Nas’ New Song With DJ Premier Shows Time Is Illmatic

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Nas’ Illmatic. In April of 1994, Nas debuted with a panel of legendary producers to deliver a debut album that Ambrosia For Heads readers determined to be the “Greatest Hip-Hop Album Of All-Time” through a poll in April of 2016.

Thirty years later, Nas maintains his legendary stature among Hip-Hop’s elite MCs. During the 2020s, Nas has won Grammy Awards amid a prolific album run that parallels a thriving investment portfolio, media company, and more. Throughout the past week, as a lead-in to Illmatic‘s birthday, Nas posted photos with one of his original collaborators, DJ Premier. Today (April 19), the two artists partner for a new song, “Define My Name.”

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The new Mass Appeal Records song is the currently the first track on the Ambrosia For Heads playlist (follow it here). Its title and scratch chorus come from “Nas Is Like,” released 25 years ago—and its own homage to an Illmatic-era remix. True to the title, Nas looks at his moniker and lays out his purpose: “Name existed forever, means ‘victory helper’ / Whole name means ‘protector’ Shorten it by two letters, without the I-R at the end The reincarnated Gil Scott livin’ in the bottle again.” Nas looks at deeper meanings in a name, while contrasting it with all of the success he has accomplished—and closes out the first verse suggesting he and Preemo made more history on a whim.

In the second verse, Nas opens up about his journey: “At 20, I said I’d better quit by 30 / Then by 30, I thought by 40 rapping is corny / How wrong was I? / Never would have thought at 50, new songs by Nas would be hard and live.” He proceeds to paint a vivid picture about Hip-Hop in his life. “The definition of my name probably started where I rode the E train, fingers covered in ink stains/ Writin’ was like an escape, excitedly leave the beat flamed / It was Rakim, Kool G and Kris / Few names like Cool James, ‘Face, Cube and Rick / That was musically sick, successful and unnatural / I throw they songs in a cyanide capsule / The truth is poison to any fraud / Demigod rockin’ suits and shoes, goin’ against any odds / How could you hate me? I survived the ’80s / The D’s, the trauma, embalming fluid in laced weed / Inhale fumes from a stove we’ll cook up / The show’s booked up, I chose to take the world over, look up.

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Just as Nas and Preemo transported listeners to the Big Apple underbelly on Illmatic‘s second track, “NY State Of Mind,” they do it again 30 years later, and show this train of thought (and sound) has plenty of momentum. The song actually ends with a promise of an album. “Premier album still gon’ happen,” vows Nas, after referencing a Gang Starr interlude as well as his own “NY State Of Mind” intro. The two artists have discussed a collaborative full length for nearly 20 years.

AFH’s playlist (follow it here) also includes other recent DJ Premier collaborations with Snoop Dogg and Common, as well as new music by AZ, Ras Kass, and Spice 1.