NAS 10 Year Anniversary Illmatic Platinum Series (Columbia)
This somewhat unwieldy-titled album is a 10th anniversary reissue of Nas’ 1994 debut “Illmatic”, widely acclaimed as one of the best rap records ever made. (The vinyl edition somewhat undercuts the titular promise of luxury by presenting itself in a generic sleeve bereft of the original issue’s feted cover artwork.) It arrives with a bonus disc of fresh remixes and previously unreleased material, perhaps unwise given how the album derives at least some of its impact from its compacted brevity.
“N.Y. State Of Mind” is almost like an episode of “The Wire” with added beats, showcasing the artist’s relentless rapping in drugdealer storyteller mode. “Life’s A Bitch” weaves its rolling, synthetic soul soundtrack from Gap Band and Grover Washington sample. “Represent”’s chiming musical box melody is incongruously wedded to a lyrical catalogue of gangster misdeeds. Over on the bonus disc, a clean remix of “One Love” is scrubbed to nonsensical babble by backmasking.
“Illmatic” might represent a softening of the gangster hardline prevalent at the time of its original release, but it’s still not exactly De La Soul. It doesn’t sound like Nas is sugar-coating his messages to appeal to a broader demographic, exactly, but there’s more in the way of bright, poppy, major key melodies than the gothic horrorshow threat found on albums by, for example, Mobb Deep and Raekwon. This vinyl version also sounds pretty good as well, although it’s smothered in that grimy, gauzy post-Wu Tang haze typical of its era.