This year marks the 26th anniversary of the 1994 hip-hop classic ‘Illmatic’. Nasir Jones dropped his debut album three years after his show stealing performance on the Main Source track ‘Live at the Barbecue’. The project has been continuously praised by critics and is regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. The level of lyricism which Nas brought to the table was unprecedented at the time. Above all, we can’t disregard the minimalistic production from DJ Premier, Large Professor, Q-Tip and others, which made for an endearing musical journey. The album was released at a time where New York hip-hop was not in the limelight and Nas’ debut contributed heavily to putting East Coast hip-hop back on the map. All of these achievements seemed fitting for us to revisit the best verses from Nas’ ‘Illmatic’.
On that note, the poetry and technical proficiency is impeccable all throughout, but these are the bars that stood out to us. If you would like to share your favorite bars or verses from the project, send us an e-mail or hit us up on social media. Also, if you need to go back to ‘Illmatic” to listen to the bars, you could listen here.
5. N.Y State of Mind, Verse 2
The fiends fight to get crack, I just max, I dream I can sit back
And lamp like Capone, with drug scripts sewn
Or the legal luxury life, rings flooded with stones, homes
I got so many rhymes, I don’t think I’m too sane
Life is parallel to Hell, but I must maintain (Genius Lyrics)
This is one of Nas’ most popular verses because he goes all out for over forty bars straight in this verse. He raps about wanting a way out of his criminal life so that he can ease off and just chill with his earnings like Al Capone. Even though his life on the streets of Queens might be hellish, Nas knows that he must keep going and look towards a brighter day. The dark piano sample from DJ Premier adds to the harsh reality of Nas’ environment in this standout track.
4. The World is Yours, Verse 1
“I sip the Dom P, watchin’ Gandhi ’til I’m charged, then
Writin’ in my book of rhymes, all the words past the margin
To hold the mic I’m throbbin’, mechanical movement
Understandable smooth shit that murderers move with
The thief’s theme, play me at night, they won’t act right
The fiend of hip-hop has got me stuck like a crack pipe” (Genius Lyrics)
Any hip-hop fan who hears this staggering verse for the first time cannot deny their wonderment for the exceptional rhyme scheme that Nas bestows upon us. In addition, he raps about watching the film ‘Gandhi’ which is about social injustice in order to prepare himself to write his rhymes. With that line. Nas asserts himself as a man of the people, one who’s speaking of problems larger than his own. He also compares his fans to crack fiends in his neighbourhood, alluding that their addiction will be to his music.
3. One Love (feat. Q-Tip) Verse 2
Hold, check out the story yesterday when I was walkin’
That nigga you shot last year tried to appear
Like he hurtin’ somethin’
Word to mother, I heard him frontin’
And he be pumpin’ on your block
Your man gave him your Glock
And now they run together — what up, son? Whatever (Genius Lyrics)
This is an interesting verse as Nas is seemingly writing a letter to one of his incarcerated friends. The storytelling depicted here is vibrant and the details allow you to feel the gravity of the situation. An associate of the man who is in jail started hanging with the guy he was arrested for shooting. The betrayal is extended by the fact that the associate gave his old Glock to the man he shot. With this vivid story, Nas illustrates the consequences associated with spending time in jail.
2. It Ain’t Hard to Tell, Verse 3
“This rhythmatic explosion
Is what your frame of mind has chosen
I’ll leave your brain stimulated, niggas is frozen
Speak with criminal slang, begin like a violin
End like Leviathan, it’s deep? Well, let me try again
Wisdom be leakin’ out my grapefruit, troop
I dominate break loops, givin’ mics men-e-strual cycles
Street’s disciple, I rock beats that’s mega trifle
And groove even smoother than moves by Villanova
You’re still a soldier, I’m like Sly Stone in Cobra” (Genius Lyrics)
He starts off this verse by being braggadocios, saying that his rhymes will leave you stunned and frozen in amazement. Next, he says that he can be as smooth as a violin or as ruthless as Leviathan; the Biblical sea monster which spits out flames. Nas then compares himself to Sylvester Stallone’s character in Cobra who is a renegade cop, because Nas sees himself as a leader who has a voice of his own. His peers are compared to soldiers, who in the context of a crime organization are low on the pecking order. To sum up, his references throughout the track leave you investigating the bars in order to understand the comparisons and the wit of his pen. This definitely one of the best verses from Nas’ ‘Illmatic’.
1. Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park) Verse 2
“Judges hangin’ niggas, uncorrect bails for direct sales
My intellect prevails from a hangin’ cross with nails
I reinforce the frail with lyrics that’s real
Word to Christ, a disciple of streets, trifle on beats
I decipher prophecies through a mic and say “Peace” “(Genius Lyrics)
Throughout this verse, Nas proclaims to be Jesus of the hood. Rather than learning from religious scriptures, he gained knowledge from the hood. He talks about how slaves were mistreated and how he and those around him may worry about a metaphorical crucifixion from the unjust systems they are controlled by. Nas raps about being able to offer solace through his music, where he almost acts as a spokesperson for the streets. The track contains impressive multisyllabic rhyming, intellectual metaphors and enjoyable production from DJ Premier which includes a beautiful electric organ. Do you think this is one of the best verses from Nas’ ‘Illmatic’?
How did you like our picks for the best verses from Nas’ ‘Illmatic’? If you enjoy our hip hop content, you could access our full podcast library here.