Can you believe it’s been 22 years since Illmatic was released to the hip hop community’s ears? Over the last two decades, Nas’ debut album has gone on to become one of the most important and influential albums in rap culture, and has been argued as a classic by hip hop heads. While the MC did a huge celebration for the album’s 20th anniversary last year, including a documentary diving into the album’s story and significance called Time Is Illmatic, we thought we would still reflect on the importance of the project today.
Read more on the impact of Nas’ Illmatic album on the following pages.
The album cover
The main album cover shows a childhood photo of Nas in the foreground, while the streets of Queensbridge projects, where he grew up with his mother and brother, are seen in the background. In the disc and vinyl releases, there were multiple covers showing Nas walking through the projects, as well as sitting in one of the parks with a bunch of residents around him. In the documentary, Time Is Illmatic, his brother, Jungle, revealed that every man in that photo is now either dead or locked up, including the two young boys. He recalls that photoshoot as being a moment where people who even had beef united to be able to be part of the shoot for the album.
Nas once said on his “Got Yourself A Gun song,” “My first album had no famous guest appearances. The outcome? I’m crowned the best lyricist.” While that’s definitely true, there were some notable features on the project. AZ had one of the best verses on the entire album when he opened up “Life’s A B**ch,” even though he was a new cat to the hip hop industry at the time. There’s also a great story where Nas had to convince Pete Rock to sing the hook on “The World Is Yours,” as well as getting Q-Tip on the infamous “One Love” chorus. The best feature, however, comes at the end of “Life’s A B**ch,” when his father, Olu Dara, plays the trumpet for a jazz interlude.