April 19 In Hip-Hop History: Nas Releases His Debut Album 'Illmatic'

By Tony M. Centeno

April 19, 2024

Photo: Columbia Records

It's been three decades since Nasir Jones singlehandedly impacted Hip-Hop forever with his iconic debut album.

On April 19, 1994, the revolutionary MC from Queensbridge, N.Y. released his first studio LP Illmatic via Columbia Records. Nas' 10-track project was produced by an all-star lineup of beatmakers including DJ Premier, Large Professor, L.E.S., and Pete Rock. A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip also serves as a guest and producer on "One Love." The album also features appearances from AZ and Olu Dara, who throw down on "Life's A B*tch." Despite low sales in its first week, Illmatic went on to become one of the greatest Hip-Hop albums of all time.

The making of Illmatic began in 1992 after Nas released his debut solo single "Halftime." MC Serch, who helped Nas land his first record deal with Columbia, served as the executive producer of the album and assisted with finding producers to work with the then-budding lyricist. Nas had already made his debut a year prior on "Live At The Barbeque" by Large Professor's group Main Source so recruiting Prof for the album was a no-brainer. Professor also recruited Pete Rock to produce "The World Is Yours" while other seasoned musicians Q-Tip and L.E.S. also contributed.

Serch also asked DJ Premier to team up with Nas for the project. Preemo, who was already a fan of Nasir at the time, ended up doing way more than adding some scratches. The revered beatmaker also produced some of the album's classic songs "N.Y. State of Mind" and "Represent." While they were working on the album, Nas also asked Premier to sequence the LP. It was the beginning of the duo's iconic partnership, which has lasted 30 years and resulted in an array of timeless hits.

Ahead of the 30th anniversary, Nas reflected on the making of his debut album in a series of posts on Instagram. In one post, he included throwback photos of him with the production team and his close friend AZ.

"Grainy pictures for grainy times," he wrote. "I had a dream I could get my favorite producers to produce on my debut album. I knew exactly what I wanted and how it should be. But I didn’t know anyone except for Paul, so I asked him would he connect me to them all. The cool soul brother that he is helped me line it up. On April 19th we smashed s**t. Even tho the album leaked months before the release date we still are apart of music history. Thank you Large Professor (Paul) and Dj Premier who drove into the projects to pick me up a time or two. Qtip , Pete Rock , and my man from The Bridge DJ LES, and my guy AZ who was just coming up himself. And thank you to everyone involved. Friday is the albums 30th. 2 The Listeners- ONE LOVE ❤️ 🦍"

Relive Nas' debut album Illmatic below.


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