I just picked up the new 33 1/3 book by Matthew Gasteier on Nas’ classic debut Illmatic. So, naturally, I’ve revisted the album and listened to it about four or five times in the past couple days – just as a reminder of its near-flawless standing.
But listening to Illmatic can be as frustrating as it is rewarding, knowing now that his propensity for greatness was undermined by his inconsistency in the albums to follow (It Was Written, I Am …, etc.). Because in the post-Illmatic years, for every Nas Is Like (a DJ Premier gem) there was a Hate Me Now (feat. Puff Daddy). How do you reconcile that?
Perhaps that’s the curse of releasing one of the most influential hip-hop albums of the ’90s (ever?). Sadly – and inevitably – nothing Nas has done or will do can live up to Illmatic’s perfection. Needless to say, I’m eager to dig into Gasteier’s account/analysis of the album.
Meantime, here’s my favorite cut from Illmatic, the Large Professor-produced It Ain’t Hard to Tell that famously samples Michael Jackson’s Human Nature.