Book Review: Summertime Blues

Gonna raise a fuss, gonna raise a holler: rock & roll books

Summertime Blues

Born to Use Mics: reading Nas's 'Illmatic'

Edited by Michael Eric Dyson and Sohail Daulatzai
Basic Civitas Books, 308 pp., $15.95 (paper)

True hip-hop, the type Q-Tip equates to old bebop, never got better than Nas' Illmatic. Upon its 1994 release, the 20-year-old Brooklyn high school dropout was immediately hailed as the second coming of Rakim: a street prophet with the lyrical wizardry to go toe-to-toe in any cipher. More than anything, Illmatic became a defining artifact of New York's Queensbridge projects, the largest housing project in North America. For those reasons and more, hip-hop's nerdiest have spent the past 16 years analyzing the album's profundity and relevance. Born to Use Mics is one of the better analyses. A compilation (pagelong bibliographies!) helmed by Georgetown University's Michael Eric Dyson and University of California – Irvine's Sohail Daulatzai, it focuses on each of Illmatic's 10 tracks, centering discussions around Queensbridge (Eddie S. Glaude Jr.'s essay on "Represent"); Nas' relationship with his trumpeter father, Olu Dara; how Illmatic so vividly illustrates the ethos of hip-hop (James Braxton Peterson's chapter on "The World Is Yours"); and the anticipation surrounding the album's release ("Halftime," "The Genesis"). The Source's famed five-mic review and feature interview with Illmatic's crack team of producers from the same issue highlight 10 "remixes" if you haven't had enough. It's not for the casual fan, but those who think Illmatic should be taught in classrooms just found their textbook.

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Nas, Illmatic

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