All 9 Beats on Nas’ ‘Illmatic’ Album, Ranked
Photo source: Columbia Records

All 9 Beats on Nas’ ‘Illmatic’ Album, Ranked

How do the instrumentals stack up on the perfect hip-hop LP?

9. “One Time 4 Your Mind” (Large Professor)

This simple, yet effective string loop kind of putters along while Nas kicks some day-in-the-life raps. Yeah, whatever.

8. “Halftime” (Large Professor)

Extra P’s lo-fi scramble of bass, horn flurries, and vocal chops sounds dusty nearly 30 years after this song’s release, but gotdamn if this beat doesn’t still bump.

7. “Life’s a Bitch” (L.E.S.)

The premise of this list is a trap. To say that this pristine flip of The Gap Band’s “Yearning for Your Love” — and that luscious brass outro played by Nas’ pops, Olu Dara — belongs in the bottom third of this batch is just ludicrous. But a nine-way tie is senseless, so here we are.

6. “One Love” (Q-Tip)

The Abstract’s lone contribution is worth every second of phone time and every dollar on the books. Jail mail has never sounded so ill.

5. “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)” (DJ Premier)

This track’s “woo woo woo!” refrains are like a dream sequence that plants your ass on a splintered bench right in the middle of Queensbridge.

4. “Represent” (DJ Premier)

When theater organist Lee Erwin composed “Thief of Bagdad” for silent film, he probably never imagined that decades later it’d be chopped the fuck up and flipped for a young wordsmith to shout out his whole hood before his homies hop on the mic and talk some more shit. Preemo must’ve dove into the deep end of his crates for this one.

3. “The World Is Yours” (Pete Rock)

The record scratches, the horn squeals, the cold piano keys — is there any better music for a ghetto griot to plot world domination?

2. “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” (Large Professor)

It ain’t hard to tell that sampling Michael Jackson in 1994 — on your debut album — was a stunt. Nas brought “Human Nature” to the hood and made a(nother) classic.

1. “N.Y. State of Mind” (DJ Premier)

Preemo’s heart beats boom-bap, and this is truly one of his finest works. It’s street, urgent, and funky — the perfect canvas for Nas’ action-packed HD storytelling. The only thing more impressive than this beast of a beat is that Premier upgraded the instrumental five years later for “N.Y. State of Mind, Pt. 2.”

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