Retro Review: “Stillmatic”

*RIGO’S NOTE: We’re gonna be doing something on NYILL we’re gonna call Retro Reviews. Basically, when the anniversary of a classic or otherwise dope rap album drops, we’re gonna review said album and speak on how we felt about the album at the time it dropped, how our opinions have changed, how it changed or didn’t change rap, how it influenced other rappers or the culture, etcetera.

First up we got Nas’ Stillmatic, which originally dropped on December 18, 2001. Just a little over two months after the 9/11 attacks, which also coincided with the date Jay-Z dropped The Blueprint. If you gotta ask what Jay-Z’s The Blueprint has to do with Nas’ Stillmatic, well then you were probably in elementary school ten years ago.

Now for those of y’all that don’t know, which is all of y’all most likely, Nas’ classic Illmatic is hands-down, bar-none my favorite and in my opinion most unfuckwitable rap album ever. You ain’t got to agree with me that it’s the best rap album of all time, but if it ain’t in your top 10 you doing it wrong. Unfortunately, Nas’ subsequent albums didn’t nearly live up to the sky-high standards set by his debut. Dude had some bangers here and there, but every album had me craving more.

Prior to this album dropping, word on the street was Nas was coming with another classic album to claim the King of NY throne Biggie had vacated after his passing. And that after Jay-Z  had gotten at him on “Takeover” Nas was gonna come back at him HARD. I was excited as hell for Stillmatic to drop and like many, copped it the first day of release.So was it as good as I was hoping it would be? Mind you, at the time I was expecting Illmatic 2.

“Ayo, the brother’s Stillmatic
I crawled up out of that grave, wipin the dirt, cleanin my shirt
They thought I’d make another Illmatic
But it’s always forward I’m movin
Never backwards stupid, here’s another classic”

Well shit, so much for that. Being 17 at the time, my thinking was “what’s wrong with going back and revisiting Illmatic? Why wouldn’t he want to duplicate that type of record?” But now at 27 I can understand and appreciate more what he was trying to say. You can’t live your life in the past, whether the past brought you great success or great sorrow, you gotta be on some Rafiki shit – “It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past!”

Anyways, shitty analogies aside, despite my initial disappointment the intro was great, it boasted a solid beat by the Hangmen 3 and the introspective, cinematic lyrics from Nas I had come to expect. More importantly, it signaled to the masses that the ghost of Nasty Nas had possessed Nasir Jones once again, and if you were expecting to hear some cute Oochie Wally or Dr. Knockboots type shit on this album, you’re dead wrong.

So on to track two…ooohhhh shit!!! Now, I got a feeling the homie O is gonna speak on “Ether” a lot, and I mean, you could write a whole 3,000 word article on that track alone, and speak on the significance of that diss track, and the Jay-Z/Nas beef, and not to mention thanks to one little line referencing Eminem’s appearance on Jay-Z’s “Renegade”, every rapper in the game since has been afraid of “getting murdered on their own shit”.  There has even been some dope articles about that over the years.

I’ma just say, at the time I felt like Jay-Z had gone for Nas’ neck on “Takeover” and Nas didn’t come nearly as hard as he should have (pause?) in responding. But again, with age comes a better understanding of things, and my homie and I had a convo via the SLAMOnline comments section one day about this, and he suggested I go back and listen to “Ether” once more. So I did, and I’ll be damned if my whole perspective on this matter hadn’t changed. Nas killed him, yo. But enough of that, like I said, “Ether” vs. “Takeover” is a whole ‘nother issue on its own. You could seriously have a college course based on that shit.

I thought the next track, “Got Ur Self A” was a bit pedestrian, and I still do. I thought it would’ve been doper if they had figured out a way to have Nas rhyme over a sample of the Sopranos theme song “Woke Up This Morning” instead of just sampling the lyrics for the hook. Or even if they had a vocal sample of the original track for the hook.

Moving ahead a few tracks, “You’re Da Man” was and still is my favorite track on the album. It had me from the strings in the beginning, man. For real. I’m a sucker for a dope violin or viola sample, and legendary producer Large Professor had me rewinding the first 20 seconds or so of this track several times before I even listened to the rest of this song. Once the beat dropped, it had me kind of wishing it was a bit slower, but other than that this shit was hard. Nas was at his lyrical best on this one. Some of the lyrics he spit were just downright haunting –

But that’ll be the day when it’s peace
When my gat don’t need to spray
When these streets are safe to play
Sex with death, indulge in these women
Vision my own skeleton swimmin’ in eternal fire
Broads play with pentagrams in they vagina
Like the Exorcist, then they gave birth to my seeds
I beg for God’s help, why they love hurtin’ me?”

The next track, “Rewind”, is one I feel about completely different now than I did when I first copped the album. I really didn’t think much of it at first. The beat was nothing special, even though it was another Large Professor joint, and Nas’ rhymes weren’t making a lot of sense. Probably cause the song couldn’t hold my attention so I wasn’t trying hard enough. Fast-forward (appropriate for this song) a few years, I play close attention, and…holy shit this motherfucker made a song on some “Momento’ shit! With the beginning being the end and the end being the beginning. Clever song by Nas, no doubt.

“One Mic” was dope, but I think some cats try to make it out to be a whole lot better than it was. I heard one dude say he thinks it’s the greatest rap song of all time! Missed me with THAT nonsense! Don’t get me wrong tho, shit was pretty live. How the cat went from a near-whisper to damn near going all M.O.P. on ’em, straight screamin’ on the track. Can’t front, it was dope. Not a classic tho.

Now, as y’all know I used to always check the credits in the albums to see who produced what, and I was excited to see my all-time favorite producer DJ Premier in there. If I’m not mistaken, their last pairing produced the bona fide masterpiece “Nas is Like” from “I Am”, and who could forget their collaborations on “Illmatic” such as “Memory Lane”?

So you’ll have to forgive me if I was a little disappointed when I heard “2nd Childhood”. I was expecting them to hit it out the park like they almost always did. I was actually a bit heated about it, I thought Nas + Premo should automatically equal masterpiece every time. Of course, now I listen to it and think the shit is pretty dope. This is a solid Premo beat, and Nas does his thing. It’s not a classic, but it’s not bad.

“Destroy and Rebuild” surprised the whole fuck outta me. Aside from Cormega, I couldn’t believe he went at those other cats like Prodigy and Nature. Still can’t really. The old-school Slick Rick-inspired flow was ill, but I never really knew how to feel about the track. It seems like he shitted on every rapper from his hood on this one.

Apparently Wikipedia is telling me there’s a thing called a “Bravehearts Party” on the album but since mine didn’t have that (thankfully) I ain’t speakin’ on it.

Moving on, I gotta say “Every Ghetto” might be my second favorite (“favourite” for my homies down south…in Canada) track on the album. The beat went hard, and so did Nas. I love that part about “My skin is mad at my flesh/my flesh hates my own bones/My brain hates my heart/my heart makes the songs” and Blitz did his thing too.

Overall, I feel like this ended up being Nas’ third best album. I put Illmatic and Hip Hop is Dead above this one. Some of y’all might disagree about the Hip Hop is Dead, but I really thought that album was better than Stillmatic. I can’t really call this a classic, but it definitely changed some things in the world of rap, most noticeably the track “Ether” and most specifically that one line about being murdered on your own shit. No one could have ever guessed how much that line would’ve affected the rap world.

Some of y’all are gonna disagree with me about this retro review but that’s aight. These are just my opinions and what’s dope about rap music is how it’s part of the culture to argue about who’s better and all that good stuff. Peace.


One thought on “Retro Review: “Stillmatic”

  1. Enigmatic went IN on his review. Dope write up, homie. I was going to REALLY break down “Ether” and it’s shortcomings, but decided not to. It was a dope track and Nas came off. LOL.

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