…and now back to our regularly scheduled program. What a way to bounce back. After The Source staff’s vacation for that March ’94 Miami issue, they did a complete 180o degree turn for the April 1994 issue and got back to work. This is the most well worn issue in my entire collection. Within the span of a week, more than 20 guys in my dorm asked to borrow it. And over the years, I’ve had people ask me to photocopy it for them. Thank goodness for scanning technology since the pages have begun to fall out. First things first, Gangstarr is on the cover. Other than that Nasty Nas album, Hard to Earn was the other highly anticipated album on campus. Primo must have been the busiest producer over that past year, too. From his own album, KRS-One to Nas, to Jeru to Biggie, etc. his schedule was full. And he gave them all quality time as evidenced by the finished product. But anyway, let’s get back to the main subject. Nasty Nas’ Illmatic. Before his Escobar image fiasco, he was obviously a student in the Rakim School of Rhymin’, Poetry and Emceein’. Dude was truly a poet in hip-hop and reading the lyrics without the music proves it. There was no ‘Lollipop’ garbage on Illmatic. Since the main supplier of exclusive music in college, Brooklynite Marlon, dropped off the bootleg tape to me (which I still have here in the basement after 14.5 years), I was a Nas fiend. Between classes, everyone blasted their static filled bootleg Nas tape from November ’93 all the way to the official release date. And not one person I bumped into thought it was less than a 5 mic classic. I do believe we harbored an unspoken East Coast bias at the time, though, because 80% to 90% of the music we liked was from NYC, Jersey or Philly. Our only debates were which song(s) were/are better (for my money it’s ‘NY State of Mind’, ‘Memory Lane’ and ‘One Love’).
When the time came for the official day of release, there was no haggling for a ride or worrying about writing our papers and studying for finals even though it was the last week and a half of the semester, and sadly, I was about to graduate in less than two weeks. I can’t adequately describe how bittersweet it felt at the time to hear such a great album combined with the elation of finishing college knowing that my daily hip-hop debates with knowledgable people from up and down the East Coast would soon end. Back to the story ~ A bunch of us jumped into somebody’s car and headed to our favorite mom & pop record store near the University of Delaware (I don’t know why we always drove to Delaware) and bought every copy of the CD they had for sale. The sales clerk looked at us like we were crazy. On the way back to campus, everyone except the driver, ripped open their CD case and silently read the production credits and liner notes with smiles plastered on our faces. I’m sure you’ve read numerous reviews of the album so I won’t get into that here but I was the happiest guy you’d ever seen for months (even though my girlfriend was upset because I neglected her to listen to the album). I hadn’t played an album that much on a consistent basis since I had purchased Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live the Kane and Special Ed‘s Youngest in Charge back in high school. And I only had two complaints about the album (I’m grumpy, remember?). The original ‘Represent’ on the demo tape sounded much grimier and I loved that. I still play that version. And my other complaint was that the album was too short. But I understood that MC Serch probably cut the album down to preserve the quality. In hindsight, he did the right thing.
But why was this album not as commercially successful as Doggystyle and Ready to Die? According to the RIAA, Illmatic (released on April 19, 1994) went gold on January 17, 1996 and then platinum on December 11, 2001. I think it had a lot to do with the lack of club/radio friendly songs. ‘It Ain’t Hard to Tell’ was a good first single for the radio but other than that, this stellar album was made for people to play in the car or at home. It was truly a gift and a curse for Nas. Today, ‘best hip-hop album’ lists always seem to have this album in the top ten and many times at #1 (http://passionweiss.com/2007/05/09/the-25-greatest-albums-of-all-time-as-voted-on-by-the-internet/). But for me, it will only reach as high as #4. Sorry Nas.
Side note 1 – I have to say that the feeling of anticipation regarding an album’s release date was the best part about buying music pre-Internet. Actually reading the artist’s interviews prior to the release, seeing the ads/videos, and going to the store where you’d bump into DJ’s and other people with similar taste, and then ripping open the case to read the CD liner notes while on the train or bus home was all about the experience of being a true consumer. Not to mention the freebies (posters, stickers, discounted/free records and CD’s, etc.) you’d get for being a frequent customer of a mom & pop record store. With all of the greatness of technology (I love the accessibility), that one important aspect (anticipation) has died and I never ever hear younger people talking about the anticipation of an album. It’s simply downloaded on the day that it leaks and that’s it. Hip-hop music has become seemingly disposable but as long as you have Internet access and search long enough, you’ll find something old and something new that suits your taste.
Side note 2 – About 6 years ago, I was surprised to find out that Shortie aka Minya Oh aka Miss Info was the one who wrote the Illmatic review. She actually wrote quite a bit of the important articles/reviews around this time so she’s been plugged in for a while.
Some other highlights from this issue:
- Tupac continues his numerous legal battles
- Raekwon with the hip –hop quotable for ‘C.R.E.A.M.’
- Have bulletproof vests become fashionable?
- An article/discussion regarding Nas and the making of Illmatic
- Haiti in turmoil
- The Maddenbowl ’94 tournament (played on Sega Genesis) featuring one of my favorite artists (Masta Ace) as the winner - E-A-G-L-E-S! – Casual, Buckshot, Sadat X, Kurious, Q-Tip, Kid Capri, and MC Serch were some of the other contestants
- The great article on the history of Gangstarr
Record Report highlights:
- Nas – Illmatic (5 mics)
- Shyheim – AKA The Rugged Child (4 mics)
- E-40 – The Mail Man EP (3.5 mics)
- The New 2 Live Crew – Back At Your A** For the Nine-4 (3 mics)
- Conscious Daughters – Ear to the Street (3.5 mics)
- Down South – Lost in Brooklyn (3.5 mics)
April 1994 issue part 1
April 1994 issue part 2
Nas – Illmatic
Nas – Illmatic instrumentals
Nas – Illmatic Demos