Ebro Darden hosts a special segment during his show on Apple Music’s Beats 1 today to celebrate tomorrow’s 25th anniversary of Nas’ seminal debut album, Illmatic (originally released April 19, 1994). Ebro guides listeners on a journey through the album in its entirety, featuring exclusive commentary about Illmatic’s legacy from three of the album’s legendary producers—DJ Pete Rock, DJ Premier & Large Professor. Illmatic‘s Executive Producer Faith Newman and journalist/media personality Miss Info — who wrote the acclaimed Illmatic 5 Mic album review for The Source magazine in 1994 — also weigh in.
Listen to the full segment today at 22:00 CAT/ 16:00 EST / 13:00 PST on Beats 1 on Apple Music.
Where: Listen live on Beats 1 at apple.co/B1_EbroLive
Audio highlights and a full transcript of the segment are below — feel free to use with credit to Apple Music’s Beats 1.
DJ Premier on N.Y. State of MindListen — https://itunes.apple.com/us/post/sa.e6ad3db0-6172-11e9-b97a-d8943814b3c9?app=music&itscg=30302&itsct=be1_con_ebr&at=1001ltS&ct=be1_con_ebr
Large Professor on His Favorite Sample From Nas’ IllmaticListen — https://itunes.apple.com/us/post/sa.4a42d9b0-616f-11e9-b2e8-5704c6777045?app=music&itscg=30302&itsct=be1_con_ebr&at=1001ltS&ct=be1_con_ebr
Pete Rock on how “The World Is Yours” was madeListen — https://itunes.apple.com/us/post/sa.4fcfbfb0-616f-11e9-90f7-3476d8b7e7fb?app=music&itscg=30302&itsct=be1_con_ebr&at=1001ltS&ct=be1_con_ebr
Faith Newman on Nas’ PoetryListen — https://itunes.apple.com/us/post/sa.43ad0f30-616f-11e9-a3d5-1258485d3950?app=music&itscg=30302&itsct=be1_con_ebr&at=1001ltS&ct=be1_con_ebr
Ebro: Today we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of Nas’ Illmatic. It was released on April 19th, 1994. Nas delivered a new hip hop sound which painted vivid imagery of what life was like in Queens, New York.We had the opportunity as Beats 1 Apple Music to grab Faith Newman, the original A&R, in bringing this record to life. DJ Premier, obviously one of the main producers on the project. Miss Info, a journalist at the time for The Source Magazine and gave Nas’ Illmatic five mics. Pete Rock, also on production. And Large Professor, who found Nas in Queensbridge.
Faith Newman: My name is Faith Newman, I was executive producer of Illmatic.What made this release different than anything that had preceded it was, well first of all, because there were five producers instead of one. Most hip hop albums up to that point had one producer. And this had, kind of, the best of the best of New York. You know, that made a difference to start with. Because each producer brought their own sound and Nas’ words to mesh with their sound.Because it was in a very specific time in New York, New York was the center of the hip hop world. You know, you had 94, you had Biggie, and you had Wu-Tang, and you had Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and you had Black Moon, and you had all this stuff going on that was all about New York. And Nas just nailed it in terms of, you could live anywhere, you could live in Des Moines, and it didn’t matter. ‘Cause you heard this album, and you were in Queensbridge, and you were in New York City.
DJ Premier: My name is DJ Premier. I am a producer, DJ, artist, and hip hop junkie. Yeah, I’ve told this story before about the infamous “I don’t know how to start this shit” line on “N.Y. State of Mind,” that beat says, “Straight up the mother,” then to the rap with Faith don’t make it back, then you hear him go, “I don’t know how to start this shit. Yo, rappers are monkey.” so he’s looking at his paper, I guess he’s figuring I just wrote it, but let figure out how I’m gonna come in.
And while he’s still looking down, I’m looking through the booth like I want to get his attention. Like, “Yo, look up ’cause I’m about to count you in.” And he’s not looking. And he’s going, “I don’t know how to start this.”So by the time he just literally gets about here, he sees my hand going three, four, he goes, “Yo, rappers and … .” and then just goes. So it was like I think he knows where to start.
The energy of him doing it in one take was ill because there’s nothing wrong with all of us studio people and artists know what punching is, where you connect a part where you either messed up or want to do it better, and you punch in on rhythm where it sounds like you did it all in the same take. To do a brand new verse that you just wrote and then spit it in one shot and nail it with the attitude, the delivery, the flow? Nas did that. And then when he finished the first verse, he goes, “Was that okay?” He wasn’t like, “Yeah, I killed that right?” He was like, “Is that okay?” We were on the other side of the booth going, “Whoo! Whoo!” You know what I’m saying?
So that right there, it was like, “Man, wait ’til everybody hears this album once it hits the streets.” And this shit hits the streets, he’s the most bootlegged album I think in the history of hip hop if I’m correct.
Ebro: Faith Newman, the original A&R in bringing this record to life.
Faith Newman: What stood out the most for me with Nas was his poetry, his delivery, his use of metaphors. And I love Kane and Rakim and G Rap, and you know, and but Nas to me just like kind of took it to another level. And I remember, you know, it took us two years to make the album.
Part of the reason was that Nas wasn’t always on time for the studio, or he canceled the sessions, or things would happen. And I remember a particular session at D&D that got canceled at the last minute, and I was thinking to myself, “You know, we’re wasting money. We’re wasting time. This is crazy. How are we gonna finish this record?” I went into the control room and he had left a notebook, one of his notebooks in there with his lyrics in it. And I started reading it, and I just said to myself, you know, I don’t remember what song it was for. I don’t even remember if it was a song that was used, but I remember saying to myself, “You know, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. This album’s gonna be a masterpiece.”
Pete Rock: My name is the chocolate boy wonder, Pete Rock, soul brother number one, Mount Vernon, New York.
Well, how the process on “The World is Yours” went down really courageously on my part. You know, I wasn’t a singer at all. You know what I saying? Now I think Nas made me a bit of a singer after that. Humming and stuff. I started humming on beats I made.
But “The World is Yours” went down quick. He had the beat and maybe a couple of nights, couple of days later he was ready to go in, and we worked out at Battery Studios on 25th Street, where Jive Records was. And I’ll never forget that session. DJ Premier was there watching me do the scratching. It was an awesome time and Nas just kind of nailed the song.
Ebro: DJ Premier, obviously one of the main producers on the project.
DJ Premier: Favorite bars? I mean man, I’ve always liked “Halftime.” Just the whole thing. I mean because I was like how is he gonna follow Live at the Barbeque and have his own song? And when I heard “Halftime,” the beat was this traditional raw Large Professor and then his rhymes were just ill. I remember I asked Nas back then, “If somebody wanted battle you, would you battle?” He was like, “Hell, yeah.” I know he’s not a battle MC now, but back then, he said, “Hell, yeah. If somebody comes to me, I’m ready to battle.”
Ebro: Illmatic, the debut album was much different than any other hip hop album. It was celebrated by all the greats because Nas was bringing to the forefront something that has been important in hip hop since Slick Rick, maybe even since Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five did The Message, which was the ability to tell the real story, the first hand account of what it looked, smelled, and felt like in the streets.
This time of New York City, Illmatic had the illest producers. Nas was a young, hungry, story-telling, dope MC. And this was that moment hip hop came and galvanized around this Illmatic project. At the time it was serious business.Pete Rock also on production.
Pete Rock: Illmatic had a very big impact in 1994. It seemed like when that album dropped, a lot of people followed his blueprint to make successful hip hop records like Illmatic was. Large Professor was clever for the choice he made of producers to make this record. He kind of put everything together. He rounded up the troops and got everyone involved, from L.E.S., Premier, me, Q-Tip and so forth.
LargeProfessor: Large Professor, producer, DJ, MC, main source, New York City.
Like my favorite sample on the album, and I know it’s probably everybody’s, is the Heath Brothers joint, the One Love joint. That’s the illest sample on that album right there. Like that’s the most fine wine sample on that album right there. You can’t top that right there. That’s like, to find that record first all, you know, and naturally you gonna hear it and you want to know what it is, but that right there?
When he played it for us, because Nas was like, “Yo man, what’s up, you think Tip?” I was like, “Yeah, of course. Let’s go out there.” So we wound up in Fyffe’s basement. We was chilling. Tip was like, “Yeah, we gonna work on this,” and he played the record and it was the Heath Brother’s joint. And I was like, “Man.” He was like, “Yo.” You know we had to skate off and all that, but he just playing the … Man, then when I heard what became of it, I was like, “Man. Crazy.”Ebro: Large Professor, who found Nas in Queensbridge.
LargeProfessor: He threw a-
EbroDarden: Found Nas in Queensbridge.
LargeProfessor: He threw a shine on Queensbridge that didn’t exist before. Queensbridge was a place that could rap, they could DJ, they could make beats, and they shined internally. The hustlers, I know a lot of them they was shining. But musically, Nas had the young, fly, coming out. Then he was involved in the criminal mischief. A lot of the rappers didn’t really associate themselves with the criminal mischief as much back then. So now he coming out like the baby face fly gangsta type.
And it’s like, naw, that’s tough right there. So he threw that shine on Queensbridge where he was kind of telling everybody like Yo Ma, yo killer shine, yo all of that, like yo shine on them and shit like. Everybody just followed suit from there. Everybody coming out fresh. Just threw the shine on Queensbridge. (singing)
MissInfo: My name is Minya Oh. I’m better known as Miss Info. But I was once known as Shorty. And I wrote the review of Illmatic in 1994 in the Source Magazine and strongly advocated it as a five mic album. Very rare but that’s what it is and that’s what it was. I remember leaving the Source Magazine offices which was in Downtown Manhattan on Broadway, legendary offices. I was a student at Columbia University so I had to go all the way uptown on the train. And I put the cassette into my bright yellow waterproof Sony Walkman.And I probably had off-brand headphones on because the Sony ones were very expensive. And I stood there at the platform. It was probably the one nine train, and I missed many, many trains. Because I was stuck there. Like stuck listening to this album that just took me to a whole ‘nother universe and I don’t have any recollection of getting home. I don’t know how many times I listened to it over and over and over again. Just flipping the cassette back and forth.I know that I never felt that way before or since about a single first time interaction with an album. There are tons of musical masterpieces that over time or depending on your level of maturity or where you are in life they really move you. But I never had something that was completely unknown to me, nobody else gave me any feedback about it. Said you got to listen to this, this is so great. It was a totally pure experience that definitely changed me as a hip hop fan. (singing)
EbroDarden: Miss info, a journalist at the time for the Source Magazine and gave Nas’s Illmatic five mics.
MissInfo: I still definitely believed in my heart that this was a very, very special album and that there was nothing I could take away from it. I tried to dismantle it, I listened to it over and over again. And there’s just wasn’t any way for me to see how it could be a four and half, or a four. It was just five. It was just five and I didn’t know … I didn’t feel like that would be the final word to my editors. I just remember saying it to Reggie Dennis and Jon Shecter, and James Bernard and that editorial team.
And I don’t recall them having a whole bunch of skepticism or anything like that. I believe that they already felt the same way. If I had been totally off or we had totally disagreed, I don’t know what would happen. I don’t know what the history would say at this point. And if I hadn’t been able to convince them that it was valuable and that it needed to get five mics, would I be able to argue on side of like I was right. And everybody else was wrong. But I feel like they probably didn’t tell me what was already in their head, that they wanted to also give it five mics.And I think that I was just a part of the consensus but even now it’s one of the few albums that I can just return to over and over again. And there’s no degradation. There’s nothing has changed, it’s equally powerful. It still speaks to me despite my life being very different now. So I think it held up.
EbroDarden:Tomorrow, the 25th anniversary of Nas’s Illmatic. We celebrate. Right here on Beats 1 and make sure you get in there inside Apple Music where you can watch all of these conversations. With Miss Info, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, and Faith Newman inside Apple Music. Just look for Nas, Illmatic. It’s right there for you. My name is Ebro Darden, your anchor, reaping New York City. On Beats 1, Apple Music.