If you were in charge of the world’s archive of music and had only one space to include a rap album, which one would you choose? The smart choice would be Nas’ classic amongst classic albums, Illmatic .
Listening to Illmatic will change your expectations of hip-hop. Illmatic proves that nothing but sampled beats and rhymes can be brilliant and sound gorgeous. Illmatic proves that hip-hop doesn’t need to be improved with more “melody” or singing. Nas chose fierce sincerity over a political message, which made his first album socially conscious in the most powerful way.
Illmatic teaches you not to be fooled by the music awards received by alternative groups like Arrested Development or more recently Outkast with their last album. When mainstream critics shower praise on these artists they’re also backhanded scorning hip-hop as a whole with the line of thought, “Why can’t hip-hop be more musical and progressive like these other rappers making real songs?” It’s a subtle suggestion, but it’s there.
Illmatic smashes the idea that our music is somehow intrinsically flawed as an art. As is, the elements of rap music are perfect, and Illmatic perfectly represents them.
Happy 10th anniversary, by the way.