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Classic Clashes: Illmatic Vs. Ready To Die

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I haven’t done one of these in a while. Been busy with a few things here and there. But out of love for you guys, and these two album s, which both turn 15 this year, I decided to dust off the Classic Clash for a bit of spring cleaning.I also wanted to introduce someone to you who is a terrific writer, which unfortunately in the Hip-Hop space is becoming few and far between. She’s written editorials here before that you’ve either hated or loved but that’s the point of writing to a certain degree: reaction. Shelby asked me if she could take a crack at this one, and despite the control freak that I am I relented. I think she nailed it.  You know I don’t cosign crap. Hope you enjoy. Classic Clashes. Illmatic vs. Ready to Die.-ODAt the beginning of 1994,

Hip Hop was immersed in the slow, rhythmic thump of G-funk. California was

enjoying its status as the home of rap royalty. Dr. Dre’s synth-heavy style continued to waft across the

Mississippi to the birth place of the genre, leaving tracks from coast to coast.

The East found itself on mainstream hiatus. However, by spring, the focus of the

Hip Hop masses was wandering. By fall, King California was forced to give up his

crown.

 

That year’s April showers

were replaced by a hailstorm of rap re-invention as a young Nasir Jones dropped the seminal Illmatic on an unsuspecting Hip Hop community.  Then in

September, the grandest street buzz ever generated in the history of Hip Hop

morphed into a project more than worthy of it’s hype.  Notorious BIG released

the classic Ready to Die.  It’s no secret 15

years later that this pair of fledgling emcees changed the Hip Hop landscape

forever with their freshman offerings, but who made the biggest

impact?

 

Ask any Hip Hop

aficionado worth his weight in rhymes about Illmatic and you will receive a

thesis complete with bar graphs and footnotes in return. The album is viewed by

many as the definitive Hip Hop reference, the unabridged rap encyclopedia.

Author Matthew Gesteier wrote of the album, “Stylistically, if every other Hip

Hop record were destroyed, the entire genre could be reconstructed from this one

album.” Critics hailed Nas for his stark, evocative story telling and honest

evaluation of the meaning of life through a jaded and cynical urban lens. The

roster of producers was a who’s who in early 90’s beat making and its possible

Illmatic holds some of Primo, Large Professor and Pete Rocks best work.  In the past

decade and a half, this album has been deconstructed, reconstructed, mimicked

and even used as the blueprint for lesser albums.  However, there are those who

don’t believe Illmatic is the best Hip Hop album of all time.  They don’t even

think it’s the best rap release of 1994.

 

As spring morphed into

summer, BIG’s buzz was deafening.  The highly anticipated Ready to Die was moved

from Uptown to an unknown Bad

Boy and critics questioned BIG’s delivery in the process, suggesting he

sounded paranoid and his high pitched vocals were hard on the ears. However,

those question marks were erased once the album hit record store shelves in

September.  The album was raw, harsh and abrasive; but in a good way.  BIG’s

somewhat autobiographical story telling prowess was straightforward and his

ability to paint an entire picture with just a few words was unparalleled.  The

album darted in and out of mainstream traffic, making it a commercial success. 

However, even with its eclectic mix of radio friendly joints and street anthems,

the album held its course and delivered a clear picture of the upstarts life

change from crime to rhyme. The production, handled primarily by Diddy and Easy

Mo Bee with contributions from Premiere, Chucky Thompson, Poke and Lord Finesse is strong, but not overbearing.  Contending

with a force like BIG made it almost impossible for any of the tracks to take

the spotlight.  Reviewer Steve Juon wrote, “Biggie was the

quintessential master of word play who could either scare you like Edgar Allen Poe or charm you like

Cyrano de Bergerac.” To some, this is an understatement.

 

Both albums put realism

on Front Street as the emcees

tackled similar issues with a depth of thought that raised the Hip Hop bar to

heights most other emcees still can’t reach.  While the thought patterns of the

two young men were divergent, they both turned a spotlight on urban blight and gave their

listeners perfectly crafted commentary that still rings true today.  But only

one can wear the crown.  Did Nas steal California ’s scepter or was it Biggie? You be the judge.

Ready To Die

Illmatic

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