Album Review: Stillmatic by Nas by Rahmon Abdulazeez
Stillmatic is the fifth studio album by American rapper Nas, released on December 18, 2001 by Ill Will and Columbia Records. In contrast to his previous work's gangsta rap themes, the album contains socially conscious and philosophical themes similar to that of his 1994 debut Illmatic. Nas' lyrics address topics such as ghetto life, American politics, and his feud with rapper Jay-Z.
Stillmatic was a commercial and critical success and helped re-establish Nas' career, following a period of critical disappointment with his previous album Nastradamus (released in 1999). It debuted at number 8 on the US Billboard 200 and sold over 342,600 in its first week of sales, eventually going on to sell over 2,026,000 copies in the United States. It has been certified Platinum by Recording Industry Association of America
Though he had gained critical acclaim with his classic debut album Illmatic in 1994, Nas' image had been quickly deteriorating in the hip-hop community with his change of theme, from the philosophical topics of Illmatic to the gangsta rap and commercialized sound that became the focus of his later albums. While his second album, It Was Written received positive reviews and introduced him to a greater audience, the follow-ups I Am... and Nastradamus were considered mediocre in comparison by critics.The release of Stillmatic was an attempt by Nas to reestablish his credibility in the hip-hop community, with the title signifying his intentions to continue where Illmatic left off.
Nas opens the album with "Stillmatic (The Intro)," produced by The Hangmen 3, a production team consisting of Johnny Bananas, Jeff Two Times and Benzino. Over an exquisite sample of Stacy Lattisaw's classic 1980 single "Let Me Be Your Angel," Nas silences his critics and addresses those who had written him off. He raps: "I crawled up out of that grave / wipin’ the dirt, cleanin’ my shirt / They thought I'd make another 'Illmatic,' / But it's always forward I'm movin' / never backwards.” With impeccable imagery, he also describes his humble beginnings and the rebirth of his career
“Ether” comes in at track two on the album curiously the same spot as “Takeover’s” placement on The Blueprint. Opening with a “Fuck Jay Z” sample lifted from 2pac’s “Fuck Friendz,” Nas rips Jay Z with ferocious attacks. “What you think you getting girls now ‘cause of your looks? / Ne-gro please! You no mustache having with whiskers like a rat / compared to Beans you whack / and your man stabbed Un and made you take the blame / your ass went for Jaz to hangin’ with Kane / to Irv, to B.I.G / and Eminem murdered you on your on shit.”
Nas, often addressed as the underdog of the battle, raised the stakes upon the track’s release. While Hov released “Super Ugly” shortly thereafter, his comeback didn’t seem to garner as much hype as “Ether.” As a result, some still regard Nas the victor in the battle and the topic is still seriously debated upon a decade and a half later. After a few other slight shots at each other, the feud ended when the pair came together and performed at Power 105.1’s Power House concert in 2005.
Nas discarded the catchy hooks and glitzy production when selecting the singles for Stillmatic. “Got Ur Self A…” retools a sample from Alabama 3’s “Woke Up This Morning,” which was also used prominently in the HBO series The Sopranos. Over hard-hitting drums and twirling keys, Nas glides over the track with brags about his lyrical panache and reasons why he’s rap royalty.
He gets deeper on “One Mic” and explores the ills of the hood, while calling for simplicity. Chucky Thompson crafted the beat for the mellow/volatile anthem and it features a sample from Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” With its initial smooth groove sound that gradually morphs into a boisterous thunder, Nas sought to capture the essence of Collins’ 1981 hit. He told Rolling Stone in 2007 that he wanted to create a song that had a similar vibe. One Mic is everything we loved about ILLmatic. Nas paints a picture with his words while starting out as quiet as a whisper, and by the end of the verse he is shouting which builds up only to be calm again, as each line gets more intense, the song gets louder and more intense, which really works extremely well. This song could be one of the top 3 tracks on ILLmatic. The music is just so simple and nice, it let's nas' lyrics take over, but is still a nice beat by itself.
Unbeknownst to many, the Amerie-assisted “Rule” was also a single from Stillmatic, though it was not heavily promoted. Produced by the Trackmasters and built on an interpolation of Tears for Fears’ 1985 single “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Rule” addresses the social and political climate of America following 9/11. While the production sounds pretty dated, it still remains a solid effort and notable track for the era.
Cuts like “Smokin,’” “What Goes Around,” “You’re da Man,“ “Rewind,” and “2nd Childhood” are reminiscent of classic Nas. On the latter, the emcee depicts a tale of his past and references others who never grew up over a DJ Premier beat that’s chopped to perfection. On “The Flyest,” Nas links back up with his longtime partner AZ for a flashy anthem replete with braggy rhymes about being the flyest gangsters in the game. The Flyest' comes with his classic flow and glides over this more glossy beat, with sparkling synths and a deep bass guitar. The track focuses on how they’re the flyest and have what it takes to survive that street life.
Nas wasn’t finished addressing his opponents after “Ether.” On “Destroy and Rebuild,” he uses a Slick Rick styled narrative to diss friend-turned-foe, Cormega. Nas had previously worked with the fellow Queensbridge rapper, as he was one of the members of the rap supergroup The Firm that also included Foxy Brown and AZ. However, their relationship grew strained over the years after he was ousted from the group and replaced with Nature. Nas reflects, “Back to Cor, got him a deal but his rhymes were wack / Def Jam mad that he signed the contract / now he got jealous and mad at my shine / making silly tapes, I’m always on his mind.” He also throws shots at Prodigy for falsely repping Queensbridge and getting robbed.
Content wise, he takes a more social tone when talking on the hood, race and the government, like on 'One Mic', with the basis being he only needs one mic to make a difference, as he begins talking on the world and the hoods problems hoping it’ll help change - he wants a simple life with one girl, gun and mic.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Stillmatic (The Intro), Ether, Got Ur Self A..., Smokin', You're da Man, Rewind, One Mic, 2nd Childhood, Destroy & Rebuild, Rule
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: My Country
OVERALL RATING: Light 8/10