Ranking Every Song on Nas' 'Illmatic,' From Worst to Best - Beats, Rhymes & Lists (2023)

Ranking each song on Illmatic is not an easy task, believe me. I mean, how can you choose between “N.Y. State of Mind” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” or “Halftime” and “The World Is Yours”?

Released in 1994 at the pinnacle of hip hop’s golden age, Illmatic is one of the many defining moments of the culture’s history. From the opening track, “The Genesis,” to the closing track, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” each song on “Illmatic” has its own story, flow, and beat that brings something special to the album.

Nas’ lyrics are intricate, introspective, and full of vivid imagery that paint a picture of his experiences growing up in Queensbridge, New York City. The beats on the album, produced by heavyweights like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Large Professor, perfectly complement Nas’ lyrics, creating a soundscape that takes the listener on a journey through the streets of New York City.

Not only that, the sequencing of the album is literally perfect. The songs are arranged in a way that creates a narrative that’s almost cinematic in its presentation. It’s almost like each song is a scene in a movie, and when you listen to the album in its entirety, you feel like you’re experiencing the story that the Queensbridge legend is telling.

All of these factors make ranking the songs on Illmatic an incredibly challenging task. Each song is a unique piece of the puzzle that contributes to the album’s overall impact. And when you take all of these pieces together, you get a timeless masterpiece that continues to inspire and influence new generations of hip hop artists.

From “N.Y. State of Mind” to “Life’s a Bitch”, “Represent” to “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”, we rank every song from Illmatic, from worst to best.


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9. “One Time 4 Your Mind”

Producer: Large Professor

Sometimes I hate making lists because there always has to be a song, album or artist that appears last on the list. Maybe I should have thought about that before creating a website focused entirely on publishing rap lists. Anyway, back to Illmatic. “One Time 4 Your Mind” isn’t the last ranked song because it’s bad in any way. Quite the contrary.

Large Professor laces the production with some of the funkiest bounce that Nas has ever rhymed on, and the Queensbridge teenager rocks a nonchalant flow that we’ve rarely heard from him. It’s a dope track, but compared to the rest of the album, it’s just cool, nothing transcendent.

8. “Represent”

Producer: DJ Premier

“Represent” comes right after the slower-paced “One Time 4 Your Mind,” and Nas switches up his flow to match the change in energy. With his crew from Queensbridge backing him up in the studio, Nas gets hyped up and delivers one of the most memorable verses on the album.

Side note: the album version of “Represent” is actually a remix of the original jazzier version. In a 2019 interview, DJ Premier revealed that the first version of the song was created before “One Love” and “Life’s a Bitch,” but he later decided to update it to match the overall sound of the album.

(Video) WORST TO BEST - Nas | Illmatic

7. “Life’s a Bitch” ft. AZ

Producer: L.E.S.

Take a moment to appreciate the opening verse by AZ on this track and you’ll quickly understand why it’s revered so much as one of the greatest guest verses of all time. While Nas’ lyrical prowess is certainly on display, it’s AZ’s feature that really elevates “Life’s a Bitch” to classic status. His delivery is seemingly effortless, with a flow that leaves you wondering if he ever needs to catch his breath.

6. “Halftime”

Featuring: AZ

Producer: Large Professor

The most banging track off the whole album, Large Professor actually created the beat for “Halftime” with Busta Rhymes in mind, but the “Woo-Hah” rapper turned it down. With Extra P’s thumping production backing him up, Nas seizes the mic and delivers a performance that is simply relentless. Featured on the Zebrahead soundtrack which came out in 1992, it’s no surprise that “Halftime” helped to build up hype for Illmatic before its release almost two years later.


5. “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)”

Producer: DJ Premier

Narrowing down Nas’ best written songs is like choosing your favorite child – it’s no easy task. However, “Memory Lane” is undoubtedly one of the greatest pieces he has ever penned. In the song, the Queensbridge legend reflects on his life experiences and how they forced him to mature at a young age. The old soul lyrics are poignant, but when paired with Premo’s reflective production, they take on a life of their own. It’s a bittersweet track that hooks you in and leaves you wanting more.

4. “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”

Producer: Large Professor

With its sublime production – which features a prominent sample of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” – and Nas’ energetic rapping, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” is widely considered one of the Queensbridge rapper’s finest works ever. “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” has stood the test of time three decades later, and remains a boom bap essential that closes off Illmatic on an incredible high.

(Video) Top 50 Best Nas Songs of All Time

3. “One Love”

Producer: Q-Tip

Listening to “One Love” is like being transported to a jazz bar. The smooth, exotic production, courtesy of Q-Tip, sets the mood perfectly, and Nas’ slick verses only add to the ambiance. Once again, he shows off his storytelling skills, rapping in the form of letters he’s sent to his friends. And just when you think the song couldn’t get any better, Nas drops a bombshell of a third verse which might be one of the finest ever in hip hop history. “One Love” is rap storytelling at its best and a true testament to Nas’ divine penmanship.

2. “The World Is Yours”

Producer: Pete Rock

Jay-Z had no idea what he was talking about when he said “You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song,” “The World Is Yours” might have the best hook in Nas’ entire catalogue, and it’s an absolute classic. The back and forth between Nas and Pete Rock is so addictive that you’ll have it stuck in your head for days. The summery piano beat, which features a sample of Ahmad Jamal’s “I Love Music”, combined with Nas’ precise flow makes for a jam-packed listening experience that’s hard to forget. Every bar is memorable, and the hunger in Nas’ voice only adds to the intensity.

1. “N.Y. State of Mind”

Producer: DJ Premier

(Video) Illmatic: The Greatest Rap Album Ever

When you think of Illmatic, you think of “N.Y. State of Mind.” When you think of Nas and DJ Premier collaborating, you think of “N.Y. State of Mind.” When you think about New York hip hop, you think of “N.Y. State of Mind.” In many ways, this is the quintessential ’90s New York rap song. The gritty Premo production is pure fire, and one of his best, but it’s Nas’ vivid storytelling that really draws you in, like watching a movie come to life. Every lyric hits hard, and his voice has a fire in it that’s unparalleled. It’s no wonder that the Queens rapper set the bar so high with “N.Y. State of Mind” – flawless beats, mind-blowing lyrics, and a penchant for detailed imagery that’s impossible to ignore.


Who did the beats for Illmatic? ›

The album's production was handled by DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S., and Nas himself.

Is Tpab better than Illmatic? ›

Every song is nearly, as good, or better than every song on Illmatic. The songs on Illmatic aren't way better than the songs on TPAB. Also the songs on TPAB are much more individually unique. Wesley's theory, for free, King Kunta, Insitutionalized, u, all sound completely different.

What is the message of Illmatic? ›

Understandably, Illmatic is an album that struggles between optimism and nihilism, as Nas strives to realise his world-beating ambitions in the midst of conflict and deprivation.

Is it was written better than Illmatic? ›

Time heals all backpacker wounds, and the past 18 years have revealed one essential truth about Nas' discography: It Was Written is better than Illmatic. They say that limits make you creative. Too many options offer too much freedom, allowing for laziness and sloppiness.

Who won the battle Nas or Jay-Z? ›

At one point, they even took a poll about the beef, with 58% of listeners saying they preferred “Ether” to “Supa Ugly”. The consensus seemed to point to Nas as the winner.

Why Illmatic is the best rap album? ›

So Illmatic is considered one of the greatest because it is a hip-hop album that encompasses hip-hop ideals and culture, whilst capturing the views and stories of Nas at the time.

Is Illmatic the greatest hip hop album ever? ›

Illmatic is considered by many to be Nas' best album, and is often cited as one of the greatest Hip-Hop albums of all time.

Who is Nas favorite rappers? ›

Nas' five favourite rappers of all time:
  • J. Cole.
  • Kendrick Lamar.
  • Drake.
  • Lil Wayne.
  • Rick Ross.
Nov 9, 2022

What is considered the Best Rap Album ever? ›

Best hip hop albums
  1. Illmatic: Nas. View at Amazon. ...
  2. To Pimp A Butterfly: Kendrick Lamar. £17.99. ...
  3. Ready To Die: Notorious BIG. View at Amazon. ...
  4. Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers): Wu-Tang Clan. View at Amazon. ...
  5. Madvillainy: Madvillain. View at Amazon. ...
  6. The Chronic: Dr Dre. ...
  7. All Eyez On Me: 2Pac. ...
  8. The Marshall Mathers LP: Eminem.
Feb 13, 2023

Did Illmatic win a Grammy? ›

The Queens rapper responsible for "Illmatic" finally has a Grammy to his name: Best Rap Album for "King's Disease."

Who is the kid on the Illmatic cover? ›

Nas: Illmatic (1994)

Perhaps inspired by the cover for the obscure 1970s jazz album A Child Is Born, by the Howard Hanger Trio, the cover superimposes a photo of Nas as a child over a shot of a New York City block.

What does Illmatic stand for? ›

1 Answer. Illmatic is a slang word meaning something is very good or aesthetically attractive. The word Illmatic's meaning is based upon the vernacular of being beyond or greater than ill.

Is Nas one of the greatest rappers of all time? ›

Rooted in East Coast hip hop, he is regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time. The son of jazz musician Olu Dara, Jones began his musical career in 1989 as he adopted the moniker of "Nasty Nas" and recorded demos for Large Professor.
17 more rows

Is Nas The Best Rapper Ever? ›

Overall, Nas's impressive lyrical ability, versatility, and authenticity are just a few of the reasons why he is considered by many to be the greatest rapper alive.

Who has more money Jay-Z or Nas? ›

Like previous years, JAY-Z took the number one spot, netting $76 million, followed by Diddy, who took home $64 million. (This is according to Forbes' reporting, which has been disputed by some rappers in the past.) However, there was a new name on the list: legendary rapper Nas. who took home $35 million.

Who is Jay-Z's rival? ›

Both Nas and Jay-Z were born in New York, and the two rappers would run into each other every now and then on the '90s rap scene.

Who is #1 rap album? ›

1 rap/hip-hop albums is 2018 with 18, followed by 2019 (17) and 2020 (16). There have been twelve new qualifying No.
ByDJ Rob.
RankArtistNo. 1 total
3.Kanye West10
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Who had the first #1 rap album? ›

History Highlight:

In 1987, Beastie Boys became the first rap act to have a No. 1 album in the U.S. with their debut album, Licensed To Ill.

What rap artist has the most #1 albums? ›

1 Albums on R&B/Hip-Hop Chart.

Who was the first to win best rap album? ›

For over two decades, the Recording Academy has honored the genre of hip-hop with its own music categories, including Best Rap Album, at their annual Grammy Awards ceremony. Beginning in 1996, the first recipient of the Best Rap Album trophy was Naughty By Nature for their fourth album, Poverty's Paradise.

What is the most streamed rap album of all time? ›

Morale & The Big Steppers' Is Spotify's Most Streamed Rap Album Of 2022. K Dot's fifth solo studio album beat out Future, Drake and 21 Savage, and others for the top spot.

What is the oldest popular hip-hop album? ›

Rap music is usually traced back to such late 70s offerings as the Fatback Band's "King Tim III" and Sugarhill's "Rapper's Delight", which were the first rap/hip-hop records. However, The Last Poets' eponymous debut album (1970) which was a rap record in all but name, has a as good a claim as any to being the first.

Who is Nas biggest influence? ›

Scroll down to find out which records made the cut.
  • Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Wanted Dead Or Alive. ...
  • Big Daddy Kane - Long Live the Kane. ...
  • Ice Cube - Death Certificate. ...
  • Slick Rick - The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. ...
  • Scarface of the Geto Boys - Mr. ...
  • A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
Mar 3, 2016

Who was voted the best rapper? ›

The 'God MC' and 24-time Grammy-winner Shawn Corey Carter, aka Jay-Z, has been crowned the greatest rapper of all time by Billboard and Vibe. Billboard and Vibe released a list of the best MCs ever in honour of hip-hop's 50th anniversary.

Who is the most popular rapper? ›

fame is defined by the % of people who have heard of a rap & hiphop music artist. Find out more
  • 1 Snoop Dogg96%
  • 2 Kanye West95%
  • 3 Eminem93%
  • 4 Jay-Z93%
  • 5 Ice Cube93%
  • P. Diddy91%
  • 7 MC Hammer91%
  • 8 Beastie Boys90%

What rap song has the best beat ever? ›

The Greatest Hip-Hop Beats of All Time
  • Black Steel In The Hour Of ChaosPublic Enemy.
  • The LightCommon.
  • Still Tippin' (feat. Slim Thug and Paul Wall)Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Slim Thug.
  • I Declare WarPacewon.
  • Mass AppealGang Starr.
  • ATLiensOutkast.
  • Born and Raised In ComptonDJ Quik.
  • Come Clean - E New Y RadioJeru The Damaja.

Who is the best rap group of all time? ›

Throughout hip hop history, there hasn't been a rap group that has been as dominating or overwhelming as the Wu-Tang Clan.

What song did Nas not like? ›

No ID told Cole that he was in the studio with Nas, and that Nas had told him that he hated the song "Work Out". Cole was devastated upon hearing that, which made him write the tribute song to his idol, "Let Nas Down" the following year.

Why Jay-Z is better than Nas? ›

Nas is in a fact a better storyteller, but Jay has a better ear for beats, is a better assessor of talent, a better businessman, and is a better artist overall. Nas has never been able to consistently make crossover hits at the same pace as Jay, and is just now starting to understand the business side of things.

Who is better between Nas and Eminem? ›

Nas is a much better writer/poet, has more complex and conscious lyrics, albums have much greater shelf life, and overall, his music is just much, much, more mature..but universal truth is never measured by mass appeal, so most listeners will naturally gravitate towards eminem. I'd put it this way.

Who owns the most Grammy? ›

Most Grammys won

The record for the most Grammy Awards won in a lifetime is held by Beyoncé, an American singer, songwriter, and dancer, who has won 32. It was previously held by Georg Solti, a Hungarian-British conductor, who won 31.

Who won the biggest Grammy? ›

Beyoncé made history at the 2023 GRAMMYs by becoming the artist with the most GRAMMY wins — ever — when she won the GRAMMY for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album for her 2022 album, Renaissance. Beyoncé now counts 32 total GRAMMY wins.

Who was the first rapper to win a Grammy? ›

As Billboard continues to highlight music achievements throughout Black History Month, today we're highlighting Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff winning the first rap GRAMMY in 1989 and why they boycotted the ceremony.

Is Nas related to Pocahontas? ›

The rapper is taken through five generations, and most poignantly, shown a bill of sale for a slave—his great great great grandmother, Pocahontas. "A receipt for a human being," he says.

Who was Nas first wife? ›

Singer Kelis and rapper Nas were public figures before they crossed paths in the early 2000s. The two of them went on to become one of hip-hop's most iconic couples. Nas and Kelis were married for nine years before she eventually filed for divorce.

Does Nas have a baby? ›

In a new set of Instagram stories, Nas shared a photo of a young child posing with a plush, stuffed animal almost his size, and wrote in another post: “Yes, I have a son, and I'm no longer gonna hide him from this cruel world.”

Why does he call himself Nas? ›

Lil Nas X explained that Nas came from his "internet alias," before adding that he took inspiration from other new musicians when he came up with the rest of his stage name. "When I started doing music, I was like, 'I want to have fun with this," he said. "And every new rapper's name is Lil, Lil, Lil.

Was Ruth listening to Illmatic? ›

In season four's episode “The Cousin of Death,” her taste goes meta: as Ruth (Julia Garner) listens to Nas' debut LP Illmatic in her headphones, she has a run-in with genre legend Killer Mike.

Why is Illmatic so iconic? ›

Illmatic was the first hip hop album written completely in the first person narrative. It also broke the tradition of one-producer per album in hip hop.

Who is the best rapper in the universe? ›

It makes no difference who claims to be the greatest of all time.
  1. Eminem. Eminem introduced rap listeners to a unique style. ...
  2. Nas. Nas possesses all of the qualities of a Rapper, although he prefers to be less rigid with the norms of technical rhyming. ...
  3. Tupac Shakur. ...
  4. Jay-Z. ...
  5. Sage Francis. ...
  6. Tech N9ne. ...
  7. Rapper Kool G. ...
  8. Royce.

What is Nas most streamed song? ›

Lil Nas X & Jack Harlow Dethrone Drake & Future For Most-Streamed Song Of 2020s. Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow's 2021 single “Industry Baby” is now the most streamed song of the 2020s – which means they've officially dethroned Drake and Future's 2020 smash “Life Is Good.”

Why Nas is the most respected rapper? ›

His Body of Work is Incredible

Nas' albums are critically celebrated and commercially successful. His music inspires other rappers. For example, Lupe Fiasco's The Cool was inspired by It Was Written. Even without a Top 10 hit single, every Nas album has been certified gold or platinum.

How many #1 albums does Nas have? ›

His six number ones include I Am, Life Is Good, Untitled, Hip Hop Is Dead and The Firm: The Album. Jay-Z currently holds the title of the most number one albums by a solo act.

Is 2Pac the king of rap? ›

Tupac Shakur, known by his stage names 2Pac, Pac, and Makaveli, is regarded as one of the most iconic and influential rappers of all time. What he brought to hip hop was a level of rawness and a poetic drive in the way he delivered his words.

What songs did DJ Premier produce on Illmatic? ›

Nas - Illmatic
  • 02. " N.Y. State of Mind"
  • 06. " Memory Lane (Sittin' in da Park)"
  • 09. " Represent"

Did Nas win a Grammy for Illmatic? ›

Hip-Hop Legend Nas Wins First Grammy After 13 Nominations And 25 Years. The Queens rapper responsible for "Illmatic" finally has a Grammy to his name: Best Rap Album for "King's Disease."

What did Pete Rock produce on Illmatic? ›

“Nas and his people have stonewalled me since 1994; My New Year's resolution is to be compensated for my hard work on Illmatic.” Pete produced Illmatic's lone gold single, young women seeking old mature senior men for sex The song, credited in the inserts to Nas and Pete, also features some background vocals from the ...

Who was Nas favorite rapper? ›

Nas' five favourite rappers of all time:

Kendrick Lamar. Drake. Lil Wayne. Rick Ross.

Who is the kid on Illmatic cover? ›

Nas: Illmatic (1994)

Perhaps inspired by the cover for the obscure 1970s jazz album A Child Is Born, by the Howard Hanger Trio, the cover superimposes a photo of Nas as a child over a shot of a New York City block.

Is Nas the best rapper of all time? ›

Rooted in East Coast hip hop, he is regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time. The son of jazz musician Olu Dara, Jones began his musical career in 1989 as he adopted the moniker of "Nasty Nas" and recorded demos for Large Professor.

Which rapper has the most Grammys? ›

Most Grammys won by a rapper

Jay-Z and Kanye West, each with 24 awards, have won more Grammy Awards than any other rapper.

What is the beef between Nas and Pete Rock? ›

Nas and Pete Rock's beef stems from Pete reportedly threatening to sue Nas for unpaid royalties earlier this year. Pete Rock produced "The World Is Yours" off Nas's debut Illmatic album.

Who is trying to sue Nas? ›

Pete Rock Threatens Lawsuit Against Nas Over 'Illmatic' Royalties – Rolling Stone.

Who owns the rights to Nas Illmatic? ›

The former 3rd Bass member was executive producer of the Queensbridge rapper's early albums Illmatic and It Was Written. With his companies Serchlite Publishing and Serchlite Music, MC Serch, whose real name is Michael Berrin, has held executive producer rights to Illmatic and It Was Written for 27 years.

Who is Jay-Z Favourite rapper? ›

Jay-Z's Favourite Rappers

“I got the usual suspects – Biggie, Pac, Scarface, Eminem and Andre 3000,” he listed. “Off top of my head, that's would be my top 5.”


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