I understand it’s completely blasphemous to suggest that Illmatic isn’t Nas’s best album. But that’s not really my argument anyway–I’m not going to contest that The Lost Tapes is better than Illmatic, because it may well not be. Illmatic is definitely one of the most influential albums in the history of hip hop, and probably the most masterfully constructed.

But I still find myself listening to The Lost Tapes five times for every time I listen to Illmatic. Mostly because where Illmatic is carefully and thoughtfully constructed, The Lost Tapes is personal and emotional. It’s almost as well thought-out, but it feels less filtered and more authentic. It’s so much easier for me to connect to autobiographical, emoting The Lost Tapes Nas than it is to connect to Illmatic Nas.

I mean, look at these lyrics from “Doo Rags:”

The styles come from prison, they used potatoes making liquor
Just to prove we some creative n****s
Turning nothing into something, is God’s work
And you get nothing without struggle and hard work

Honestly, that may be the single most beautiful hip hop lyric I’ve ever heard. I think it’s fair to say that most people see the idea of prisoners making alcohol out of potatoes as either depressing or immoral; at best people might see it as neutral.

Nas succinctly points out an incredible positivity in it that I never would have seen otherwise. That’s beautiful. That’s art. That’s God’s work.

Plus, I have to appreciate it when a song (“Nothing Lasts Forever”) starts with a brief monologue like this:

A lot of times, it seems like you ain’t gonna make it where you want to be in life. But yo, if you got a plan, believe me, you’re gonna get there. You’re gonna get everything you ever wanted, baby. That’s my word.

What can I say, I’m 20. That’s the kind of thing that I like to hear from an artist I respect.

The whole album is filled with similar insights, observations of beauty (and ugliness), and words of wisdom. I have a bit of traveller’s illness, so I’m not very coherent right now. But if you haven’t listened to The Lost Tapes, you should.

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