April 19th, 1994, a day cemented in rap history as Nasir Jones released his debut album “Illmatic.” Going under the moniker of Nas, of course, the Queensbridge housing product’s 10-track album has stood the test of 22 years and is still constantly referred to and sampled by artists across the world. Younger generations have picked up on this timeless classic with the help of the 2014 documentary “Time Is Illmatic.” Still respected as one of the greatest rap albums to date, we’ve rounded up a few things that you may have never heard about “Illmatic” and its influence.
1) “Illmatic” paved the way for multi-producer albums
Nas changed the standard of how rap albums were recorded with “Illmatic,” instead of working with one single producer or a production team he brought in an arsenal of individual talent to sit behind the boards. DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Large Professor and L.E.S. all contributed to the famed album, a notion that for the most part had never been seen before.
Although Nas begged Large Professor to executive produce the album the offer was respectfully declined, Large Pro explained the situation to HipHop DX and stated he didn’t want to sign a contract.
2) Shaq sampled Nas’ reference of him on “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” for his own track “Nobody”
In 1994 Shaquille O’Neal was living out his dream of being a NBA superstar. Following his career at LSU Shaq was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992 going on to win NBA Rookie Of The Year in 1993. Nas took Shaq’s quickly established NBA dominance and like many other rappers after him gave him a shout out on “It Ain’t Hard To Tell.” Rapping: ‘It ain’t hard to tell/ I kick a skill like Shaquille hold a pill,‘ Nas compared the ease in which he kicks a rhyme to the size of Shaq’s hands and how he holds a basketball.
Taking this reference in full stride Shaq’s sophomore album (yep he had more than one) “Shaq Fu: Da Return” came complete with a “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” sampled track titled “Nobody.”
3) Joey Bada$$ has referenced “Illmatic” lyrics on 5 different tracks
Often times we see artists and producers sample other artists they look up to but sampling the same album multiple times is a bit of a rarity. Born in Brooklyn, Joey Bada$$ lives and breathes for New York hip-hop and his boom-bap style has a serious East Coast flare to it. Paying homage to Nas time and time again it’s easy to see that the Pro Era general had Nas running through his headphones growing up. Here are the samples:
- “Hardknock” featuring CJ Fly references the lyrics ‘I’m out for presidents to represent me‘ from “The World Is Yours.”
- Celebrating his 20’s birthday last year, Joey Badda$$’ “Born Day (AquaiUS)” references the lyrics ‘I’m up early on my born day; I’m 20, it’s a blessing‘ from “Life’s A Bitch”
- Statik Selektah’s “Carry On” which features Joey Bada$$ and Freddie Gibbs is rooting in “Life’s A Bitch” and the line ‘Others such as myself are tryna carry out tradition‘
- Joey Bada$$ pays respect to his late friend Capitol Steez on “#LongLiveSteelo,” the track thrives around “One Love,” repeating the phrase multiple times while also referencing the line ‘You was my n***a when push came to shove‘
- On Joey Bada$$’ “Sweet Dreams” the NY native reference the line ‘Somehow the rap game reminds me of the crack game’ from “Represent”
4) Nas wanted L.E.S. to sample Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit”
Nas told XXL that during the recording process of “Illmatic,” Nas asked his friend and producer L.E.S. who he grew up with him Queensbridge to bring Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit” to their session. L.E.S. couldn’t get an original copy of the record and instead brought The Gap Band’s “Yearning For Your Love” which turned into “Life’s A Bitch.”
5) “Illmatic” has been sampled an average of 34.5 times per track
It’s no secret that the influence of “Illmatic” can still be heard in modern music through samples and regurgitating of lyrics. The good people at Grantland (RIP) did some research and at the time of their post in 2014, every track on “Illmatic” had been sampled an average of 34.5 times. While 34 does not sound like a big number, simply multiply it by 10 for the number of samples for the whole album.