Friday, PBS aired Great Performances—Nas Live From the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop. The latest in the series featured Nas performing his debut classic Illmatic with the National Symphony Orchestra. Conductor Steven Reineke previously told PBS it was the first time he “branched out into the realm of doing hip-hop” and Nas also noted the seemingly disparate connection.
“It’s crazy…I wrote this in the projects in New York City,” Nas said of Illmatic, during a PBS interview taped before his performance. “And here we are in the capital of America in Washington, D.C. And a bunch of white people with strings and all of that are playing this album, and they’re feeling it.”
Illmatic was originally released on April 19, 1994 and has been heralded as a classic by many fans and critics. Judging from tweets by Nas’ fans and industry peers, appreciation for the project hasn’t faded much in the two decades since its initial release.
just watched the @Nas at the Kennedy Center joint on PBS. super dope and inspiring. the sole reason why I started rapping in the first place, I wanted to write like Nas.— Rapper Big Pooh (@RapperBigPooh) February 3, 2018
Nas performing illmatic with a live symphony orchestra as his band at the Kennedy Center?? On PBS?? This is grown up shit no one would have ever predicted for hip hop 20 years ago. Lovely, beautiful evolution. #NasPBS— Raqiyah Mays (@RaqiyahMays) February 3, 2018
The full performance, which you can stream below courtesy of PBS, also featured Nas offering commentary and providing some on-the-fly changes. For example, Nas changed the line, “Suede Timbs on my feet make my cipher complete” to “Ralph Lauren on my feet” in a sartorial nod to his designer dress shoes. The performance was taped back in March 2014.