Illmatic, along with other albums such as Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and the Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, helped to redefine hip hop in the 90s. It came out in 1994, and has been credited for its part in bringing East Coast hip hop back to prominence.
Illmatic has slick production throughout, but for me, “Memory Lane” really stands out. Produced by DJ Premier and built around a sample from “We’re In Love” by Reuben Wilson, a jazz track from 1977, it’s a wistful organ groove, perfect for a song so reflective. The track has an easygoing swing to it that contradicts the darker lyrics over the top.
Nas raps about the experience of growing up and living in Queensbridge NY in a measured and thoughtful way, talking about the trouble and deaths over the years. It’s the quintessential “hood life” song and is delivered with an effortless flow.
He seriously makes rapping look easy; his bars are like water flowing down a slope, relentless and forceful, yet smooth and hard to pin down.