It’s hard to believe it’s been a full decade since Nas released the album that rescued him from the “One Album Wonder” category, set the stage for the second act of his career and put him back in the conversation of “Who’s the best MC…Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas?”
“Stillmatic” was released on December 18th 2001 and was immediately given the coveted “5 Mic: A Hip-Hop Classic” rating in The Source. Keep in mind that this was a few years before blogs (like the one you are reading now) and album leaks made reviews in monthly magazines almost completely obsolete. The Source was THE Hip-Hop publication of the era and a “classic” rating was extraordinarily rare, only being awarded a handful of times including Nas’ debut “Illmatic” in 1994 (a rating that simultaneously moved him to the head of his rookie class and ensured that everything he did for the rest of his career would be compared to this masterpiece). The years following “Illmatic” were not particularly kind to Nas (best summarized in Jay-Z’s “Takeover”) and ranged from albums met with lukewarm responses (“It Was Written,” “I Am…”) to projects almost universally dismissed (“NAStradamus,” The Firm, The Bravehearts Album), combined with being openly attacked by New York’s new king and a music industry that was quickly changing due to emerging technology and an influx of young MC’s from the South and Midwest and it’s hard to imagine an album in any artist’s career that had more riding on it than “Stillmatic” did for the former Nasty Nas.
While “Stillmatic” is not as good as the two albums to which it is most often compared, “Illmatic” and Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint,” which was also given “5 Mics” in September of 2001 (A retrospective of this album appeared on TakeoverNJ in September 2011: ), a surprising amount of the material holds up a full ten years later. The brutal Roc-A-Fella diss track “Ether” (aka the one that put Ron “Ether Boy” Browz on the map) is easily in the top ten diss records ever recorded and the debate as to whether or not it’s better than Hov’s “Takeover” rages to this day. The Soprano’s sampled “Got Ur Self A …” is still a solid cut and the anthemic “One Mic” is just as powerful today as it was in 2001. The album is fleshed out with a few cool concept songs (“2nd Childhood,” “Rewind” and “What Goes Around”), an interesting take on patriotism (“My Country”), multiple “street records” that are still listenable today (“You’re Da Man,” “The Flyest”) and an oral history of Queensbridge housing projects’ rich Hip-Hop history (“Destroy & Rebuild”). The album has fourteen cuts with very few Fast Forward Moments, “Smokin’” (basically filler material), “Braveheart Party” (a weak attempt to recreate the previous year’s “Oochie Wally” success”) and “Rule” (a Trackmasters concoction featuring a Tears For Fears sample that would have been better suited for Ja Rule/Ashanti than Nas/Amerie) are the only weak links.
In the ten years since “Stillmatic” Nas has released albums ranging from near-classic (“God’s Son”) to ambitious concept albums (“Hip-Hop Is Dead,” “Untitled), collaborated with some of the biggest stars in multiple genres of music (Damian Marley, Brandy, Beastie Boys), played countless sold out shows, reconciled with Jay-Z and bridged the generation gap by recording a song with his father (jazz musician Olu Dara). Considering none of this would have been possible without “Stillmatic,” the album definitely deserves a place in the Hip-Hop history books.
-Angelo (Twitter: @Mr5thround)