“Word to Christ a disciple of streets, trifle on beats. I decipher prophecies through a mic and say ‘Peace'” -Nas
Stellar achievements born through harsh conditions are the stories that dreams are made of and legacies remembered. This year has brought many realities of our culture to the forefront of global consciousness as it has also demanded of us to be at our most introspective in years. While many public events have been very challenging and polarizing, they can still be viewed as adversity that sculpts us. Through our growth in adversity we are granted the opportunity to celebrate achievement.
On March 29, 2014, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Nasir Jones a.k.a. Nas, celebrated his twentieth year anniversary of his groundbreaking album “Illmatic” by performing the entire album accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!! When I first saw the advertisement that this would take place in such a prestigious place in such a big way, I wasn’t sure how to take it. I knew it sounded weird, but curiosity had me on the website clicking and buying 1 ticket (not 2 tickets) so I could witness this piece of history uninterrupted.
Leading up to the event, haircuts and outfits had to be thorough just to honor the milestone appropriately. After all, this was not just a celebration for Nas’ groundbreaking debut album “Illmatic”, it was a celebration for all of us who had rebelliously listened to this album and shouted every lyric at one point in time as it hit our collective core. The night was a confirmation that the world is ours and that we had arrived with our ideas, slang, and vision validated. Stepping into the Kennedy Center for a rap concert was surreal. Sure many have rapped in that building before, but the difference was fact that this was celebrating an album exclusively about street life.
As the crowd rolled in, I noticed a few familiar faces in the crowd all brimming with anxiety and respect. From the very beginning, watching the conductor and all of the musicians take their seats and tune their instruments was larger than life. How could Nas make this make sense? Then he arrived. Holding only one mic, a snifter of cognac, and donned in a black tuxedo, he bowed to a standing ovation from the largely 40-plus year old crowd. From that moment, I didn’t sit down in my orchestra seat for at least the next 20 minutes. The piano started softly but sharply playing the familiar melody of the album’s opening song “N.Y. State of Mind”; and he went in… “Rappers I monkey flip ’em with the funky shit that I be kickin’!”. At this point I was yelling the lyrics and I mentally teleported into an era of wearing Timberlands and Polo again and hanging around the smell of seeded-regular early ’90’s weed while looking for life’s answers. It was suddenly us against the world revisited through his lyrics.
The only sobering facts about this moment were the sounds of these well-tuned instruments and the fact that everyone wasn’t losing their minds with me. This didn’t sound like my “Illmatic” tape. This sounded like… like a new way to record music. This was the fusion of saying “Life’s a bitch” and having a 70-plus piece symphony backing it. This was the evidence that we had endured as grown-ups playing by our own rules. Who woulda thunk it?! It was like an audio/visual scrapbook of sorts for me because I felt my same feelings from 20 years ago but I was blending in an audience of people who appeared to be homeowners with decent credit… Not so Illmatic, but beautiful.
As he went through his renditions of each song in sequence from his classic release, he also blessed us with certain standout hits from other albums. The night was great and life is good. Moreover, it was a lesson in longevity from an artist who has become seasoned in an art form that has been labeled a “young man’s game”. Hopefully, rap as a music will grow with its fearless expression and we will hear an album recorded to a symphony’s composition someday. It’s a dope idea as we look for the next groundbreaking sound in music; and while it does seem risky, never forget: REPRESENTIN’ IS ILLMATIC!!!
Click to watch the trailer of his documentary “Time is Illmatic” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VNFCnS9c1E