tillmatic? As in Still Illmatic, a.k.a. Nas’ greatest rap achievement, a.k.a. one of the best rap albums of all time? Can Nas repeat the success of Illmatic, arguably the best rap album ever? Stillmatic, one of the best CDs of 2001, comes close, but not quite as a classic.
The first thing that is to be noticed about the album is its up and down production. Half of the songs on Stillmatic are brilliantly produced, a fourth are decently produced, and a final fourth are just.. eh. The best beat on the album may belong to the intro, produced by Hangmen 3, which features some of the best rhymes from Nas in a long time. A few other songs that have great production are the first single, featuring a Sopranos sample, Got Yourself a Gun, Destroy and Rebuild, and Second Childhood, a fantastic song featuring DJ Premier and a beat that fits the concept perfectly. Based on production, the album is about a 7.5 or 8 already. A few songs feature mundane production that isn’t terrible, but isn’t exciting, like Rewind and Braveheart Party. Still, the production is pretty good all around.
The reason the album gets an 8.5 is that Stillmatic features the best rhymes from Nas since his debut, Illmatic, and possibly the best rhymes of the year, rivaled maybe only by Ghostface Killah’s Bulletproof Wallets. Nas rhymes wonderfully on every song, dropping knowledge like: “Aiyyo, it's packed on this Riker's bus/The tightest cuffs is holdin' me shackled/The life of a thug caught in the devil's lasso/On the streets I was invincible/Cowards would duck at a glimpse if they knew/What my pistol would do, a fuckin' killa/Mother's a dopefiend embarrassin' me/All in front of my friends/In the street smile with no teeth/I never knew daddy, heard he had a 72 caddy/Died in a robbery, can't remember him, was probably 3/Why didn't my folks just die in this society/Why wasn't I a child of a doctor, who left stocks for me/Two little brothers, two sisters, them shorties gots to eat/Mother's a junkie, she twisted, so all they got is me/I'm the provider, with goals to do much better than my father/Whether through drugs sold, or holdin' revolvers/Blurry visions of dad holdin' me high/It comes to me slowly, the words he would cry...” on My Country, an amazing “tribute” to America. And this isn’t even the best quote on the album, just one random selection from the album. The lyrics are near-perfect, a remembrance of Nas’ Illmatic days, where he was possibly the best lyricist at the time, maybe ever.
Part of the lyrics aree concepts that encompass the listener and draw them into the CD. Ether is the Jay-Z diss that was so strongly anticipated and may defeat Jay-Z’s opening fire, “The Takeover”. Got Yourself a Gun is the first single, and uses a Sopranos sample and a good MHZ beat to pique the listener’s interest. Rewind features the best concept in rap today, maybe ever, where Nas tells a story backwards. Not just that events happen in reverse order, but that the events actually happen backwards, like Nas “vomiting” into his drink, and a bullet going back into a gun. It truly needs to be heard to be appreciated. The other outstanding concept on the album is on the song One Mic, also co-produced by Nas himself. One Mic starts out with a slow beat reminiscent of a crappy R & B song. Throughout the song, Nas’ lazy flow turns into an angry rant over a fast paced beat, and finally a siren. Truly incredible, and one of the best ideas for a song I’ve ever heard in my life. Destroy and Rebuild is interesting because of the disses to people from Nas’ neighborhood, Queensbridge, like Prodigy from Mobb Deep, Cormega, and Nature. The rest of the songs don’t feature a whole lot of interesting concepts, but the first nine have enough.
The album isn’t perfect because of some of the production, and the guests. Stillmatic was billed as a recreation of Illmatic, where the only rhyming guest was the underrated AZ, one of Nas’ best friends. However, 5 other guest rappers appear on the album, including Nas’ crew, the Bravehearts, and the mundane Millennium Thug. The guest rappers only detract from the album, and the guest singers that appear (Mary J. Blige and Amerie) don’t add a whole lot either. If the album had cut the guests down to AZ’s pretty good verse on the Flyest, the album would be even better.
The album suffers from being too long. Make Stillmatic 10 tracks, like its predecessor, and it’s a 10. Intro, Ether, Got Yourself a..., You’re da Man, Rewind, One Mic, 2nd Childhood, Destroy and Rebuild, the Flyest, and My Country. Hell, even throw on Poison, Smokin’, and What Goes Around, its still a 9. The rating drops because of Braveheart Party, Rule, and Every Ghetto. The rhymes are pretty decent, and the beats are okay, but they just don’t fit on this album. Drop those three songs, and Stillmatic is a 9. With them, it’s only an 8.5, albeit the best 8.5, well, ever.
Reviewed by: Brett Berliner
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01