It’s stunning to think that Nas’ debut album, Illmatic, was released 20 years ago. Not only is Nasty himself still a relevant and revered MC, but the body of work is universally viewed as a classic, still influencing rappers and fans to this day.
It’s understandable, then, that it’s been a week of celebration for both Nas and the album. The Queens rapper performed at Coachella last weekend, released Illmatic XX on Tuesday and premiered the film “Time Is Illmatic” on Wednesday.
Now that the day is finally upon us, we figured it’s only right to honor one of the greatest rap albums ever with a look at 20 facts about the disc in honor of its 20-year anniversary.
1. Nas recorded the first verse of the DJ Premier-produced “N.Y. State of Mind” in just one take.
2. Pete Rock was reluctant to sing on the chorus to “The World is Yours,” but eventually gave in after Nas insisted.
3. Nas left his rhyme book on the train while heading to the studio to record “Life’s a Bitch.” A good Samaritan returned it to him after the recording for Illmatic was done.
4. “The World is Yours” is inspired by the 1983 cult-classic film “Scarface.” In one of the movie’s key scenes, Al Pacino’s character looks up at a blimp in the sky, as the now famous phrase scrolls across an LCD screen.
5. Hype Williams used lyrics from “One Love” and as the basis for his “Rise Above The Madness” scene in his 1998 film “Belly,” starring Nas.
6. Large Professor originally offered the “Halftime” beat to Busta Rhymes, but he passed on the track.
7. Before “One Love,” hip-hop fans were unfamiliar with the name Cormega. But after Nas shouted him out on the jailhouse ode, Mega returned home from prison and started a respected rap career.
8. Despite their later rap feud, Jay Z was influenced by Illmatic and sampled “The World is Yours” on his classic debut Reasonable Doubt in 1996.
9. Nas couldn’t decide on a sequence for Illmatic, so he left the task up to the staff at Columbia Records.
10. Nas unknowingly helped bootleg Illmatic by making copies of the album for his friends before it was officially released.
11. Journalist and VH1’s “This is Hot 97″ star Miss Info wrote the famous Illmatic album review for The Source magazine and gave Nas a perfect 5-mic rating.
12. While Illmatic sampled from the likes of Michael Jackson, the Gap Band and Whodini, it was the audio sample from the 1983 film “Wild Style” which was the hardest one to clear.
13. Grand Wizard and Nas’ brother Jungle both appeared vocally on Illmatic in 1994, but didn’t make a real mark in rap until their 2001 breakout single “Oochie Wally.”
14. There were four music videos shot for the album: “The World Is Yours,” “Halftime,” “One Love” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.”
15. Russell Simmons passed up on signing Nas and releasing Illmatic on Def Jam, claiming that the young MC sounded too much like New York veteran spitter Kool G Rap.
16. “One Love” producer Q-Tip originally wanted the song to be about Nas’ summer vacation, but Nas chose to make the track a letter to his friends in prison.
17. On a track from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and Ghostface accused the Notorious B.I.G. of lifting Nas’ Illmatic cover concept for his own Ready to Die LP.
18. Nas originally wanted to sample MTume’s “Juicy Fruit” for Illmatic, but his producer L.E.S. didn’t have the original record. A few months later, it ended up being the base for the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1994 hit “Juicy.”
19. AZ was able to negotiate his own solo record deal, based off of the single guest verse that he spit on Illmatic.
20. Despite all the critical acclaim, Illmatic wasn’t a top seller. The album was certified gold by the RIAA in 1996 and didn’t earn a platinum plaque until 2001.