"Straight out of the fuckin' dungeons of rap, where fake niggas don't make it back, I don't know how to start this shit"
The ironic opening words of Nas' seminal debut album, Illmatic. Nas then proceeds to murder a beautifully grungy DJ Premier beat with lyrical genius, thus a classic track is born.
"Rappers are monkey flippin'/
to the funky rhythm/
i be kickin'/"
Nas develops the street anthem with multi-internal-rhymed verses, using two or more matching assonance sounds per line, placed in a perfect form and complementary to the beat. His flow never stumbles and his consistency is impeccable. Nas' talent can even be compared with such greats as Rakim and Kool G Rap. In the 70's to the late 80's (and some in the 90's thanks to acts like Nice & Smooth), rap artists' rhyme schemes were bland and repetitive. In most cases, rappers would just write their verses and only after they were done would they would go back and make the end of each line rhyme, which didn't develop an overall essence of flow in the song. Nevertheless, this ended when Rakim picked up a pen, and by being more attentive to where rhymes should be placed and how to utilize syllables to a T, the God MC revolutionized the game, leaving the users of that past technique to be seen as novelty acts. Nas uses Rakim's great tools to create a truly poetic song. His flow is so fluid that most of the time his rhyme-switching is unnoticeable:
" Bulletholes left in my peepholes/
I'm suited up in street clothes/
Hand me a nine and I'll defeat foes/
Y'all know my steelo with or without the airplay/
I keep some E&J, sittin bent up in the stairway/"
Nas also tightly packs each bar with as many rhymes as he can while still developing the song's meaning:
“It's like the game ain't the same/
Got younger niggaz pullin the triggers bringing fame to they name/
and claim some corners, crews without guns are goners/
In broad daylight, stickup kids, they run up on us/”
His talent is unbelievable, but what separates Nas with the rest of Rakim's followers is his lyrical content.
"It drops deep, as it does in my breath/
I never sleep, 'cus sleep is the cousin of death/"
This line acts as the “N.Y. State of Mind”'s refrain, repeated at the end of both verses. Its morbid yet harshly truthful meaning symbolizes the essence of the song's message: the life of a hoodlum in New York is never-ending and pain-staking. With great storytelling talent, Nas depicts a man trying to make it in the ghetto, though gun fights, weight-pushing, and robberies. He builds the character in the first half of the first verse, saying he is “like Scarface sniffin' cocaine/ Holdin' a M-16, see with the pen I'm extreme/” and that everday he is “on the corner bettin' grands with the celo champs/ Laughin' at baseheads, trynna sell some broken amps”. Then, Nasty delves into a story of a gun-fight where his gun jams. Continuing, Nas explains that the game isn't like it used to be because today we “Got younger niggaz pullin the triggers bringing fame to they name”, a notion that unfortunately becomes remains true by each passing year. Nas' lyrics were and still are on a completey different level as his contemporaries and succesors, and he personifies an true MC, boasting that:
"I'm takin' rappers to a new plateau/
Through rap slow/
My rhymin' is a vitamin/
Held without a capsule/"
His wit accompanies the song's deep message, with tricky lines like "Bullet holes up in my peepholes" and "Give me a Smith & Wesson, I'll have a niggas undressin'". Nas says he has “got so many rhymes I don't think I'm too sane", showing he can hit the listener with a myriad of rhymes thick with tales and metaphors and still joke around about it. Nasir Jones, a true thug-poet, lays down the foundation of his incredible album with his first track, but not without the help of Hip hop greatest producer.
One thing that I have learned as a Hip hop enthusiast is that you can never go wrong with Premo beat, and NY State of Mind is a perfect example. With the eerie piano loop, the classic breakbeat, the perfect use of Donald Byrd's Flight Time, one cannot deny DJ Premier's production skills. The beat captures the dark and dangerous life of a kid trying to make it for himself in the streets. The loop doesn't stop, until Nas exclaims:
"The smooth criminal on beat breaks/
Never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes/"
Premo can accompany Nas like no other producer can, and although Nas and DJ Premier have yet to make a full collaboration album (still waiting on that), every track that the two do together is golden. Rakim's voice graces the track's chorus, which is almost like the passing of the MC torch. The song ends with a sample of Nas saying "Nasty Nas", sampled from his first rapping appearance (Live @ the Barbecue), and Premier cuts it lovely as the beat fades away. NY State of Mind is undoubtedly my favorite song, and it is definitely one you have to hear before you die!