Illmatic, Nas’ holy grail of rap albums was given the classical treatment on it’s 20 year anniversary alongside the National Symphony Orchestra, performed live from the Kennedy Center, in Washington D.C, USA.
At 20 years of age, in 1994, Nas dropped one of, if not the greatest rap album of all time, Illmatic.
When people who don’t know Hip Hop ask me to introduce them to the genre, I more often than not will suggest Illmatic. (Ready to Die and Reasonable Doubt, too).
A 10 track album laced with production from DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Large Professor, and Pete Rock, sets the foundation for Nas’ raw, poetic lyrics depicting the life of a young African American in Queens, New York during the early 90’s.
Despite not reaching commercial success at the time, the album was considered a masterpiece by most music critics, and most importantly, the streets of New York.
On the 20 year anniversary in 2014, American TV broadcaster ‘PBS’ and record label ‘Mass Appeal’, collaborated to present Great Performances — Nas Live From the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop.
Having actually performed in March 2014 exclusively to a live audience, the documentary was only released on February 2nd 2018, to the general public.
The documentary encapsulates the album’s legacy and feeling of nostalgia. The veteran rapper narrates and discusses the inspiration behind the album, and it’s long lasting impact.
“It’s crazy, you know, I wrote this in the projects in New York City.” Nas recalls, “Here we are in the capital of America, Washington, DC, and, you know, a bunch of white people with strings and all that, playing this album, and they feeling it.”
Conductor Steven Reineke further explains in the documentary that “the idea of finally tackling this genre was something I was really looking forward to do”.
In a slick black tux, moving on from ‘suede timbs’ to ‘ralph lauren’s’, Nas, backed by the National Symphony perform the whole album including standout tracks N.Y. State of Mind, Life’s a Bitch, and The World is Yours.
Additionally, the documentary also includes behind the scenes footage, and small clips of Nas’ early beginnings in Queens, New York.
From Nasty Nas, to Esco, to Nastradamus, we truly see the growth and development of the artist and his music. To see his album being performed by a classical orchestra is a true ode to Hip Hop. As the late Biggie once said, “You never thought that Hip Hop would take it this far”.
While we witness Hip Hop mature as a genre, we increasingly recognize and appreciate the significance of Illmatic.
Check out the trailer below, and watch the full documentary on PBS:
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