Nas is often included in the conversation for greatest rapper of all time. The evidence that backs up this sentiment is the ten track hip-hop classic, Illmatic. Each track offers an insight through Nas’s lense, as a young man coming of age in Queensbridge, New York. The album captures a moment in time when rap made a great shift from its original essence into a new age. Environment, era, and lifestyle all influenced the creation of the album.
What can current musicians take from Nas’s process when creating their debut album?
1. Start young.
Although it is never too late to start working on a first album, the earlier a musician takes advantage of the inspiration to create, the closer they come to a finished first product.
Nas started working on Illmatic in his late teens and released it when he was twenty. Much of the album is about growing up.
Youth works in the creator’s favor, especially when he or she thinks young. Musicians should take action early to record if they can.
2. Value quality over quantity.
Most rap albums are known for being overflown with skits and subpar tracks, but not Illmatic. While some albums have more than twenty tracks, Nas’s debut keeps the tracklisting lean.
It is far greater to make a handful of great songs than a multitude of average cuts. Tell stories and paint vivid pictures of surroundings, but do it in a quick effective way.
3. Be self-reliant.
It is up to the artist to have their vision come to fruition. Although collaboration is a key, it is the artist that must be the main force when putting out his or her projects.
Nas introduced himself to the world not as someone who rode anyone else’s coattails. He paved his own way by having only one featured rapper on Illmatic.
When a musician is introduced to the world, he or she wants to make sure they stand out from everyone else.
Illmatic will always be remembered as one of the greatest rap albums of all time, but its influence reaches beyond any genre. Nas took the opportunity of starting and staying with the idea to create. It paid off.
The sooner musicians take on a great idea, the more likely they will see it come to a finished product. In under forty minutes, Nas reinvented a style of music. Aspiring musicians can make the same impact as they arrive on the music scene if they study the practices that made Nas so successful with his impactful debut.
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Will Randick is a blogger and educator working out of the Bay Area.