sunset over the city.” “The World Is Yours” provides a more optimistic narrative from Nas’ viewpoint, as he cites political and spiritual leader Gandhi as an influence in its verse, in contrast to the previous Scarface references of “N.Y. State of Mind”. While citing “Life’s a Bitch” as “possibly the saddest hip-hop song ever recorded”, Rhapsody’s Sam Chennault wrote that “The World Is Yours” “finds optimism in the darkest urban crevices”. “The World Is Yours” was named the seventh greatest rap song by About.com.
The nostalgic “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)” contains a Reuben Wilson sample, which comprises the sound of a Hammond organ, guitar, vocals and percussion, and adds to the track’s ghostly harmonies. Spence D. of IGN wrote that the lyrics evoke “the crossroads of old school hip hop and new school.”, “One Love” is composed of a series of letters to incarcerated friends, recounting mutual acquaintances and events that have occurred since the receiver’s imprisonment, and address unfaithful girlfriends, emotionally tortured mothers, and underdog loyalty. The phrase “one love” signifies street loyalty in the song. After delivering “shout-outs to locked down comrades”, Nas chastises a youth who seems destined for prison in the final verse, “Shorty’s laugh was cold blooded as he spoke so foul/Only twelve tryin’ to tell me that he liked my style. Words of wisdom from Nas, try to rise up above/Keep an eye out for Jake, shorty-wop, one love”. Produced by Q-Tip, “One Love” samples the double bass and piano from the Heath Brothers’ “Smilin’ Billy Suite Part II” (1975) and the drum break from Parliament’s “Come In Out the Rain” (1970), complementing the track’s mystical and hypnotic soundscape.
“One Time 4 Your Mind” features battle rap braggadocio by Nas. With a similar vibe as “N.Y. State of Mind”, the rhythmic “Represent” has a serious tone, exemplified by Nas’ opening lines, “Straight up shit is real and any day could be your last in the jungle/get murdered on the humble, guns will blast and niggaz tumble”. While the majority of the album consists of funk, soul and jazz samples, “Represent” contains a sample of “Thief of Bagdad” by organist Lee Erwin from the 1924 film of the same name. Nas discusses his lifestyle in an environment where he “loves committin’ sins” and “life ain’t shit, but stress, fake niggas and crab stunts”, while describing himself as “The brutalizer, crew de-sizer, accelerator/The type of nigga who be pissin’ in your elevator”. “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” is a braggadocio rap: “Vocals’ll squeeze glocks, MC’s eavesdrop/Though they need not to sneak/My poetry’s deep, I never fail/Nas’s raps should be locked in a cell”. It opens with guitars and synths of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” (1983); the song’s vocals are sampled for the intro and chorus sections, creating a swirling mix of horns and tweaked-out voices. Large Professor looped in drum samples from Stanley Clarke’s “Slow Dance” (1978) and saxophone from Kool & the Gang’s “N.T.” (1971).
The album cover of Illmatic features a picture of Nas as a child, which was taken after his father, Olu Dara, returned home from an overseas tour. The original cover was intended to have a picture of Nas holding Jesus Christ in a headlock, reflecting the religious imagery of Nas’ rap on “Live at the Barbeque”; “When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus”.
The cover of the 1974 jazz album, A Child Is Born has been cited as a possible influence on Illmatic’s artwork. The accepted cover, designed by Aimee Macauley, features a photo of Nas as a child superimposed over a backdrop of a city block, taken by Danny Clinch. In a 1994 interview, Nas discussed the concept behind the photo of him at age 7, stating “That was the year I started to acknowledge everything [around me]. That’s the year everything set off. That’s the year I started seeing the future for myself and doing what was right. The ghetto makes you think. The world is ours. I used to think I couldn’t leave my projects. I used to think if I left, if anything happened to me, I thought it would be no justice or I would be just a dead slave or something. The projects used to be my world until I educated myself to see there’s more out there.” According to Ego Trip, the cover of Illmatic is “reputedly” believed to have been inspired by a jazz album, Howard Hanger Trio’s A Child Is Born (1974) — whose cover also features a photograph of a child, superimposed on an urban landscape. Nas has revealed that the inspiration for the album cover was derived from Michael Jackson. “I’m a big Michael Jackson fan,” Nas has stated. “I’ll tell you something I never said. On my album cover, you see me with the afro, that was kind of inspired by Michael Jackson – the little kid picture.”
Since its release, the cover art of Illmatic has also gained an iconic reputation — having been subject to numerous parodies and tributes. Music columnist Byron Crawford later called the cover for Illmatic “one of the dopest album covers ever in hip-hop.” Commenting on the cover’s artistic value, Rob Marriott of Complex writes, “Illmatic’s poignant cover matched the mood, tone, and qualities of this introspective album to such a high degree that it became an instant classic, hailed as a visual full of meaning and nuance.” XXL magazine called the album cover a “high art photo concept for a rap album” and described the artwork as a “noisy, confusing streetscape looking through the housing projects and a young boy superimposed in the center of it all.” The XXL columnist also compared the cover to that of rapper Lil Wayne’s sixth studio album Tha Carter III (2008), stating that it also “reflects the reality of disenfranchised youth today.”
On the song “Shark Niggas (Biters)” from his debut album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (1995), rapper Raekwon with Ghostface Killah criticized the cover of The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die (1994), which was released a few months after Illmatic, for featuring a picture of a baby with an afro, implying that his cover had copied the idea from Nas. This generated long-standing controversy between the rappers, resulting in an unpublicized feud which Nas later referenced in the song “Last Real Nigga Alive” from his sixth studio album God’s Son (2002).
- The Genesis (1:45)
- N.Y. State Of Mind (4:52)
- Life’s A Bitch (3:29)
- The World Is Yours (4:50)
- Halftime (4:21)
- Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park) (4:06)
- One Love (5:24)
- One Time 4 Your Mind (3:17)
- Represent (4:13)
- It Ain’t Hard To Tell (3:22)
- Nas – lead vocals, co-producer
- AZ – co-vocals
- Olu Dara – trumpet
- Q-Tip – vocals, producer
- Pete Rock – vocals, producer
- DJ Premier – producer
- Diego Garrido – engineer, mixing
- Jack Hersca – assistant engineer
- Large Professor – producer
- Tim “The Funky Red” Lathem – engineer
- L.E.S. – producer
- Faith N. – executive producer, producer
- MC Serch – executive producer
- Anton “Sample This” Pushansky – engineer
- Kevin Reynolds – engineer
- Eddie Sancho – engineer
- Jamey Staub – engineer
- Louis Tineo – assistant engineer
- Jason Vogel – engineer
- Stan Wallace – engineer
- Aimee Macauley – art director
- Danny Clinch – photography
- Tony Dawsey – mastering engineer
- “Live at the Barbeque” by Main Source
- “Introduction” from Wild Style
N.Y. State of Mind
- “N.T.” by Kool & the Gang
- “Flight Time” by Donald Byrd
- “Mind Rain” by Joe Chambers
- “Mahogany” by Eric B. & Rakim
Life’s a Bitch
- “Yearning for Your Love” by The Gap Band
The World Is Yours
- “I Love Music” by Ahmad Jamal
- “It’s Yours” by T La Rock
- “Dead End” by Japanese Hair Cast
- “School Boy Crush” by Average White Band
- “Soul Travelin’ Pt. 1” by Gary Byrd
Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)
- “We’re in Love” by Reuben Wilson
- “Get Out of My Life, Woman” by Allen Toussaint
- “Pickin’ Boogers” by Biz Markie
- “Droppin’ Science” by Marley Marl and Craig G
- “Come in Out of the Rain” by Parliament
- “Smilin’ Billy Suite Pt. II” by Heath Brothers
- One Time 4 Your Mind
- “Walter L” by Jimmy Gordon & His Jazznpops Band
- “The Thief of Bagdad” by Lee Erwin
- “I Didn’t Come Rhythm” by George Clinton
It Ain’t Hard to Tell
- “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson
- “Slow Dance” by Stanley Clarke
- “Long Red” by Mountain
- “N.T.” by Kool & the Gang
Illmatic was met with widespread acclaim from critics, many of whom hailed it as a masterpiece. NME called its music “rhythmic perfection”, and Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune cited it as the best hardcore hip hop album “out of the East Coast in years”. Dimitri Ehrlich of Entertainment Weekly credited Nas for giving his neighborhood “proper respect” while establishing himself, and said that the clever lyrics and harsh beats “draw listeners into the borough’s lifestyle with poetic efficiency.” Touré, writing for Rolling Stone, hailed Nas as an elite rapper because of his articulation, detailed lyrics, and Rakim-like tone, all of which he said “pair [Illmatic’s] every beautiful moment with its harsh antithesis.” Christopher John Farley of Time praised the album as a “wake-up call to [Nas’] listeners” and commended him for rendering rather than glorifying “the rough world he comes from”. USA Today’s James T. Jones IV cited his lyrics as “the most urgent poetry since Public Enemy” and also commended Nas for honestly depicting dismal ghetto life without resorting to the sensationalism and misogyny of contemporary gangsta rappers. Richard Harrington of The Washington Post praised Nas for “balancing limitations and possibilities, distinguishing hurdles and springboards, and acknowledging his own growth from roughneck adolescent to a maturing adult who can respect and criticize the culture of violence that surrounds him”.
Some reviewers were less impressed. Heidi Siegmund of the Los Angeles Times found most of Illmatic hampered by “tired attitudes and posturing”, and interpreted its acclaim from East Coast critics as “an obvious attempt to wrestle hip-hop away from the West”. Charles Aaron of Spin felt that the comparisons to Rakim “will be more deserved” if Nas can expand on his ruminative lyrics with “something more personally revealing”. In his initial review for Playboy, Robert Christgau called it “New York’s typically spare and loquacious entry in the post-gangsta sweepstakes” and recommended it to listeners who “crave full-bore authenticity without brutal posturing.
Upon its release, The Source gave Illmatic a five mic rating, their highest rating and a prestigious achievement at the time, given the magazine’s influence in the hip hop community. Jon Shecter, co-founder of The Source, had received a copy of the album eight months before its scheduled release, and soon lobbied for it to receive a five mic rating. On his Tumblr blog, Schecter recounts hearing Illmatic in a meeting with editors on the staff:
It’s about 9pm… I get to the office and I gather all the heads in the conference room. I remember who was there: [Matty C], [Chris Wilder], [Schott ‘Free’ Jacobs]. Everyone is nodding their heads, eyes wide, mouths open, it’s hip-hop paradise. We had a pretty shitty system in there but it didn’t matter, I pop in the tape and the powerful musical magic emits from the speakers. When those funky/eerie/powerful xylophone notes from ‘One Love’ come on, I remember [Jacobs] is literally lying on the floor… He can’t comprehend how good it is. None of us can. It’s the best shit we’ve heard in our lives… Internally, we start debating how we’re gonna handle this. I say right away that it’s gotta get a “5”
Eventually, the review for Illmatic was handled by the magazine’s columnist Miss Info (real name Minya Oh, then writing under the nom de plume “shortie”), who shared Schecter’s enthusiasm for Nas’ album. In her review of Illmatic, Oh wrote, “I must maintain, this is one of the best hip-hop albums I have ever heard” and wrote of its content, “Lyrically, the whole shit is on point. No cliche metaphors, no gimmicks. Never too abstract, never superficial.” She also commented on the impact of Nas’ “poetic realism” writing: “Nas’ images remind me of the personal memories and people, both past and present… All this may sound like melodrama, but it’s not just me. I’ve been hearing similar responses all over. While ‘Memory Lane’ is my shit, my homies claim ‘The World Is Yours,’ and if you’ve got peoples doing time, then ‘One Love’ may hit you the hardest.” With the backing of Schecter and the other editors on the staff, Minya awarded Illmatic with the magazine’s highest rating.
At the time, it was unheard of for a debuting artist to receive the coveted rating. Author Matthew Gasteier writes, “It’s difficult to overestimate the impact of receiving the five out of five mics, the first such rating given to any new release by the magazine since its then-editor Reginald Dennis put a moratorium on them.” Reginald Dennis, former music editor of the magazine and XXL co-founder, later recounted, “Awarding records 5 mics – classic status – has always been, on some levels, troubling to me. I mean, we are not only saying that a particular piece of music is superior to everything that is out now, but it will be better than most things released in the future as well. I only gave one 5 under my watch and it went to Nas’s Illmatic.” Dennis cited it as “the only time I ever broke the ‘no 5’ rule” and added, “I told Jon that we’d work all of that stuff out when it was time to review the album. But everyday, Jon was like, ‘yo, this album is 5 mics — seriously, Reg, 5 mics!’
The rating did not come without its share of controversy. Reginald Dennis described to the reaction that followed Minya Oh’s review: “I was happy, Jon was happy, Nas was happy, everybody was happy – except for all of the people who felt that The Chronic should have also gotten a 5.” Only two years prior, Dr. Dre’s groundbreaking The Chronic failed to earn the coveted rating, despite redefining the musical landscape of hip hop. It was later revealed that while everybody at the magazine knew it was an instant classic, they decided to comply with the strict policy of staying away from a perfect rating. Subsequently, when Nas’s album was exempted from this moratorium, many fans pointed to this decision as a confirmation of journalistic bias towards East Coast hip hop. Despite receiving criticism over his staff’s earlier review of The Chronic, Reginald Dennis continues to defend the decision to award Illmatic with the magazine’s highest rating: “I’m just happy that Illmatic is universally acclaimed as a classic, so no one can accuse me of dropping the ball … And if I hadn’t gone through what I did with The Chronic, I wouldn’t have had the flexibility to allow for the bending of my policy. So I think it all worked out well.
Since its initial reception, Illmatic has been viewed by music writers as one of the quintessential hip hop recordings of the 1990s, while its rankings near the top of many publications’ “best album” lists in disparate genres have given it a reputation as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. Jon Pareles of The New York Times cited Illmatic as a “milestone in trying to capture the ‘street ghetto essence'”. The album has been described by a number of writers and critics as “classic”. Chris Ryan, writing in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), called Illmatic “a portrait of an artist as a hood, loner, tortured soul, juvenile delinquent, and fledgling social critic,” and wrote that it “still stands as one of rap’s crowning achievements”. In a retrospective review for MSN Music, Christgau said the record was “better than I thought at the time for sure—as happens with aesthetes sometimes, the purists heard subtleties principled vulgarians like me were disinclined to enjoy”, although he still found it inferior to The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album Ready to Die (1994). In 2002, Prefix Mag’s Matthew Gasteier re-examined Illmatic and its musical significance, stating:
Illmatic is the best hip-hop record ever made. Not because it has ten great tracks with perfect beats and flawless rhymes, but because it encompasses everything great about hip-hop that makes the genre worthy of its place in music history. Stylistically, if every other hip-hop record were destroyed, the entire genre could be reconstructed from this one album. But in spirit, Illmatic can just as easily be compared to Ready to Die, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and Enter the Wu-Tang as it can to Rites of Spring, A Hard Day’s Night, Innervisions, and Never Mind the Bollocks. In Illmatic, you find the meaning not just of hip-hop, but of music itself: the struggle of youth to retain its freedom, which is ultimately the struggle of man to retain his own essence.
Illmatic has been included in numerous publications’ “best album” lists in disparate genres. Pitchfork listed the album at number 33 on its list of the Top 100 Albums of the 1990s, and the publication’s columnist Hartley Goldstein called the album “the meticulously crafted essence of everything that makes hip-hop music great; it’s practically a sonic strand of the genre’s DNA.” It was listed as one of 33 hip hop/R&B albums in Rolling Stone’s “Essential Recordings of the 90s”. It was ranked number five in “The Critics Top 100 Black Music Albums of All Time” and number three in Hip Hop Connection’s “Top 100 Readers Poll”. The album was also ranked number four in Vibe’s list of the Top 10 Rap Albums and number two on MTV’s list of The Greatest Hip Hop Albums of All Time. In 1998, it was selected as one of The Source’s 100 Best Rap Albums. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked the album number 400 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time; it was ranked number 402 in a revised list in 2012. On March 30, 2004, Illmatic was remastered and re-released with a bonus disc of remixes and new material produced by Marley Marl and Large Professor, in commemoration of its tenth anniversary. Upon its 2004 re-release, Marc Hill of PopMatters dubbed it “the greatest album of all time” and stated, “Ten years after its release, Illmatic stands not only as the best hip-hop album ever made, but also one of the greatest artistic productions of the twentieth century.” The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. A February 19, 2014 Village Voice cover story ranked Illmatic as the Most New York City album ever.
IMPACT AND LEGACY
East Coast Hip-Hop
Illmatic has been noted as one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time, with pundits describing it as an archetypal East Coast hip hop album. Jeff Weiss of Pitchfork writes: “No album better reflected the sound and style of New York, 94. The alembic of soul jazz samples, SP-1200s, broken nose breaks, and raw rap distilled the Henny, no chaser ideal of boom bap.” Citing Illmatic as part of a string of notable albums released in 1994, David Drake of Stylus Magazine writes “This was the critical point for the East Coast, a time when rappers from the New York area were releasing bucketloads of thrilling work”. John Bush of Allmusic compares Illmatic to another DJ Premier production, The Sun Rises in the East (1994), as “one of the quintessential East Coast records”. Along with the critical acclaim of the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) and the success of The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut Ready to Die (1994), Illmatic was also instrumental in restoring interest in the East Coast hip hop scene. “Rarely has the birthplace of hip-hop,” wrote Rob Marriott of Complex, “been so unanimous in praise of a rap record and the MC who made it.” As Nas later recounted: “It felt amazing to be accepted by New York City in that way…at the time a lot of West Coast hip-hop was selling; East Coast wasn’t selling as much, especially for a new artist. So back then you couldn’t tell in the sales, but you could tell in the streets”