I was sixteen.
Burlington, Ontario might be a high-class, now city these days, but in 1994 it wasn't easy to cop the newest hip-hop releases in my burg. Pre-Internet, pre-adulthood, I had to go to Mississauga or Toronto via my mom's car or the Go Train to pick up albums, on cassette or CD*. I will forever fondly remember visiting Square One in Mississauga and buying, with my allowance plus some motherly generosity, Das EFX's Dead Serious. And I will also forever remember going there a year prior, when my brother (Hercules) chose Brand Nubian's One for All and I chose...hell, time is not on my side with that reminiscence, and it matters not, because One for All would prove to be the mold for which my youth was shaped, for better or worse. An insomniac in middle school, I would stay awake nights listening over and over again to Brand Nu's seminal aural accomplishment. Because you can't truly appreciate great music unless you're bugfuck tired and young.
The year was 1994. The Simpsons was hitting its stride, and I was wrapping up my sophomore year of high school. A bevy of hip-hop releases had already flooded my young brain the year prior and had leaked into that year**, and it appeared that hip-hop music was, at the time, on steady ground. Things couldn't be better.
And then, Illmatic. The Source -- back when it was the hip-hop Bible -- gave it five mics, devoted an entire article dedicated to its inception, highlighting its recording process (Premier! Pete Rock! Large Professor!), Nas's poetry, and its instant-classic status.
Still a virgin, I wanted Illmatic more than I wanted to get laid. DJ X played "NY State of Mind" on CKLN's Power-Move Show, and I was hooked, like a burgeoning junkie catching a whiff of powder. ("Rappers I monkey flip 'em with the funky rhythm." You had me at Hello!) Luckily, my mother was at the time working near Mississauga, and I asked her to pick up the(e) album on her way home. She did.
My mom is like Santa Claus.
Coincidentally, the cassette was a dud, cutting out just after Nas's line, "Never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes." A day later that was sorted out, and I listened to the second coming of Rakim's opus, one which Nas will never trump but which I hold him no ill will for failing to. Nas is hip-hop's Harper Lee: he crafted an album so incredible, so perfect, that anything afterward is crap by comparison.
Because how do you follow up perfection?
PS - Shame on the Internet for not creating an Illmatic-Me application.
* Mobb Deep's The Infamous was the young me's equivalent of switching from DVD to Blu-ray.
** Enter: the Wu-Tang, Hard II Earn, 등