The World Is Yours

Nas at Emo's

Nas makes pens drop at Emo's
Nas makes pens drop at Emo's (by Sandy Carson)

“I’ve heard it described as 40 minutes of perfect hip-hop,” a friend said to me halfway through high school. I wasn’t so sure what he meant. At 16 I knew very little about hip-hop besides what came across the public mediums: quick stops on Baltimore’s 92Q and MTV served as my sorry education. Still, I was interested and could think of no better way to dive in than at the top. Illmatic was mine that afternoon.

“The Genesis” was foreign to me. Street dreams of a 20-year-old looking for his way out the Queensbridge projects spoken over his first jump – Main Source’s 1991 cut, “Live at the Barbecue.” It’s his mission statement, an unadulterated exposition of why Illmatic was necessity. I sat idle in the record store parking lot working my way through “N.Y. State of Mind,” a track riding so cold on DJ Premier’s subway slum you’d think Queensbridge rarely saw the sun.

I was in tune with it, keen on the backyard bounce of Large Professor’s “Halftime” and AZ’s flawless first verse from “Life’s a Bitch.” Poetic justice was served just lines into “The World Is Yours,” and I sat stunned at the lyrical perfection offered on “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)":

I rap for listeners, blunt heads, fly ladies and prisoners

Hennessey holders and old school niggas, then I be dissin’ a

Unofficial that smoke woolie thai

I dropped out of Cooley High, gassed up by a cokehead cutie pie

Jungle survivor, fuck who's the liver

My man put the battery in my back, a difference from Energizer

Sentence begins indented, with formality

My duration's infinite, money-wise or physiology.

Four years later, I found myself at a house party somewhere near Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The apartment’s tenants, who I didn’t know and might have never met, were all but moved out of the place. The living room was barren, save for a lone DJ spinning records in the dark. The night’s music faded in and out of consciousness, but as I walked in from the porch I stopped when the unseen spinner cut over to “The World Is Yours.”

It was the way Pete Rock’s classically simple 4/4 beat dropped, the excitement arriving at the beginning of each loop, that uber-confident 20-year old riding the hook.

“I sip the Dom P, watchin’ Gandhi till I’m charged then writin’ in my book of rhymes. All the words pass the margin, to hold the mic I’m throbbin’.” Hip-hop had been something good to me. Until then, it had never been right.

So as I rode shotgun down 15th Street on my way to Emo’s Sunday night, I couldn’t help but turn to my driving buddy and explain that I thought Nas would rep Illmatic hard, if only because that’s what I ultimately wanted as a devotee. Of the nine feature tracks on his 1994 debut, Nas dropped six Sunday night – at both shows – leaving only “Halftime,” “One Time 4 Your Mind,” and the seminal “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)” on the cutting room floor. I apologize to the journalism gods if I put my pen down for a minute, tucked away my notebook, and felt every word as nothing more than a fan, because sometimes it’s futile to attempt documenting absolute fulfillment.

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Nas, Illmatic

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