Friday, January 18, 2013

Why Illmatic is the Most Overrated Hip-Hop Album Ever

“It's ill when, MCs used to be on cruddy shit, 
Took home, Ready to Die, listened, studied shit, 
Now they on some money shit, successful out the blue...” – Notorious BIG, Kick in the Door

For the record, I think Nas’s debut album Illmatic is a classic. The lyrics are on point, and the beats, even though some of them sound dated, are a picture perfect reflection of New York City in the mid-90s

That leads me to point out how the handful of East Coast publications like The Source had praised Illmatic like the second coming of Jesus before the album saw the light of day. Now that I think about it, Nas was promoted as the Messiah, the emcee with the power to snatch the microphone under the limelight away from California’s rap commercial dominance in the early to mid-90s. The problem with labeling Nas as the Messiah was that Illmatic wasn’t the right album to introduce him as one

You see, Russell Simmons was right. He refused to sign Nas to Def Jam because…

A) He thought Nas sounded too much like Kool G Rap during an era when it was criminal to sound like another rapper unlike today

B) Illmatic wouldn’t sell

It took years for Illmatic to hit platinum. Mind you, record sales aren’t important to me as a listener. My favorite albums didn’t sell too well, so don’t even try labeling me as superficial. Illmatic failed to live up to expectations in sales based on media hype, and the album wasn’t the threat or the answer to the dominance of West Coast Hip-Hop at the time

Enter Biggie’s Ready to Die

Ready to Die was more of a threat because the album was not only commercially appealing, but also hardcore enough to appease the die hard Hip-Hop fan. Biggie was one of the few New York MCs who kept it street and still sold records without being accused of a "sell out" regardless of heads gettin' on his case for designer clothes and champagne name drops.  

Illmatic failed to appeal to a wider audience unlike Ready to Die

Ready to Die was catchy enough to grab the casual listener's attention while keeping the die hard rap fans on the edge of their seats which isn’t an easy task to do

The rise of the Notorious BIG and Bad Boy Entertainment prompted rival recording label Death Row Records and its CEO Suge Knight to take notice to the point where Suge called out Puffy in front of the world @ the 1995 Source Awards. Death Row pretty much had the rap game on lock at the time, and Bad Boy threatened their position even though there’s room for everyone in the game to eat 

Ready to Die was transcendent (groundbreaking) and appealed to people who might not listen to rap music. As dope as Illmatic is, the album lacks the power to grab Middle America because it’s too pure. Not to say Ready to Die is watered down, but Illmatic is for Hip-Hop heads who appreciate a great album without radio friendly songs to satisfy their listening experience

Biggie was more of an answer to the West Coast than Nas. Biggie was probably one of the main reasons why Nas flipped his style when he released his sophomore album It Was Written which to me is his best album to date (peep the Kick in the Door rhyme at the top of the blog for the shot at Nas)

And guess what??? 

Illmatic lovers hated It Was Written. Gee, I wonder why. Sometimes I think rap fans wanna see their favorite rappers broke…LOL…straight up. Illmatic showcased Nas as a lyricist while It Was Written highlighted Nas as an ARTIST 

Big difference, people

The mainstream and underground crowds kill me sometimes. They need to learn from each other. Real talk. The mainstream needs to learn why and how underground MCs are more respected for their craft, and the underground needs to learn why and how the mainstream is able to touch a larger audience

Illmatic achieved one of the two. Ready to Die achieved both. Therefore, Biggie was more of the Messiah to bring the East Coast back to the forefront and snatch the crowns off the heads of the West Coast in the mid-90s

Quick shout out to Wu-Tang, Jeru the Damaja, Black Moon, Smiff n Wessun, The Roots, Redman, and Mobb Deep. They also had a hand in the resurrection of the East. Biggie didn’t do it alone, but homie was the front man of the movement

Before I close out this blog, I also wanna point out that I think It Was Written is consistent throughout, and is a good mixture of commercialism with the essence of the “fuck a sell out” mood of Hip-Hop

Heads got on Nas's case about the track Street Dreams...claimed it was "too commercial"...I actually liked the joint...and I wouldn't necessarily pull Nas's card about making that record considering he spat raw lyrics over a "light" beat that I thought was dope

Nas is a great lyricist, but I was never into his music as a whole. Money needs to learn how to pick better beats. As much as I love supreme lyricism, music is a marriage between the beat and the rhyme. Sometimes I believe Nas can’t pick a beat to save his life

I copped Nas’s recent album Life is Good…yes, I bought the album and didn't cop the bootleg...I’ll give that joint 4 pimp sticks outta 5. The start and middle of the joint was cold blooded...I didn’t care too much about the later part of the album

And with that said, I’m Audi 5 stacks

I hope you enjoyed my breakdown

Until then

Peace and Afro Grease

Nah’Sun the Great


  1. I agree with you that Nas is overrated, but Illmatic is more of a classic than Ready to Die. In fact, it was Illmatic that created the formula that RTD copied to achieve it's success. Never before had so many different producers JUMP on board to collaborate to create another artist's work. You had Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Premiere, Large Professor, LES, competing to create the hottest joint. The reason that sales didn't figure so well for Illmatic is the same reason that they didn't figure so well for Pete Rock & CL Smooth on their debut LP - everyone borrowed and copied a tape from everyone else! That's how you know the PEOPLE wanted it - it was everywhere! There was a compelling intelligence behind Nas that fused the abstract integrity of the Native Tongues era with the Gun-Clappers that invaded afterwards. Nas was that artists that brought both worlds together.
    Illmatic is a hard-to-touch classic.
    With that said, Nas is overrated because the success of his album has little to do with him and more to do with the people behind him. You take those people away (like for It Was Written, The Firm, and more), and you don't have the audio environment that Nas relies on to make successful music. I mean, even look at Life is Good, Nas learned how and who he needed to get with to bring his lyrics back to life - NO ID, Amy Winehouse, Heavy D AND Large Professor (surprise?).
    As for this article, it sort of caught me off guard because you can either argue that Illmatic is overrated or that RTD is a better album than Illmatic, but when you try to foster the logic that Illmatic is overrated BECAUSE RTD is a better album you lost me and your argument lost momentum, but you did raise some good points, and I think if you isolated the argument to either one idea or the other, then it would have been easier to make your point.
    Good read, though.

    1. Thanks for the love, family

      I wasn't comparing which album was better or how the albums were created

      And I DON'T think Nas is overrated...he's a great MC with uneven abums...this issue is more about how publications slobbed over Illmatic when the album didn't resonate with many people...the joint sounded more like a regional album without much universal appeal

      Every album gets that point is moot

      I was more so bringing out the fact that Ready to Die had IMPACTED the industry far greater than Illmatic during an era when Nas was billed as the Messiah in '94 to "bring back" the East

      If anything, I think Ready to Die was more influenced by Death Row's formula of mixing hardcore street raps with radio friendly songs

      Biggie was an admitted student of The Chronic album, and even went as far as to name himself after Dr. Dre (Dre referred to himself as the "Notorious one" or the "Notorious D.R.E." a couple times on The Chronic)

  2. I was all ready to have a side-eye with this article, but you made quite a few good points :) Dope read

  3. I've heard countless people tell me what a great album Illmatic is but have never been into it. It just never grabbed me the way Ready To Die did. Biggie's lyrics were so vivid and haunting, and delivered with so much gusto. Plus he could be funny. Illmatic always struck me as an album with extreme technical prowess but lacking in soul. I'll have to give it another listen, though. Thanks for the post.

    1. Props for the love

      Illmatic was lyrically on point...but like you said, it lacked the soul of a man...I really didn't know anything about Nas on that album besides the surface shit that teenagers usual do

      Nas was still raw as an artist

      And some of the beats sound dated as hell...that album is a "period piece," something that perfectly captures that era, but doesn't expand further than that

  4. I agree Ready to Die is better than Illmatic. Illmatics production is now dated and even at the time it was almost too "pure" borderline boring.

    Where Ready to Die was perfect in bridging the mainstream and the underground Illmatic was perfect in bridging the old school with the new school. If Illmatic had just ONE radio friendlier beat and catchy hook it would have been a perfect album.

    Illmatic was about being a youth in new york speaking to new yorkers. Ready to Die was about being a youth/drug dealer in new york speaking to america.

    1. Don't get me wrong, Illmatic is a dope album

      But if it wasn't for hype from NY music publications like The Source, that joint would've been on the same level as Jeru's Sun Rises in the East as far as publicity

  5. I agree, coming off the album you never really know anything about Nas as a person, beyond knowing he can rhyme well which he does superbly, but speaking of rhyming Nas didn't really innovate anything on illmatic in my opinion, Kool G Rap's Roads to Riches was released years before and in my opinion the lyrical innovation on that album is superior (just listen to Men at Work and Poison).

    Biggie had more emotions on Ready to Die, even though his technical skill of lyrics was not as complex as Nas, he sure could flow and had mad charisma on the mic, here in South Africa, most people barely knew Nas before it was written, but Biggie was blowing up, so yeah I agree illmatic was a regional thing. Plus with ready to die you came out feeling like you knew Big but illmatic has that cold detachment..

    1. Nuff respect

      Illmatic is the result of when the media co-signs you

  6. Me Against the World is better than iLLmatic.

  7. Illmatic is one of the best New York albums, that's about it.. it doesn't go past that, its a regional thing. That disqualifies it from being the greatest album in general.

    I'll just bring up Outkast debut album, Southernplaylistic.. that joint it's a classic, but everytime it's brought up, people always say its a "southern" classic. why df does it matter that its from the south ? because people outside the south wasn't fuckin with it like that

    and thats exactly how i feel about illmatic, i was down south when that dropped, that shit wasn't making no noise down there. i have family in Sacramento, wasn't nobody fuckin with that shit out west either.

    so the same reason that Southerplayalistic is never considered the greatest album ever the same reason i don't consider illmatic to be the best.

    both are classics in their respective regions. only thing illmatic had that Outkast didn't was the support of the biggest magazine in Hip Hop..that reason alone is why illmatic was put on a pedestal. .take The Source out of the picture and illmatic is forgotten by now.

    illmatic is stuck in 1994, it SOUNDS old as fuck..a true classic never gets old.. Ready To Die is timeless, All Eyez on Me is timeless, so is Reasonable Doubt.

    Ok, Nas came with the lyricism. .but that's it.Nas is a corpse on the mic, he has no soul, delivery is funeral boring. .Biggie's flow is untouchable, Tupac's passion is contagious, Jay Z can switch up his flow and be lively. .Nas is a snoozefest.

    So let's see its a regional classic ,it sounds dated, only nine songs and Nas comes with the lyrics but with a half dead delivery.

    Ready to Die
    Death Certificate
    36 Chambers
    AmeriKKKas Most Wanted
    Reasonable Doubt

    ...all better than or on the same level with illmatic

    shit "It Was Written" is better than illmatic.

    the ONLY reason illmatic didn't sink into the dark hole of forgettable music is because of the Source magazine.

    1. '"It Was Written" is better than illmatic.

      the ONLY reason illmatic didn't sink into the dark hole of forgettable music is because of the Source magazine.'


      Illmatic was the darling of NY publication...

      ...specifically The Source

      SouthernPlayalistic is regional as hell, but Outkast expanded their horizons with ATLiens and Aquemini

      They broke the mold from their original sound, and truthfully, Southernplayalistic deserved 5 mics regardless

  8. I think Illnatic is a decent album that was thrown to the wolves of the West Coast dominance. It was like New York gave birth to this kid named Hip Hop. California started to raise it and Nee York wanted it back. In comes Miss Info and the undeserved five mics.

    It was like she had to give New York a breath of life from somewhere because after NWA broke up, platinum, hard hitting albums was flowing from the Pacific Ocean like crazy.

    Amerikkka's Most. The Chronic. Death Cerificate. Doggystyle. Hell, even Warren G's Regulate hit three million. And that's not counting all the minor West Coast artists who also had major success.

    Illmatic didn't make our ears stand up out here in Cali. But when you heard "Things Done Changed" off RTD, people were like "whoa. Who's that? Valet me listen to the next cut." Even got the attention of Suge.

    If Illmatic was such a ground breaking album, bootlegs or not, it wouldn't have taken it seven years to go platinum in the largest city in the country. Miss Info should have waited a little and hit Biggie with that crown.

    1. True...The Source had pretty much crowned Nas as the Messiah before they knew of Biggie...they couldn't take the title back for the sake of not flip flopping and losing credibility

      I do think Illmatic deserves 5 mics because the lyricism is crazy...

      ...I just think the beats sound dated in hindsight

  9. Nas stans love reason that Illmatic didn't sell well because it was heavily bootlegged. It was heavily bootlegged. In New York City. Outside of NYC, no one was checking for Nas because Illmatic was way too NY-centric for out of towners. I don't think people in Cali, Texas or even Maryland felt comfortable bumping a track called "NY State of Mind" in 1994. An era when regional pride and culture in terms of Hip Hop and the streets took precedence over everything. Illmatic is no different from any classic regional album of that era. The extremely regionally centric themes on Illmatic are no different than those present on independent Bay Area and Down South albums released during the same year. It just so happens Nas has major label backing. For Illmatic to go wood while being backed by the most respected NY producers of the era proves that Illmatic was an epic commercial flop. Most people who herald Illmatic as the greatest album ever didn't even hear it until after 2001 and were ten years old or younger at the time and if they were listening to Rap, they were recording edited singles from Doggystyle off the radio. Indeed, Illmatic is not as revolutionary as everyone says either. It's basically marrying the once opposed features of Kool G Rap's voice, flow and gangsterism over Native Tongues production.

    1. "Outside of NYC, no one was checking for Nas because Illmatic was way too NY-centric for out of towners."


      Illmatic is VERY regional...

      ...that's why I can't call it as the greatest rap album because it doesn't have that universal appeal

      But hey, that was the perk of getting in the game as an NYC artist at the time

      The bias was crazy

  10. As a fan of Eminem basically. You've just spoke out what I was trying to figure out the last five months. It's not that Illmatic is bad or whatsoever it's just that it is too overlooked and saying about the songs are consistent throughout the album, it only have 10 tracks so there would be only a little chance to have a filler. If you take out even the 10 Best tracks from Eminem's Relapse then it's a freaking classic. Albums such as The Eminem Show, SSLP, Doggystyle, Blueprint, Black Album, RD, Ready To Die, Stankonia, all had more powerful impact than Illmatic. People said Em sell out on TES because it's not 100% hip-hop? The album is majority Rap Rock and the rhymes are still tight as fuck. The album which he truly sell out are Shady XV and Recovery. Then for me, even Stillmatic sounds better for me the problem with Nas is that he rarely found the balance between a good beat and great lyricism. If Illmatic was a 15 track LP it might gone off 4 Mics of that freakin Source Magazine. *sorry for the multiple Eminem reference it's just that people criticizing him too much for being popular rather than rather than his skills on the mic*

  11. damn three years later i find this again lol. aint nothing changed. illmatic is overrated. GKMC by Kendrick has a somewhat similar concept of coming of age story but its put together way more brilliantly. and with over 18 songs kendrick took a bigger risk than nas. illmatic has 9 songs. sonically its rough as hell. the hooks and beats on GKMC blow Illmatic out the water. "represent represent" weak ass hook. and lastly if illmatic was such a big deal then nas wouldn't feel the need to switch up his style for the second album. he went from park bench storyteller to john gotti mafioso. illmatic flopped hard. it went platinum years later when jay z injected life in nas career by dissing him.

    1. "...if illmatic was such a big deal then nas wouldn't feel the need to switch up his style for the second album."