Sunday, April 22, 2018

Illmatic's 20th Anniversary (Four Years Late)

(Since Nas has just released a stellar live version of Illmatic performed with a symphony, it seemed like a good time to publish this little write-up I did on the last re-release of Illmatic. A hip hop blog requested this write-up back in 2014, then promptly folded the day after I submitted it. I still don't know what happened. I hadn't thought about it since, until the live version was released. Four years later, it seems like a good time to finally publish it.)
Four times I have purchased the classic hip hop record Illmatic by Nas. Willingly. It wasn’t stolen. It wasn’t lost. It wasn’t given to someone else. Nope. I have all my copies. Well, that’s not exactly true—the cassette tape is long gone—but I do indeed have three CD versions.
Why, you may ask. Certainly, it is arguably the greatest hip hop record ever created. I’ll argue the point, but that doesn’t take anything away from the album. There are a lot of hip hop albums. There are a lot of great hip hop albums. Being in the conversation for “best” is high enough praise. Nobody needs to justify owning Illmatic. Still, none of this provides an answer as to why I own three of them.
So why indeed? Because I am an idiot, that’s why. Are you a record company that wants me to buy an album that I’ve already purchased? Slap some bonus tracks on it. Give me some remixes. Throw on some B-sides. Put a fancy title on it like Deluxe Edition or Anniversary Edition or Super Deluxe Ultra Supreme You Know You Want This Even Thought You Really Don't Need It Because You Already Have It Edition and I will most likely buy your album.
That’s how I’ve come to purchase four copies of Illmatic. I bought the cassette many, many years ago. Then I bought the CD. Then I bought the ten-year anniversary edition, which featured four modern remixes and two new recordings of songs that did not make the original cut. The remixes were OK and the “new” old cuts were strong, but did I need this edition? No. No, I really probably maybe kind of sort of did not. Then again, I really probably maybe kind of sort of did. So I’ve got it. And no, I do not regret it. No Nas fan would.
That brings me to 2014. The twenty-year anniversary. You know what that means--the 20th Anniversary Edition! This time around we’ve got a bonus disc that promises more remixes, demos, and radio freestyles. Interesting. I like remixes, demos, and radio freestyles.
So I bought it. Was it worth it? Well, yeah, actually. The demo “I’m a Villain,” (the packaging says demos, as in plural demos, but there is only one), has been around for many years, but it’s great to have it in a better format. And the radio show freestyles are a nice touch. A very good extra. 
But the remixes are where it's at. These aren't slapped together remixes made by inferior producers here in 2014. These are the remixes from the original singles released when Illmatic was current. Many of them are rare and very hard to find. All of them are quality. Worth every penny. (It should be noted that three of these remixes were readily available on the From Illmatic to Stillmatic: The Remixes disc released in 2002, but they were in an edited form.) And unlike the 10th anniversary edition of Illmatic, the liner notes are extensive and do the album justice. Being that I am a sucker for liner notes, this is good news.
There’s only one problem. This is a solid edition. For Nas fans, it’s a must purchase. But it’s not definitive. There’s so much more out there. Why weren’t the tracks from the 10th anniversary included? True Nas fans still need both. Why didn’t they include “One on One,” the slept-on classic from The Street Fighter soundtrack that would have fit seamlessly on Illmatic? Furthermore, the re-release promotion promised demos. Not demo but demos. As in, more than one. Well, true Nas fans know well that there is a collection of his demos out there and they are amazing. Including them would have put this release over the top as a three-disc set. It would have made it a historic document unparalleled in the realms of hip hop. And no, that is not an exaggeration.
So that can only mean one thing. Yep. In ten years, I’ll be buying the 30th anniversary edition. My fifth purchase of Illmatic!
And I’m looking forward to it.

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