'Illmatic' at 20: Nas Reflects on His Landmark Debut (1)

'Illmatic' at 20: Nas Reflects on His Landmark Debut (1)

The 'Illmatic' Origins

Though officially released on April 19th, 1994, Illmatic's own genesis can be traced back to almost three years earlier. It was the summer of 1991 and Queens-based hip hop trio Main Source released its acclaimed debut LP, Breaking Atoms. Buoyed by the dual talents of the group's emcee and in-house production wizard Large Professor, Breaking Atoms' penultimate track was "Live at the Barbeque" – a propulsive posse cut featuring one of the Professor's young protégés, a raw, 17-year-old then-unknown calling himself Nasty Nas. His obscurity would be short-lived.

When I heard 'Live at the Barbeque' I and I heard the way Nas spit I was just so blown away. No one was saying the crazy stuff that he was sayin' - DJ Premier

Imbued with indelibly nihilistic imagery, Nas' verse was delivered with a command and effortlessness that belied his newcomer status. His was the voice of a new rap generation for whom disaffection with any and all traditional social institutions fueled memorably outrageous boasts. But he was also savvy enough to avoid the novelty of mere shock value and acknowledge the currency of creativity.

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