Illmatic — Nas — W.A.C.#1



My thoughts

Oh God! As someone who has limited experience with hip hop, being presented with, what many consider, the finest album of its genre was a challenge beyond me. Within a couple of tracks of my initial listen, I knew that this review needed me to be clued up. I read and devoured context for this one and that given, here we go.

What a project of passion!

Straight out the fuckin’ dungeons of rap, where fake ni***s don’t make it back

He hits hard with this line in N.Y. State of mind, and throws you straight into life in New York and it’s such good lyricism, overlaying a very simple and effective repeating piano riff. A simple rhythm underpins the whole thing but frankly its all that’s needed. This album is all about the lyrics!

As I write this now, I am literally pondering whether I should be pointing out every brilliant piece of rapping, every great line. It would be unnecessary to do so. Nas’s work speaks for itself, listening, you find yourself hypnotised; it’s genuine and paints vivid pictures of the projects and the culture surrounding.

I’m destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it,

from Life’s a Bitch just points out the general feel of the track, a kid on the streets wanting to make it out, in this case stated from A.Z.

The whole thing is just a dream of coming to something, caught between reminiscing the past and aspiring to the future.

The tracks have different slants. Memory lane being a more introspective look at the past with One Love and Represent being a more current take on the now of ’94. The album closes with It Ain’t Hard to Tell and the truly fitting lines:

Hit the Earth like a comet, invasion

Nas is like the Afrocentric Asian, half-man, half-amazing

So good!

We should tackle the elephant in the room. I am a white, British, more or less middle class, 27 year old in academia. I really have to say I have no authority to say whether this album is representative of New York in the 80’s and 90’s. I also have no ability to personally declare how this must have gone down in the projects. I am so completely separated, but I can really say this is just a work of art.

Is this album for you?

God, I hope so but there are those who cannot get on with hip hop or rap. Those that just wouldn’t listen to the style in general. I feel this section is redundant for this album. If you are a hip hop fan, you know this album and if not you likely have no interest. However, for those that are curious and want to get into more into rap, I can tell you from my entirely uninformed point of view: This is a must.


  • Writing: 10/10
  • Performance: 10/10
  • Style: 9/10
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