Throwback Tuesday – [Opinion] Stillmatic?:Is Nas’ Career Still Relying On The Success Of “Illmatic”?
“One was – Ehh, the other was Illmatic/That’s a one hot album every ten year average”.
Those harsh words from Jay-Z got hip-hop fans thinking. During his infamous feud with Nas, Jay-z sought to discredit the emcee as not just a hack, but also as an overrated emcee that hadn’t released anything worthwhile in years. Some would say…he wasn’t wrong.
Twenty years ago a precocious teenager made his unforgettable debut. Main Source’s “Live At The BBQ” served as the coming out party for an 18 year old Queensbridge emcee known as Nasty Nas. Fast forward three years to 1994, Nasty Nas dropped the “Nasty” and as Nas released his debut album; a tight, ten track LP titled Illmatic. Nas’ debut garnered critical acclaim and has come to be remembered as a certified hip-hop classic in the minds of many hiphop fans.
To quote Ben Parker, “with great power, comes great responsibility”. With Illmatic, Nas became a household name. The success of the album also led to it becoming the measuring stick for all Nas’s releases. Illmatic put Nas in the hierarchy of hip-hop legends such as Rakim, Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. But is Nas’s status deserved? Or is he still living off of the glory of Illmatic?
Eight albums later, Nas is still trying to live up to the classic status of Illmatic. Some would argue that he hasn’t and never will. Nas’s sophomore album, 1996’s; It Was Written moved the emcee and his new ‘Escobar’ persona towards more commercial topics as his label tried to gain more crossover appeal. It Was Written, while being a good album was nowhere near a classic and was widely viewed as a disappointment. Nas’s subsequent follow-ups weren’t any better and in fact became the butt of jokes with Nastradamus and the ill-fated party track “Oochie-Wally” serving as examples of how far Nas had not only fallen and but also crossed over.Nas’s ear for music also came into question as the production from album to album dropped dramatically in comparison to that Illmatic. While his debut featured an all star cast of hip-hops boom-bap royalty, his subsequent releases moved from neck-snappers to ass shakers.
2001’s feud with Jay-Z brought Nas “back”, as he delivered a scathing rebuttal to Jay-Z in the form of the tracks “Stillmatic” and the Nas described “Napalm Bomb” in “Ether”. The two tracks set the stage for Nas’s triumphant return with 2001’s Stillmatic”, as the album leap frogged all of Nas’s previous releases and into a solid second place in the Nasty catalog.
With all of that said, Nas has still managed to remain on the who’s who of hip-hop lyricists and the question remains…why? To date, he’s only released maybe two very successful albums. Illmatic is certified, while Stillmatic and It Was Written are “good”. Of Nas’s most recent releases, “Made You Look” was a banger, but the album God’s Son was better as the 9th Wonder remixed God’s Stepson. Street’s Disciple and Hip-Hop Is Dead, though they received well by critics, are hard to distinguish or really remember except for Nas using the same beat for the “Thiefs Theme” and “Hip-Hop Is Dead” respectively. With all of that said, fans still expect excellence from every Nas release. However, they are left unsatisfied.
Is it fair to compare every Nas release to Illmatic? Probably not, but his standing in hip-hop and his reputation are based on that classic album. It’s hard to live up to a classic and impossible for an artist to duplicate success from album to album, but in the case of Nas, it appears he saved the best for first.