On this day in Hip Hop history the career of one of Hip Hop’s living legends began. Today 22 years go, Queens rap icon Nas released his debut album Illmatic. Along with being one of the greatest rap albums of all time, this project shift the direction of Hip Hop in more ways than one. Its commercial success and reviews by critics are enough dub it as a staple of Hip Hop and a timeless classic in music in general.
To start, this album in large part changed the way that Hip Hop albums were produced in the future. Due to the fact that his mentor, Large Professor, was unable to executive produce Nas’ debut, he had to reach out to find a new partner in crime. Nas’ ability as a rapper of course drew some of the most prolific beat makers of the time, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, and DJ Premier to name a few, to work with him on his first LP. Although this compilation of creative force that was the production team of Illmatic constructed a masterpiece, it opened the door for the same style of album production for other artists. No more would there be the one rapper, one producer classic LPs of the past. The era of the super-producer was now among the Hip Hop world. To some this is seen as a negative, besmirching the integrity of the fluidity of a Hip Hop album, and to others it created a new lane, a rise to power of producers giving them the ability to grow as an independent entity apart from the rapper. Whichever may be the case, the fact still stands that the game was forever changed.
Along with building hype for the production world, Illmatic created a new lane for lyricists. Nas’ street-poet style of lyricism was a breath of fresh are from the boom bap and almost experimental style of rap that was becoming popular in New York. His stark realism and vast vocabulary molded into a kind of hardcore conscious sound that could be enjoyed by hustler and activist alike.
Commercially, the album was as successful as anyone could ask a debut album to be peaking at #12 on the Billboard 200 chart and #2 on the US Top R&B/Hip Hop charts. the album sold 59,000 copies in it’s first week and was certified platinum in the year of it’s release. Even the re-release of the album, Illmatic XX, peaked at #18 on the Billboard 200 in 2014.
Following this album, Nas went on to become one of the top-selling and most respected rappers in Hip Hop. He’s released nine more solo albums, has appeared in movies, and has toured the world. He currently is still performing and collecting a fat check as the face of Hennessy. Take some time out today to listen to the album that started all and pay respect to the career of one of the greatest to grace the mic.