The Classic: "NY State of Mind"
“NY State of Mind” is the definitive Nas statement, a song so potent that if you took away everything else he ever recorded this alone would be enough to justify his legacy as an all-time great. There’s twice the verbiage per line as most rap tracks, and yet it feels that not a word has been wasted. Few songs on Earth exhibit a deeper respect for, or understanding of, the English language. If Nas had been writing novels about modern middle class life he’d probably be considered the great author of our time. As it happened, he composed rap songs about the worst neighborhood in one of one of the bleakest boroughs in America—a celebration of total darkness crafted with sublime style.
The Stinker: N/A
Illmatic isn’t just the one Nas album devoid of duds. It might be the only rap album devoid of duds. This is not only because Nas was in a divinely ordained state of creativity, but also because he possessed an elevated sense of artistic self-discipline. These days rap LPs are so bloated that a 10-song album would be categorized as an EP. Few figures in rap have shown the concision exemplified by Illmatic, which is part of what made Nas' subsequent indulgences so painful. Whether you’re a dealer or a musician, quality beats quantity every time. Illmatic is the living proof.
The Buried Treasure: "One Time 4 Your Mind"
It would be a misnomer to say there are any hidden gems on the most analyzed album in rap history, but there was always something about “One Time 4 Your Mind” that made it seem buried. Maybe it was simply overshadowed by all the towering classics that surrounded it. Maybe it got caught in that awkward backstretch of an album sequence. But none of that should permit “One Time 4 Your Mind” to be overlooked. On any other New York rap album of 1994, this would have been an outstanding classic. Only on album that consists of nothing but outstanding classics could it be mistaken for anything less.