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No high-pitched man, no beef needed to sell ...

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The 300-plus pound hoodfella is crowned king, and how the West kept winning. ...

Jermaine Dupri Talks Ready To Die

Nas: The Genesis

1994 Essential Albums

In Their Own Words

  A Look Back At 1994

  Remembering Biggie Photo Flipbook

Notorious B.I.G.: The Last Interview

Nas: Stillmatters

Tupac: Reconstructing Tupac

Outkast: Black Dog/Black Wolf

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As acclaimed as Nas is for the tempest of verbiage he's unleashed over the last decade, he'll forever be remembered primarily for just one word: Illmatic.

Meaning "beyond ill" or "the ultimate" and named after his incarcerated Queensbridge friend Illmatic Ice, Nas' first LP birthed his career and rebirthed an emphasis on lyrical concentration amongst his peers. Back in May of 1994, a little more than a month after his album was released, Nas made his debut on "Yo! MTV Raps." Conversing with seasoned hip-hop vet Fab Five Freddy (the TV-show politicking would lead to Fab directing Nas' "One Love" video), the cameras captured a shy, 20-year-old wunderkind who was still green when it came to doing interviews. That, however, was the beauty of Nas — he didn't know how to front.

Nas: I'm straight outta the Queensbridge projects. I been around for a little while. Enough to see how it gets down in the street. I seen the jams [in my projects]. I used to hear the beats out the window. [When I went downstairs] my moms used to make me come inside. At a certain age I was able to go to the jams and see how it goes down. From that time on, I was at every jam out there. That kinda got me into this hip-hop music thing.

I been writing rhymes since I was 9 years old. I used to believe in it, but nobody around me believed in it. Nobody thought it would blow to where it is today. I'm dedicated to this music. It's straight from the heart, straight from the thoughts of what's going on in a young black man's mind. There are so many paths you can walk through. I walked through the one that blessed me, the one that gave me a chance to put my voice on wax and voice the anger, the hate and love.

When I write, whatever the outcome is, so be it. I write for a lot of brothers that don't write rhymes. I voice their words for them. I see a lot of us is fallin' down in the system. It's out there to get us. It's a lot of us making moves too, going to college, doing the right thing, but some of us are getting money on the streets. I think we all have the same focus, though — to be successful in the long run. I put that in a poetic form. [The process] starts straight from boredom, doing the down-low hobby thing. I be zoning too. I'll be playing hip-hop records I taped off the radio. The new sound is what's encouraging me. To hear a new rapper's flow, to hear a new style of beat, it encourages me to come up with something new myself. I hear it and I incorporate it into me a little bit and find my sound.

At one point it seemed that a lot of rap coming from New York was kinda weak. The West Coast is definitely making their mark. Since years back, a lot of West Coast rappers been trying to get in [the game] with the New York type of flavor. But [now] they found their true sound and blew it up and made hip-hop bigger to what it's supposed to be. But it's definitely some more New York acts coming back representing.

It was my dream to make an album. Lyrically I knew I could do my job. I also needed the right beats. That's something I wanted to represent. I was definitely on a mission, making sure I had the right people that worked on the album. Large Professor, I knew him from out in Queens. He introduced me to each producer on my album individually. It was live, because each one of them knew what they wanted to hear when they heard me rhyme. I didn't have to explain nothing to them, it was there. I started [production on the album] with Large Professor, then with DJ Premier to do "N.Y. State of Mind." Premo also did "Memory Lane" and "Represent." That's the thing in New York, representin'. A lot of rappers fell off and went to singing and all that. A lot of us say,  "represent" to remind ourselves that we can't fall, and have to stay on the right track.

[The picture on my album cover] is me when I was 7 years old. That was the year I started to acknowledge everything [around me]. That's the year everything set off. That's the year I started seeing the future for myself and doing what was right. The ghetto makes you think. The world is ours. I used to think I couldn't leave my projects. I used to think if I left, if anything happened to me, I thought it would be no justice or I would be just a dead slave or something. The projects used to be my world until I educated myself to see there's more out there.

Check out our list of the essential albums of 1994. ...

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