illmatic lead

Nas’ classic LP turns 19 today. Bet you didn’t know Average White Band had a hand in it.

As we discuss rappers who can be categorized as the greatest of all time, or best alive, or best lyricist, or greatest rapper, or whatever other category becomes prevalent as we progress into yet another generation of hip-hop, Nasir Jones’ name seems to always be in the discussion. Unlike other rappers who have reigned supreme for certain periods of time, eventually fading into the dark abyss known as irrelevance, Nas has transcended his past and present contemporaries to reach a level of rap stardom that gives him an irreplaceable plateau to stand on in hip-hop folklore. Though his infamous spat with Jay-Z is known by many to be one of the few blemishes on a career that includes Grammy Awards and platinum plaques, it was his relationship with Jay after they resolved the issue, leading to two collaborations in back to back years, that helped Nas regain his almost mythical status as both a lyricist and a pop culture figure.

And it all began with Illmatic.

Regarded as the greatest hip-hop album of all time by many critics and fans alike, Nasir’s 1994 effort set the tone for both New York hip-hop, and the ever-expanding genre of rap. The boom-bap nature of the instrumentals he used, provided by Pete Rock and Large Professor among others, set the stage for hardcore lyricism, vacillating flows and cadences, but also gave way to a never before heard mainstream sound from the Queens spitter, whose signature moment on the album came on its final track, produced by Large Professor, which samples Michael Jackson’s famous “Human Nature”. Nas gets on the expertly put together instrumental and spits a couple verses with a flow so futuristic the song could come out today and a hip-hop fan unaware of the history of the song wouldn’t know it wasn’t recently crafted. Nas plans to celebrate the upcoming 20th anniversary of his world-changing body of music by re-releasing the album, complete with unreleased material, but The Source is celebrating 19 in a slightly different manner. Let’s take a quick look at the 10 best samples on Nas’ Illmatic album, “Human Nature” not included.

-Khari Nixon (@KingVanGogh)