Music

Street Vision

Nas reunion

Maybe Jay-Z’s criticism of Nas’s track record was a little harsh
when he said, “One hot album every 10 year average.” After all,
Nas remains one of the most respected MCs in the game, while Jay-Z has penned
such boners as “I Know What Girls Like” and “Jigga.”
Then again, Jay-Z’s business sense allowed him to retire with what may
have been his best album ever, while the last time I saw Nas he was playing a
short-order cook in a video about Kelis shaking her ass. So maybe
Hova’s right—Nas could’ve worked a little harder at
retaining his street cred instead of recycling soul hooks in hopes of
clambering up the top 40. Regardless, with his debut album, Illmatic, Nas has
one of the most acclaimed releases of all time on his résumé.
I’m sure you’ve all heard it by now, so I don’t have to
elaborate on its rugged appeal. Now, on the album’s 10-year
anniversary, Illmatic is being polished up, repackaged and re-released for
another generation to enjoy as Illmatic: 10-Year Anniversary Platinum
Edition. Which makes this the perfect occasion to ask how well Illmatic has
stood the test of time? Is it still a relevant release? 1994 was a very
different era in hip-hop: the jiggy movement had yet to arrive; gangs were
actually organized institutions, not just 14-year-old miscreants stealing
Pintos; and it was still commonplace for music to tell stories. And the
timing of this release certainly could be taken as a last, desperate ploy for
a diminishing MC to relive some former glory. Just two years ago, Nas
released The Lost Tapes, a collection of previously unreleased songs which
got more praise than anything he’d done in the six years prior. (That
was the period of the pathetically titled Stillmatic, as well as the six-song
2002 Illmatic to Stillmatic remix album.) Thankfully, like a great movie or a
Henny Youngman joke, Illmatic still works. This 10-song album may be on the
short side, but it can still captivate listeners with its vivid stories of
life growing up in the Queensbridge housing projects, its letters to
imprisoned friends and its Scarface-esque visions of success. Plus, this new
edition of Illmatic comes with a second disc of obscure remixes and two
all-new tracks, “Star Wars” and “On the Real,” which
alone are almost worth the purchase price. Listening to Nas on the platinum
edition of Illmatic is like being reunited with your first girlfriend. The
memories are all still there, though probably skewed to make her seem better
then she really was. You still get along great as long as you’re
talking about old times, but in the back of your mind you resent some of the
decisions she’s made over the years. You know about her time in rehab,
the year and a half she spent as a biker bitch and maybe her brief stint as
an escort. Sure, she looks great—the breast implants make sure of
that—and while it’d be refreshing to walk through your
parents’ front door with her on your arm again, you know that
eventually, the relationship’s going to disintegrate. V

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