Almost Famous

The Avenues to Success

Illmatic

It was 2001 and the Jay-Z / Nas beef was heating up Hot 97 with the release of both “Takeover” and “Ether.” Back then I was just getting into buying ridiculous amounts of albums. In my room I had a small stereo system with a 3-disc CD changer and I would play sections of my favorite artists’ discography. One of those artists was Jay-Z. I remember prior to 2001, I took all of my Christmas money, went out to the record store, and purchased his entire collection up until Blueprint, which was released shortly after on September 11, 2001. One of my friends bought Blueprint for me for my birthday on November 9th, 2001 and for a while that’s all I listened to. Jay-Z had beef with Nas, so I had beef with Nas. I thought “Takeover” was just an incredible diss-record and at the time I was convinced Jay-Z was untouchable.

Around the same year or maybe shortly after, another one of my friends brought over a burned copy of Stillmatic. He was one of the biggest Nas heads I knew and absolutely swore by Stillmatic and “Ether.” We used to get in arguments about Jay-Z and Nas and although he had respect for Jay, we never could get on the same page about who was the better emcee. This was before I was extremely well versed in hip-hop and the deeper components of being an emcee, beyond just commercial success and production value. Perhaps this is why prior to having Stillmatic shoved in my ears, I blocked Nas out. I couldn’t understand Nas. Why was Jay a commercial monster with insane radio and TV play, while Nas always seemed to lag behind?

When I first heard my friend’s copy of Stillmatic I was instantly dragged in by the intro. Nas opened with a sense of nostalgia and a triumphant comeback I really never heard in hip-hop before. He was coming off a hiatus I shamefully knew nothing about. “One Mic” became a song I would play daily, at least once, and really just evoked a spirit of hip-hop I still reflect on today in the music industry. I loved Jay-Z still, but I was convinced after opening my ears, Nas was absolutely the better lyricist. Stillmatic started a trend of uncovering Nas’s discography, like I did for Jay.

Then there was Illmatic. I downloaded Illmatic from the notorious Napster or Kazaa or whatever the thing was back then. Nas was (and still is) a storyteller and Illmatic was his audiobook. At the time I got into Illmatic I was listening to probably every hip-hop artist around from the early 90s up until the early 2000s. Never before (this was before I heard Ready to Die before you gasp) did an album paint a vivid picture and truly present a working collaboration of production and lyrics. I found it difficult to just play a single song off Illmatic because it always felt like something else needed to follow it, move with it, and conclude it. After hearing Illmatic I wanted to be in New York City. I knew there was something special going on there and I needed to be a part of it. Illmatic set a precedent. None of my friends at the time could understand it; they brushed it off like it was meaningless. There was something special Illmatic evoked inside of my head and I’ll never forget the indescribable feeling.

In the next few days, after being in New York City for a little over a year, I will be a part of the logistics of Rock the Bells and Illmatic performed in its entirety in a very different hip-hop world. There’s a feeling of reaching a plateau I really can’t come down from and reinsurance the music industry is exactly where I want to be. I can’t match the genius of Nas with his nostalgic poetry in Stillmatic, but I can reflect on 2001 and the unbelievable circumstances I find myself in now. Before I moved to Toledo to get my Bachelor’s at the University of Toledo, one of my managers at my part-time job told me before I went to college I should stop listening to hip-hop because it was looked down upon and wouldn’t get me anywhere.

He was wrong.

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August 31, 2011 Posted by | New York City | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment