The album’s cover has a seven-year-old Nasir Jones, a preternaturally adult glare on his face, transposed over the Queensbridge projects. In the music, Nas darts around in memory. He might be dwelling on the mayhem of crack (“I lay puzzled as I backtrack to earlier times”), flexing gangster bona fides (“I used to watch ‘Chips,’ / now I load Glock clips”), or just touching on childhood days in freestyle. The reflection rounds out an otherwise elusive persona, one that sounds young and old, and so equally involved and detached that it can be confusing. The voice of “Illmatic” boasts a crew yet seems solitary, celebrates the projects and draws them as a prison, talks hard while lamenting crime’s havoc and saying that the streets have him “stressed something terrible.” Improbably, this voice feels like a flood of real life.
Read the rest at The New Yorker. Or listen to Life’s A Bitch below again, with visuals from La Haine. Or listen to It Ain’t Hard To Tell.