Friday, May 24, 2024

Nas Speaks About ‘Illmatic’ Collaboration with National Symphony Orchestra [Watch]

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Nas at the Kennedy Center. Credit: 13th Witness

*The premiere of “Great Performances – Nas Live from the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop” airs this Friday on PBS and in the clip above, the iconic rapper speaks candidly about his collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra for a lyrical performance of his groundbreaking album “Illmatic.”

Released in 1994, the album is the seminal debut by the influential hip-hop artist and has long been considered one of the greatest rap records of all time. 

“The album is a densely textured, deeply lyrical portrait of life in the largest public housing project in North America, the Queensbridge Houses, located in the Long Island City area of New York City.”

“Really, the topics that I talk about were topics that were around before ‘Illmatic’; streets, social economic status, people’s struggles,” Nas previously stated in an interview. “I just told it crazy real, and it just talks about how to live in the circumstances and goes beyond, dreaming at the same time. Never just stay in the situation that you’re in.”

Nas Live from the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop

Two decades after the album’s critically-acclaimed release, Nas teamed with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC to stage a once in a lifetime symphonic rendition of one of the most revered albums in hip-hop history.

“Things go in circles. That’s what happens; rap music comes through different generations and everybody kind of just appreciates everybody. And I guess that at this time that particularly applies to ‘Illmatic’,” said Nas back in 2014 of the revisiting of themes and even reactions that reemerge through generations.

As reported by, with his own debut, Nas knew he was working on something special. In an interview with The Source in 1994 he boasted, “This feels like a big project that’s gonna affect the world.” In hindsight, he admits that he didn’t quite know exactly how big the effect would be.

“I knew it was from what I wanted to hear,” he says. “I didn’t know how many other people would agree. Because you never know when it’s your first record, you can only have a hunch. The closer it came to it being released I started to feel it more and more. Working on it I felt like it was the best thing ever! But then, as it’s about to be released, you realize that there is a world out there and they’ve gotta approve, and you go from there.”

Tune in to PBS on the evening of February 2 at 9pm (check local listings) for an amazing concert performance.

In the meantime, watch Nas performing “One Love” with the National Symphony Orchestra:

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