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Many rap albums have garnered commercial success, critical acclaim, and even earned the honor of being regarded as a classic. Few -- if any -- have been discussed with the reverence that is reserved for Illmatic. This was Nas' genre-defining debut album that took the art of lyricism and rhythmic poetry to unforeseen heights.
Released on April 19, 1994, Illmatic flew under the radar of the mainstream. But, it won over the hearts of the most staunch rap fans, who deemed it as the holy grail of rap albums, while christening Nas as the genre's golden child. Helmed by a murderers row of the hottest producers on the east coast at the time -- who gifted Nas with some of the best work of their careers --_ Illmatic _would raise the bar for what was expected of an emcee, a standard that artists continue to aspire to today.
With the 25th anniversary of the most celebrated rap album of all-time upon us, REVOLT uncovers nine little-known facts about Illmatic that'll blow your mind.
1. Illmatic Was Dedicated To One of Nas' Incarcerated Friends
In one of Nas' earliest interviews, he revealed that he titled his debut album Illmatic in dedication to a childhood friend convicted of homicide. "I dedicated Illmatic to my man Illmatic Ice doing time for a murder right now 'cause he was a strong man," Nas explained. "And he made his own rules for the game and he ain't take nothing from nobody. And he was kind of like a strong path to follow and look at. Even though he got caught up, and mislead into the wrong situation and now he's caught in the system right now, I still dedicated the album to him."
2. Nas' Favorite Illmatic Recording Sessions Were With DJ Premier
According to Nas, out of the recording sessions for Illmatic, the most memorable of them all were when he worked with DJ Premier, who produced three songs on the album. "Premier was the type of producer that wanted to make sure the track was right," Nas revealed in a 1994 interview. "That was like my best sessions, with him, 'cause he was willing to try all types of sounds; get in the right techniques... Whatever it took. He listened to all my ideas, and I listened to his and it worked smooth. It was like me and him, we just didn't want to rush into nothing fast, he wanted to make sure it was right."
3. The First Song Recorded For Illmatic Was "Halftime"
Nas made his debut solo appearance with the song "Halftime," which the rapper recorded in support of the soundtrack to the 1992 romantic thriller Zebrahead. Released as a single, with an accompanying music video, the mild success of "Halftime" led to the song being included on the Illmatic tracklist upon its release nearly two years later.
4. "One Love" Was Recorded In Phife Dawg's Basement
"One day we were chilling in the rest and I'm cutting up records and he's like, 'You think Q-Tip would wanna work with me,'" producer Large Professor once said in an interview. "I'm like, 'Hell fucking yeah, he asked about you the other day and other shit.' We wound up over at Phife's crib, in the basement, and Tip's like, 'If we work, we're gonna use this record,' and plays the record for "One Love."
5. Nas Recorded "N.Y. State of Mind" In One Take
One song on _Illmatic _that looms larger than the others on is "N.Y. State of Mind," which not only set the tone for the album, but announced Nas' arrival on the grand stage. While the song itself is superb, it's even more impressive when you take into account that Nas recorded the opening verse in one take, a moment that DJ Premier remembers fondly.
6. Illmatic Was One of the First Rap Albums To Be Bootlegged
Despite being hailed as one of the most anticipated albums in rap history at the time of its release, Illmatic under-performed commercially in comparison to other debuts of its stature. One factor that played a part in Illmatic's modest sales tally was songs from the album being released to the streets prematurely via bootlegged recordings. These unauthorized leaks would become the norm during the latter half of the '90s, but Illmatic was among the first album releases to be affected in that manner.
7. Here's The Real Story Behind The Rip On The Album Cover
If you look closely at the cover art for Illmatic, you'll notice a slight rip on the actual childhood photo of Nas, which Large Professor recently gave an explanation for. "I remember going to his rest and we chilling and he's like, 'Yo, this the flick I'ma use for the album cover. He had it under a piece of glass and I guess when he went to go grab it, the glass must've stuck right there, so that's the rip right there."
8. There Are Two Versions of "Represent"
Given the competitive nature of the producers who contributed to Illmatic, there was an underlying pressure to rise to the occasion creatively, which led DJ Premier to go back to the drawing board and revamp the original version of "Represent." "The one on the album is a remix," the Gang Starr member revealed during a recent interview. 'Once we got to me hearing "One Love" and "Life's A Bitch," I was like, 'Yo, I gotta update mine.'
9. AZ Wasn't The Only Guest Appearance on Illmatic
AZ's performance on "Life's A Bitch" is considered one of the greatest introductory verses of all-time, but his appearance is also noteworthy due to it being the only credited guest spot on Illmatic. However, contrary to belief, AZ wasn't the only artist to costar alongside Nas on the album. Producer Pete Rock, who had already made a name for himself as one-half of rap duo Pete Rock & CL Smooth, was persuaded by Nas to tackle the hook on the Illmatic track "Who's World Is This," which the the Mt. Vernon native produced. While Pete Rock's name isn't listed on the credits as a featured artist; his subtle, yet memorable, contribution to arguably the greatest rap album has been often understated.
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