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10 Ways Nas' "Illmatic" Changed Hip-Hop

1. Set the Bar for Album Cover Art

Before Illmatic, rap album covers followed a fairly rote set of cliches: insert rapper X, chilling in a B-boy stance, add girls, cars, gold chains, assorted weapons, simmer and serve. For his debut album, which was essentially an autobiography set to a soundtrack, Nasir Jones employed a very personal touch: a close-up picture of himself as a kid, superimposed over the project buildings that informedd so much of his existence. In the process, he created his own album cover cliche.

Illmatic's poignant cover matched the mood, tone, and qualities of this introspective album to such a high degree that it became an instant classic, hailed as a visual full of meaning and nuance. It remains one of the most remixed album covers of all time. When a rapper aspires to greatness, Illmatic is the cover format. Sullen baby pictures superimposed on a streetscape? Check! A shortlist of illmatic-ish cover concepts includes Ready to Die, Tha Carter III, Good Kid, M.A.A.d City, and approximately 9,459,834,865,263,504 mixtapes (J-Cole's Villematic to start with).

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