Produced By: DJ Premier/Large Professor
Nas "Just Another Day In The Projects"
Nas "I'm A Villain"
Coming "straight out of the fuckin' dungeons of rap, where fake niggas don't make it back," the opening track of Illmatic is as much a retrospective of a decayed Rotten Apple from days gone by—rife with Mac-10s, fiends, blend tapes, 20s of buddha and bitches with beepers—as it is the blueprint of the Queensbridge rapper's stylistic origins. (The preceding Wild Style-sampling "Genesis" intro and his admonishment to "Never put me in your box if the shit eats tapes" go a long way in establishing "the smooth criminal on beat breaks" as a legit student of the hip-hop art form.) An early draft of the song can be heard on Nas' "Just Another Day In The Projects" as well as some lyrics on "I'm A Villain" back when Nas was still developing his style.
The slow, tension-filled buildup of drums and unforgettable piano keys are the backdrop for a head-noddin' time capsule that is part murder spree, part hustler's dream—meaning it's one step away from a total nightmare. Thus, Nas invokes Congolese proverbs fused with streets smarts, the inner-city griot proclaiming, "I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death," one of the most memorable lines in hip-hop history.