Before Nas took the stage at the VEVO SXSW concert, it was obvious this run-thru of the rapper’s 1994 debut Illmatic was going to take us back to his old school. Austin’s Moody Theater stage was being transformed into the graffiti-lined streets of Nasty Nas’ Queens neighborhood, complete with a subway tunnel and replicas of the Queensbridge Houses the rapper once called home. A pseudo bus stop was tagged with subtle nods to Nas’ life – “40side,” his QB street side, and “RIP IllWill,” a reference to his late childhood BFF, Willie “Ill Will” Graham, who was hugely influential in Nas’ early rap roots but shot dead in 1992, before Illmatic was released. (Damn, there was even one of those authentic mesh green NYC garbage cans up there.)
Two decades have gone by since Nas began recording Illmatic with several producers: Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S., and DJ Premier. Both Rock and Premo were on-hand Saturday night to spin tracks – and go head-to-head in a DJ battle – as Nas delivered his hip-hop tales. Illmatic came with a few interruptions. Nas brought out his frequent partner-in-rhyme AZ on “Life’s a Bitch.” ‘The duo then took a break from Illmatic and jumped into The Firm track “Phone Tap.”
“This feels good,” Nas admitted. At one point, he stopped to tell everyone how special it was to be on stage with his “old friends” and “two of the greatest hip-hop producers.” DJ Premier reminisced about the first time he heard Nas rap. “It was 1992…” he began. “1991! I was sixteen,” Nas corrected before charging through his guest feature on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbecue.”
After finishing up Illmatic, Nas premiered his new single “The Don” live. Released only three days ago, the song is off his tenth album Life Is Good, which he promised to the crowd would be out this summer. With the new stuff and the old stuff aside, Nas charged through all the stuff in-between – “One Mic” off 2001’s Stillmatic, “Hate Me Now” off 1999’s I Am… (without Diddy) and ultimately ending with “Made Ya Look” off 2002’s God Son.
With Nas letting his songs do all the talking, he was only left with one final thing to say before exiting the stage, “I love you.”