You Can Hate Me Now: How Early Nas Critics Show the Intricacies of Hip-Hop Nostalgia

In a recent article, writer Lucas Garrison explored the underbelly of ’90s Internet forums, focusing specifically on the discussions about Hip-Hop music. What he finds of particular interest are the conversations that developed around Nas and the critical diatribes related to the Nas of 1994 versus the Nas of 1997. Included in his analysis are a 1994 debate on whether Illmatic deserved the hype it was given in The Source (5 mics from then-intern Miss Info), a 1994 track-by-track review of the album, a 1995 discussion about whether AZ is a better lyricist, and a heated 1997 Jay Z versus Nas thread.

The piece, found on DJ, focuses on the theme of nostalgia, and as his title suggests, many Internet debaters felt that Illmatic fell short of its potential, and that Nas eventually fell off. “The biggest thing I learned is that post-Illmatic there was a lot of animosity towards Nas,” Garrison writes. For many Heads, just reading that sentence is a cause for an involuntary face-palm. Setting aside the colloquial idea that “if you ain’t got no haters, you ain’t doing it right,” the early criticism of what is now considered a paradigm-forging piece of art speaks to the complexities and nuances involved in nostalgia.

illmatic cover

Most Heads are familiar with the rampant debate about why Hip-Hop music today is so much more commercialized, less substantive, and far less innovative as the Hip-Hop of earlier eras. And yet, that misnomer is one that reappears with every generation. For example, in April of 1994, one internet user shared the opinion that Illmatic “is not the classic everybody’s been calling…classic? A classic debut? Like People’s Instinctive Travels or 3 Feet High and Rising? Naw man. Like Criminal Minded or Paid In Full? C’mon.” Far from anecdotal, that opinion can be seen as being indicative of nostalgia’s intricacies at work. Points of reference vary greatly, so one Head’s Paid In Full is another’s Illmatic, while one’s Illmatic is another one’s College Dropout, and so forth.

And that can apply to anything in life, really. The elders of the ’60s worried greatly about Hippie culture, certain that bell-bottoms, afros, and free love were indicative of the demise of culture. The Baby Boomer generation complained that MTV was ruining their children. And now, many feel that the music playing on the radio simply isn’t Hip-Hop. While for many there is undeniable truth in each of those statements, the fact remains that in any given year, there is great music and there is music we’re not feelin’. Furthermore, one could certainly argue that much music requires the passage of time for deep appreciation to manifest, a la Vincent Van Gogh’s art.

So…going back to the symbolic question of “did Illmatic deserve the hype,” how do you forecast this nostalgic effect will be permeated through the 2010s?

Read: Illmatic‘s A Letdown”: Lessons Learned From The 90s Rap Internet at DJBooth

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