Illmatic Revisited: Top Songs From Nas’ Classic

Photo: Johnny Nunez (Getty Images)

Realistically, the West Coast beat the East in terms of their style ending up being the more popular one. But the ‘losers’ of the beef war still won some major battles in a way that they have iconic artists, albums, and songs of their own. Not one is more revered than Nas’ Illmatic. Released in 1994, this debut album featured only 10 songs, but in them, more substance was served than most modern rappers accomplish in their whole discography.

East Coast rap fans are probably the proudest of this album, and rightfully so as most publications rate it as one of the best rap albums of all time. Illmatic is raw poetry that reached its legendary status pretty fast and is still holding it tight, it aged perfectly well. We take a look back at the best songs from the 1994 album.

None of the Illmatic songs are bad, not in the slightest, these five are just the better half of the respected album.

Illmatic Top Songs

The World Is Yours

The most well-known track from the Illmatic as everything comes perfect – lyrics, instrumental, flow. It’s regarded by critics and fans as one of the very best rap tracks of all time. Even though it’s not intended for it, it’s one of the thoughtful songs that you could play at the club and no one would mind. Pete Rock did wonders with the quite simple beat, making the song timeless.


Halftime is all about Nas representing himself both lyrically and in the terms of delivery. The flow is flow for the school of rap’s advanced lessons. Clever bars still amuse the listener even after hundreds of time of listening to them. Another track from Illmatic for whom DJ Premier signs the production, although it’s not in his typical style.

Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)”

A soulful track, surprisingly smart and wise for a 19-year-old teen, one that cemented Illmatic as one of the best albums of all time and announced that we would talk about Nas like one of the best rappers of all time. Yet another track that made it on this list of Illmatic top songs that was produced by DJ Premier. It’s a track that has the vibes of what we now know as Kanye West producing style, in the term of repeating vocals being a part of the instrumental.

It Ain’t Hard to Tell

Softer than most of the tracks on the already laidback Illmatic, It Ain’t Hard To Tell puts the emphasis on the lyrical acrobatics of Nas. Almost all lines are humorous but not in a cheesy, over the top way, but very subtle, academic-like almost. Which is impressive from someone Nas’ age at the time. The track was the second single from the album, and the instrumental still sounds fresh today so it’s no wonder we are still bopping our head to it 23 years later.

N.Y. State of Mind

The second track of the album really displays Nas’ ability to go hard without being loud. N.Y. State of Mind became a cult classic, also, one of the many rap anthems of the Big Apple, and it also has some of the most quoted lines of Illmatic. Or East Coast rap in general. Nas collaborated with the legendary DJ Premier for this track and the instrumental really has the signature sound of the Gang Starr’s DJ part. Which is why it got sampled by rappers across the world after it.

Which of the Illmatic tracks is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below.

Go Completely Nostalgic And After Illmatic Top Songs Listen to The Chronic Best Tracks.