Sunday, April 21, 2024

Illmatic 30 Years Later


WIRED - "Nas’ Illmatic Was the Beginning of the End of the Album"

"WHICH BRINGS US back to Illmatic. It seems unlikely any LLM could produce the lyrical virtuosity and inventiveness of “N.Y. State of Mind,” but it also seems unlikely, in the TikTok age, that the album could have been made in such relative seclusion. In 1994, there were no Instagram Live videos from the recording studio with song snippets. There were no podcasts where Large Professor (one of Illmatic’s producers) could leak secrets about the project. Part of Illmatic’s legend was in how it came from out of nowhere, and slowly demanded everyone’s attention. Today, there is no such thing as coming out of nowhere and slowly doing anything. In milliseconds, everything is everywhere.

On the consumption side, while Illmatic did benefit from prerelease buzz, it was not an immediate commercial success. Its appeal grew over the span of years, slowly accumulating listeners and fans. This is out-of-step with models of today. Outside of a few artists at the very top of the industry (Beyoncé, Drake), artists who are trying to catch on must play the numbers game: Release music in a steady manner with the hope that something goes viral, around which they can build a fan base. In 1994 there was no virality. Playing the long game was a responsible, often effective business strategy.

Lastly, there is the manner that Illmatic was discussed in. This might be where the differences between 1994 and 2024 are most apparent. The early ’90s had no hip-hop message boards. There was no social media. The legend of Illmatic was built from street corner to street corner, person to person, party to party.

The arguments of 1994—whether Illmatic was better than Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle and Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), a pair of cherished debut albums from 1993—were intense. But they didn’t result in trolling or doxxing. Only bruised egos and exhausted vocal chords. And most critically, almost everyone we argued with was someone we knew: a neighbor, family member, classmate, or coworker.

Music debates now take place in front of an audience of billions, 99.9 percent of whom we don’t (and will never) share a conversation with. Music opinions are no longer slow-cooked over the course of multiple trips (and Walkman listens) on the 1 train. Now they’re fried and processed on the (often) toxic stoves of social media timelines. In this world, reverence for music looks and feels different, enough for us to doubt whether there’s breathing room for the sort of appreciation that made the legend of Illmatic."

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