Monthly Archives: April 2014

South Shore Ave’s NBA Playoff Preview: The West

Welcome to South Shore Ave’s NBA Playoff Preview #SaturdayMorningSpecial. With the help of my friend Headley Bent, we’ll provide you with a quick and efficient breakdown of the Western Conference Playoffs to get your morning started before we get to the first set of today’s playoff games. So get your popcorn coffee ready, we got you covered….

What player can make himself a star in the Western Conference Playoffs?

Cee: Damian Lillard. Especially in the 1st round vs. Houston. He’ll have a pest guarding him in Patrick Beverley that will do everything in his power to get under his skin, but Lillard is not only a great talent, but he has that icy calm demeanor that’s almost built for the playoffs. I can see him exploding on the Rockets (no pun intended) for some big numbers this series (prediction: 25/5/6; 45% FG/88%FT/43% 3FG, at least 5-7 backbreaking 3s). This will be Lillard’s official coming out party, he’s a beast ready to be unleashed from the cage, & the Beverley/Lin combo won’t be able to match.

Does part of me want to see the Rockets lose in the 1st round just to see the possible train wreck capabilities? Sure. But the reason I think Portland will beat Houston in this round is because I think you can score points on Houston. A lot! Especially in the last half of the season. Plus Houston depends on too many 3s which I think could bite them in the ass against Portland if they are not shooting well. More than James Harden, this series depends on how well Dwight Howard controls the paint on both ends of the floor. If he flashes that 2009 D12 version who put Orlando on his back all the way to the Finals, then my prediction will be wrong. But I think that version of him is diminished now. This version I can see getting frustrated with Robin Lopez on offense, being annoyed that he’s not getting enough touches to match what LaMarcus Aldridge is doing to his team. I’m calling the Blazers in 6 with numerous Lillard stories popping out the woodwork.

Headley: To be a star, you need to play a couple rounds at least. So that automatically drops Golden St., Memphis, and Dallas. But I will say this, with Memphis getting the #7 seed, let’s just say I’ll be watching that series against OKC closely. It hurts because Steph Curry could be that guy if his team went deep. San Antonio and OKC have their megastars solidified and have been to the finals, so to me, that leaves LAC, Houston, or Portland to have somebody step out of the shadows. LAC and Houston have “programmed stars” so a run won’t develop a star. That to me leaves Portland. And I do like them edging out Houston, so I think it’s time for LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard to up the ante. Both are All-Stars with no post season glamour. It would be fitting for Lillard after his first All-Star (doing all five events during All Star Weekend) and him freshly inking a $100M Adidas contract to go H.A.M. What’s Weber State school colors again? I’m rooting for him, especially since Aldridge, just a year ago, was leaking stories he wanted out… and he did want out.

Who is the Darkhorse Favorite?

Cee: I would have said Golden State if Andrew Bogut didn’t get sidelined with fractured ribs. Now the Clippers will abuse the paint in what will still be an incredible series. However, after seeing what we saw in last year’s playoffs, I won’t count out another Steph Curry shooting rampage from occurring. Curry much like LeBron & Durant, has the ability to carry you for an entire series if possible, but we’ll rule them out as I think the Clippers are too deep for them, & will have no answer whatsoever for Chris Paul, & especially Blake Griffin.

You know what? I’m gonna say the Clippers. I don’t care if they are the 3rd seed, considering the only time they made the NBA Finals was when I used them in season mode on NBA 2K12, they get the nod here. Right now as it stands, Oklahoma City has had their number the last few years whenever they’ve been fully healthy; and San Antonio is, well, San Antonio. They love to take away what you do best during the playoffs, be it pick-and-rolls, duck-ins, drives and kicks, etc. However, for the Clippers to get to the Finals, Griffin has to continue to be dominant and if possible, take his game to a higher level and attack the Spurs’ bigs relentlessly. In fact, both he and DeAndre Jordan (only the 3rd player in NBA history to lead the league in Rebounds and Field Goal percentage) have to own the paint these playoffs, it doesn’t matter how great Chris Paul plays. Their playoff success depends on those two guys. We’ll see if they learned anything from the beat down they took from Gasol & Z-Bo in last year’s playoffs vs. Memphis.

Headley: Isn’t the LA Clippers as a #3 seed a darkhorse? If not… I like Portland to cause noise because if they sneak by Houston, their legs will be hard for San Antonio to handle. I’m not ready to count the Spurs out (they’re too resilient),  but I really think the Portland matchup against Houston is harder than the Spurs matchup. So there. I said it…kinda…sorta….

Between Houston, Golden State and Los Angeles Clippers, Who Would be Devastated the Most by a 1st Round Upset?

Cee: I think the Clippers would be hurt the most by this. The Clippers owner Donald Sterling, as we all know, has been notoriously cheap with his money when it comes to spending on talent (among other things). In the past few years, due to the additions of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, he has opened his wallet up. This past offseason, they added to their bench, signed J.J. Reddick, & most importantly, gave free reign and power to Doc Rivers, and the head coach and VP of basketball operations. The last thing they want to do is follow up last season’s 1st round flameout (with 55 wins in the regular season) with the most wins in franchise history (57) and another first round flameout. It’s not going to mash the team up this offseason or anything to that affect, but with the Lakers down right now, this is the perfect time to go on a lengthy playoff run & really solidify themselves with the city of Los Angeles. If they go down in the 1st round yet again & the Lakers happen to reload this offseason, they would have wasted yet another opportunity and they’ll continue to be the little brothers of Staples Center and the City until they get over the hump.

Headley: Let’s drop Golden St. out of this competition because they are going to lose. And as sixth seed… you can’t be that devastated can you?!??! Yes they had higher hopes when the season began but between the assistant coach carousal and injuries, it is what it is. I don’t see the G-State bringing out the towels. It has to be between the two teams with home court advantage. I see the Clippers learning from their early exit from Memphis last year to not repeat that scenario…. but if it did happen, they would be demoralized. However, seeing that I have them in the finals, I see the probability of it happening to Houston. To recap, G-State shouldn’t be that upset. When an acne-faced girl doesn’t get asked to the prom, you’re disappointed but not surprised. With the Clippers just recording the best season in franchise history, they would take the loss the worse, but I think Houston has the best chance of being devastated with a matchup against Portland. Portland is playing well to end the season and ending with identical records. Momentum might be the difference with Portland getting the edge. And Portland seems fresher right now. I see Houston with the higher probability of being disappointed. After the exhausting experience of finally landing Howard and hosting a playoff series in years, they didn’t do all this positioning for the last three off seasons to lose in May.

Who Will Come Out the West?

Cee: Playoffs is as much about avoiding certain matchups than anything else. TNT’s Kenny Smith always claims that his Houston team won those back-to-back titles, but happily avoided the Seattle Sonic teams with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp along the way because that team without question had their number. They lost to them in the 1993 playoffs, avoided them when the Sonics were upset by both the Denver Nuggets in ’94 & the Lakers in ’95 in the 1st round. When they met them in the ’96 playoffs, the Sonics ran through them like bad taco meat. I feel like San Antonio feels the same way about Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Two years ago, they lost the last four games of a six-game series and it looked like the future in the West belonged to the Thunder. Then last season, Harden gets traded, Westbrook goes down with a knee injury in Round one, and OKC goes down to Memphis in Round two, leaving the door open for the Spurs to capitalize (which they did). With OKC fully healthy and going into the playoffs, they, more than the Spurs, are the favorite to get out of the West, unless Westbrook’s knee gives out again. The Durant/Westbrook combo has given the Spurs a lot of problems in the past, and the way Durant has improved from even last season will only be harder for the Spurs to deal with.  If OKC makes it to the conference Finals, they will go to the NBA Finals. If they don’t, it will be the Spurs that will go in their place.

Headley: The way San Antonio is playing, it’s hard to count them out. Although each year I expect them to bow out and they never do, like they on that HGH and keep turning the clock back. I, however, don’t see OKC being their foe in the finals. KD is money, but Westbrook doesn’t have any sense. With Perkins deteriorating like paper under a sunny window sill, and G-State, Houston, LAC, Memphis, and Portland all getting stronger in the paint…..I see the team to beat SA (yes beat) is the LA Clippers. Had they not lost their starting backcourt to a combined +60 games… they would probably have the best record in the NBA. Plus, I’m a fan of their mid-season pickups (Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Danny Granger), which will help them with any depth issues too.

Western Conference Playoff Predictions

Cal Cee

1st Round

1. Spurs over 8. Mavericks

5. Trailblazers over 4. Rockets

2. Thunder over 7. Memphis

3. Clippers over 6. Warriors

Western Semis

1. Spurs over 5. Trailblazers

2. Thunder over 3. Clippers

Conference Finals

2. Thunder over 1. San Antonio


1st Round

1. Spurs over 8. Mavericks

5. Trailblazers over 4. Rockets

2. Thunder over 7. Grizzlies

3. Clippers over 6. Warriors

Western Semis

3. Clippers over 2. Thunder

1. Spurs over 5. Trailblazers

Conference Finals

3. Clippers over Spurs


Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

Follow me on Twitter or email me at

Special thanks to Headley Bent for contributing to this article/posting.

South Shore Ave’s NBA Playoff Preview: The East

Welcome to South Shore Ave’s NBA Playoff Preview #SaturdayMorningSpecial. With the help of my friend Headley Bent, we provide you a quick and efficient breakdown of the Eastern Conference Playoffs to get your morning started before we get to the first set of today’s playoff games. So get your popcorn coffee ready, we got you covered….

Will Indiana Recover From Their Slump Enough to Make Out of the East?

Headley: The short answer is No. While the thinking is Miami will end their journey in the conference finals… I beg to differ. Pacers better not count their eggs before they hatch. I don’t see them having many problems with the depleted Atlanta Hawks, but then it gets interesting in the second round when they take on the most likely foe in the Chicago Bulls. Without Rose, this team is more blue-collar than the Pacers. They’re ending the season hot with a winning road record. And with potential DPOY in Noah playing his best ball (although undersized)… he ain’t shying away from Hibbert. And who would right now? He is playing like straight garbage. The Bulls have great defense like their counterpart, and has bench scoring in Augustine and Gibson that Indiana can’t match. Remember what Chicago did to Brooklyn last year?

Cee: Nope. I’m not sure about anyone else, but from the beginning of the season, I thought it was a little weird the way Indiana approached the year gunning with all their might to get the #1 seed in the East. As if this is the only way to beat a team like Miami. If you plan on winning an NBA title, you’re going to have win games on the road. Miami two years ago won the NBA Title giving up homecourt advantage to Oklahoma City. The year before, Dallas won the NBA Title on Miami’s floor. It’s important to get homecourt, but it’s not the end of the world. It makes it worse that the early season success they had went to their heads faster than gulping down a .40 ounce bottle of Ole English on an empty stomach.

A couple of months ago, I stated that the Pacers were retracing the arch of those early 90s Knicks teams. But those Knicks teams had more of a killer instinct and would not have faltered like this. They would have fought everyone first before they let themselves go into a funk like this. Can you imagine Pat Riley benching Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, John Starks, Doc Rivers, and Charles Smith vs. these Milwaukee Bucks to save their confidence from totally shattering to pieces had they lost against Brandon Knight & ’em? Gimme a break. It turns out that they did get that #1 seed after all, but the way they got it can’t be celebrated. It’s like celebrating a home run after only getting a double. The job’s only halfway done, & seeing that they go through scoring lapses & droughts at times, I don’t see them getting past third. Especially not past a healthy Miami team reaching for history.

Would It Have Been Better if UConn or Kentucky Got the #8 Seed in the East?

Headley: The short answer is Yes. The Hawks should lose in 4. I might as well see the best in college lose in 4 to see how they man up against NBA talent. That game would surely have better ratings. But in all honesty, they need to do a cross-conference playoff swap. For one spot only… if the best team in the conference to miss a playoff spot is eliminated and they posted a win-loss record that’s better than the other conference’s best team in the same scenario by 10 games or more… they get in. FYI: Suns had 48 wins while ATL had 38.

Cee:It might have. Better yet, if you combined the top 6 players from both programs (think Julius Randle, James Young, Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, & DeAndre Daniels as the starting five), I definitely think it would have a better shot vs the Pacers than the Hawks would. I know for a fact that Kentucky Huskies would have appreciated being there waaaaaaaaaaay more (Napier would have been shit happy with the road Per Diem alone). Look, Atlanta’s probably the only playoff team in the NBA that’s not happy to be there. What do you think they would rather: the 8th or 9th pick in the lottery or locking down the 15th pick, AND the right to lose in five games to Indy where they average about 13,000 fans in their 2 playoff home games? Hmmm, you tell me. I mean, Hawks GM Danny Ferry, basically told us he doesn’t care about the playoff spot. You’re telling me the UK Huskies couldn’t get a trial run at this??? Also, NO! I don’t want to see the Knicks in that spot either. After what we just saw for 82 games, they have no business being there. I don’t care how good Carmelo played this season.

We can’t understate just how utterly shitty the East has been this regular season. Indiana fell into a 2 1/2 month swoon & Miami went 11-14 in their last 25 games, yet not only did both teams finish head & shoulders about the rest of the teams in the conference, but they were the only teams in the East to win 50 games or more. New York (a team who won 54 games last season) & Cleveland (a team whose owner said after winning last year’s lottery “This is our last year in the lottery”) both underachieved to alarming degrees. Detroit who spent almost $80M in salary to upgrade their team with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings didn’t even win 30 games. Philadelphia at one point lost 26 straight games this season, & still finished 4 games behind Milwaukee in the standings. Outside of Miami and Indiana, none of the other playoff teams really move the needle in terms of interest. If it wasn’t for the Raptors, I would actually boycott all the series in the East until the Conference Finals.

What Player Can Make Himself a Star in the Eastern Conference Playoffs?

Headley: Players like John Wall and Al Jefferson have a chance to show they’re worth their hefty contracts, but I don’t see them getting past the first round. I’m biased, but I believe DeMar Derozan and/or Kyle Lowry finally have a chance to showcase their stuff on national TV for a couple series and see why the Raptors just posted the best record in franchise history. With a solid post season… they can become solidified in Raptor history and earn the notoriety that they simply don’t get playing north of the border. And for Lowry… a solid post season may finally put to rest doubts of him signing the contract he wants.

Sidenote: I had to add this at the eleventh hour when I found out our matchup is against Brooklyn and not Washington. I’m scared of the Brooklyn Nets. They finally ended the season how people expected them to enter it. A team with that much talent and post season experience… you cannot take them lightly. They won’t wilt under the lights so you better not leave the door open or they will capitalize. And Toronto is green to post season experience so while I am taking Lowry and DeRozen, as having a breakout post season. I pick them slightly over Wall and Jefferson seeing they have home court advantage, but I am not overly confident. Plus I don’t want a-hole friends like Marco texting me.

Cee: I’d like to pick someone who will possibly get out of the first round, so that immediately eliminates Al Jefferson (who I predict will still dominate the Heat in Round One) and John Wall (1st time playoff participant vs. THAT Bulls D? No thanks.) from contention. By default, it will be the Raptors duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. I know people are counting them out against the Brooklyn Nets, and teams are trying to line up to get into their bracket, but there was a reason why they got the #3 seed. Since trading Rudy Gay, they have been one of the best teams in the NBA, & they play hard on both ends of the floor, but it starts with Lowry & DeRozan. Although DeRozan was the All Star on the team, Lowry was the heart & soul of the Raptors & the team has taken on his personality more than anyone else. I can see him having a big series vs. the Nets, hitting big shots & making big plays. It won’t be on a level like Steph Curry put on in last year’s playoffs, but it’ll be more than noticeable.

Who is Coming Out of the East? 

Cee: After watching how Indiana’s imploded the last few months, I don’t even care if they have homecourt advantage through the Eastern Conference Playoffs, their confidence has shown its cracks. They’ll get past Atlanta relatively easy, then will get past Chicago after a bruising series, and will run out out gas playing the Heat. For the Pacers to get to the Finals, they need Paul George to perform like that MVP candidate that he showed earlier in the year. More importantly, they need him on offense, to match LeBron’s skillset when they meet up. As much talent as he has, I think he’s another year away to possibly reach that LBJ/KD level. Between that & my expectation that Lance Stephenson will do something stupid at the worst possible time, Miami will be heading to their 4th straight finals.

Headley: Miami has made the finals three years consecutively, why would I think anything differently?!?!? If you asked me around the all-star break, it would involve a lot more pondering. However, the way the Pacers has faltered the last third of the season, and the fact I have the Bulls upsetting the Pacers in the conference semi-finals, this decision is easy as pie. I wish I could be more insightful but there really isn’t much to say about the inevitable.

Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions


1st Round 

1. Pacers over 8. Hawks

4. Bulls over 5. Wizards

2. Heat over 7. Bobcats

3. Raptors over 6. Nets

Eastern Semis

4. Bulls over 1. Pacers

2. Heat over 3. Raptors

Conference Finals

2. Heat over 4. Bulls

Cal Cee

1st Round

1. Pacers over 8. Hawks

4. Bulls over 5. Wizards

2. Heat over 7. Bobcats

3. Raptors over 6. Nets

Eastern Semis

1. Pacers over 4. Bulls

2. Heat over 3. Raps

Conference Finals

2. Heat over 1. Pacers


Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

Follow me on Twitter or email me at

Special thanks to Headley Bent for contributing to this article/posting.

Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of Nas’ Illmatic

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest Times in Hip Hop history. On April 19, 1994, an up and coming 20 year old rapper named Nasir Jones released his debut album Illmatic, which would go onto become one of the top five greatest albums in hip hop. As we celebrate the album rerelease of Illmatic today (not to mention the release of the Time Is Illmatic documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival tomorrow), we will review the direction it took hip hop, the impact it had on its genre’s history, list the Top 5 tracks, and the most overlooked song on the groundbreaking album. It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine….

Illmatic launched the super producer era.

Before this album started, most of the big named rappers (either solo or group) had an in-house producer that handled most, if not all of the production. DJ Premier handled all of the Gang Starr beats. Pete Rock manned the board while CL Smooth mostly handled the mic. Both NWA and Death Row was handled by Dr. Dre. Public Enemy was handled by their in-house production team The Bomb Squad. Tribe was handled mostly by Q-Tip, RZA handled all things Wu-Tang, Black Moon had The Beatminerz, the list goes on and on. On Illmatic, the game was changed in that regard. It was the first album that had multiple big named producers contributing to the work. Not only that, but with regards to Primo, Q-Tip & Pete Rock, these guys were at the very top of the producer game in hip hop. It also set off a friendly competitive environment with all the producers. No one wanted to be the one that put out the subpar beat on what was supposed to be the coming of the next Rakim at the time. As much as they all supported each other’s work & sat in on each other’s studio sessions, it also kept them on their toes to deliver their best. Primo even stated that after sitting in on the session and listening to Pete Rock create “The World is Yours” and also listening to Q-Tip do the beat for “One Love” , he was so blown away he felt he had to go back to the studio to come up with something on the same level of what he had just heard. He ended up remaking the beat for “Represent.

Just think of how hot those producers were at the time the LP was created. Q-Tip was fresh off of making the Midnight Marauders classic album with Tribe Called Quest. DJ Premier was working on Gang Starr’s Hard to Earn LP just after the success of the Daily Operation LP and the ’92 summer smash Dwyck. Pete Rock came off of Mecca and The Soul Brother success, just helped Run DMC become relevant again with Down With The Kingand gave the world the House of Pain’s Jump Aroundremix a few months prior. All three of these guys basically were having MVP seasons & all of them (including Large Professor & L.E.S.) felt compelled to give the then 20-year old some of the very best work they had to offer. Within a few years, having the hottest producers on your album (if you were a big name & could afford it) became the norm to make your album. If you had the major buzz coming before your debut album came out, it was almost a prerequisite. The In-House producer didn’t become extinct necessarily, but it definitely took a huge backseat to the new method of creating an album. Illmatic was the original blueprint. 

Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park) is the most underrated record on Illmatic.

“Pumping for something, some’ll prosper, some will fail/Judges hanging ni**as, uncorrect bails for direct sales/My intellect prevails from a hanging cross with nails/I reinforce the frail with lyrics that’s real”

Not only is this track underrated, after listening to the lyrics yet again, this song may be the true soul of the album. Nas takes us back on a journey to his youth & touched down on everything from: his boy getting robbed for his sheepskin coat; to the friends whose lives have been lost; to the justice system that is designed to take down him & other black people, to the legendary drug dealers that ran New York City in the late 80s. More importantly, it also may arguably be the most lyrically dense song on Illmatic, which is saying a whole lot considering this is one of, if not the most lyrical hip hop debuts that ever existed. The belief in his rhymes is that he is the Verbal Massiah, here to uplift his listeners, inspire them, and give them a glimpse into the future of what the new standard of lyricism will be.

However, the song shines even more with the production of DJ Premier, and by flipping an old Reuben Wilson song into a laid back, underrated classic. The song brings out a 70’s nostalgic kind of vibe that marries Nas’ lyrics to the beat. As incredible as Primo was as the producer of all the Gang Starr classics (i.e. Code of the Streets), it was his work here & the other tracks (“N.Y. State of Mind”, “Represent”) from Illmatic that helped thrust him further into superstardom. Post-Illmatic, if you wanted your album to be hot, you had to get a Primo beat to make it official. In addition, to top it off, Primo provided his legendary cuts & scratches to the “Coming Outta Queensbridge” sample at the ending of the song, basically killing anything else left on the track that Nas didn’t already destroy in the first 3+ minutes. Trust me, the more you listen to the record, the more you realize this song doesn’t get its just due. 

The Top 5 songs on Illmatic. In order.

Just remember, this is my list and my opinion. If you feel differently by all means, feel free to share. Who doesn’t want to have heated discussions about Illmatic? You can probably flip these 5 songs about 100 different ways in terms of ranking, but however, let’s review the list.

Just know this was hard to rank. HARD. 

5. One Love (produced by Q-Tip)

“On the reals/All these crab ni**as know the deals/when we start the revolution all they probably do is squeal/But chill…”

“So I come back home, nobody’s out but Shorty Doo-Wop/rolling two Phillies together in the bridge we call ’em oo-wops”

Probably the best “jail letter to my homie(s)” record ever recorded. Many artists have tried to follow in his footsteps of keeping connected with his friends in jail as years gone past, but nothing touches “One Love”. Q-Tip blesses Nas with the Xylophone’d out track that almost making you feel like Roy Ayers was sitting by your speakers. How he makes that instrument work in hip hop like that I’ll never know.

One part I have to bring up: forget the part about him providing updates on the hood, or him trying to provide advice to twelve year old Shorty Doo-Wop rolling up blunts (maybe he should have, you know, taken the blunts out of “Doo-Wop’s” hands instead seeing that he may have been a senior in elementary school??), but couldn’t they use a better girl as his boy’s baby mother in the video? She has a faint moustache! I know this was 1994 & everything, maybe the budget wasn’t huge, but video chicks came from this era of hip hop. There’s no excuse for this just like there’s no excuse for a uni-browed chick to get a close up head shot. Even back then, it always confused me when I saw that part. Of course shorty don’t care, she’s got excessive facial hair & she still has dudes trying to get with her. Why would she care?

4. Life’s A Bitch (produced by L.E.S.)

“Visualizing the realism of life in actuality/F*** who’s the baddest, the person’s status depends on salary”

“Life’s a bitch and then you die/That’s why we get high/Cause you never know when you gonna go”

– AZ

Think of how sick AZ’s presence was on this song. Firstly, he was the only guest artist on the whole album outside of Nas’ boys conversing at the beginning of “One Love” & chanting the song title on “Represent”. Secondly, his debut verse & hook was so hot that he started a major bidding war between record labels, eventually signing to EMI Records later on that year. A year later, he dropped the classic Sugar Hill track off of his debut album Doe or Die (which had a lot of gems on it) & helped to spin off his rap career. All of this came from his verse and the hook alone. That was the power of this album. If you produced something hot or in this case, spit something hot, you were gonna become a star if you weren’t one already. It’s amazing how album sales for Illmatic were slow coming out the gate even though it was revered at the time.

It’s even debatable that he even outdid Nas on his own track, though if you listen to Nas’ verse I’m still not so sure. Either way, Life’s A Bitch was the song that formed future collabos and The Firm album from the duo. Nas’ pops Olu Dara comes in with the smooth sounding horns at the end of record & adds a classy touch. Here’s an interesting fact: Nas originally wanted to sample Mtume’s Juicy Fruit, but L.E.S. didn’t have the record. So he ended up sampling The Gap Band’s Yearning For Your Love instead. Imagine that, he would have beaten Biggie to the punch had he come out with that first, mostly likely forcing Biggie to use another sample to make “Juicy”. Actually, no……I don’t wanna imagine that.

3. It Ain’t Hard to Tell (produced by Large Professor)

“Deep like The Shining/Sparkle like a diamond/Sneak an Uzi on the island in my army jacket lining”

Nah, nah, nah. Rewind that back…

“Deep like The Shining/Sparkle like a diamond/Sneak an Uzi on the island in my army jacket lining”

Oh my Gawd!! The first time my friends and I heard this line, our brains exploded. Back then, it was like going from Sega Genesis to a PS4 overnight without gradual process. Lyrically it was unlike anything we had ever heard. When we saw the video, it was simple, but still cool enough that it affected us to the point that we believed in all things Nas. If they sold Nas socks, Nas baseball caps, Nas jackets, Nas hoodies, Nas Fun Dip, Nas water bottles, Nas .40 ounces, Nas poutine (I am from Montreal, so…), whatever it was, we would have literally cleared the shelves of it. We were sold like that. Throw in Michael Jackson’s Human Nature sample which SWV also previously sampled to make a huge hit in the summer of ’93, some of the other gems and flows that he dropped on this song (Nas will analyze/Drop a jewel/Inhale from the L/school a fool well/you feel it like Braille….), & giving us the term “half-man/half amazing” and it was over. O-V-E-R.

It’s strikingly amazing that this song is only ranked third on my list. It could have ranked higher but, well, there are two reasons why….

2. The World is Yours (produced by Pete Rock)

“I sip the Dom P watching Ghandi ’til I’m charged/Then writing in my book of rhymes, all the words past the margin”

In my opinion, it’s not only my favorite song off Illmatic, but it’s my favorite Nas song ever. More than “Street Dreams”, “Nas is Like”, “2nd Childhood”, “The Message” and, “One on One” & every other classic he ever put out. I’m an absolute sucker for piano loops, so that piano intro right at the beginning caught my attention. Pete Rock comes in to sing the question “Who’s world is this?”, Nas drops the lyrical gems. It’s not a complicated track, but the flow and the production is incredible. Quite frankly, it’s one of Pete Rock’s greatest beats. The mellow landscape allows Nas to paint the vivid picture of his life & how he views his surroundings. The video then captures the laid-back & mellow vibe but intersects shots that matches the lyrics.

Does it also help that the song is about 30% better because the song title is lifted from the silver Globe in the indoor water fountain/pool that Tony Montana had in his living room, before he fell in it by way of the shotgun blast to his back? Hell yes!!

More than that, similar to like Memory Lane, this song hits you right across the chest in a soulful, nostalgic way. You can just close your eyes, and you’re transported to your teenage days (in my case, back to 1994) trying to navigate through the pitfalls and obstacles that come in front of you. Funny thing is, even when that song was released, the song made me feel nostalgic too. No, it doesn’t mean that I closed my eyes & I was playing with Legos in front of the TV waiting for Transformers to come on. It just means that it had an old familiar vibe to it, that made it forever timeless. To this day, it remains the flawless diamond above the rest of gems on this album. I won’t even get into the remix for this track, which was almost as sweet as this original.

However, there was another song that was more significant….

1. N.Y. State of Mind (produced by DJ Premier)

“The smooth criminal on beat breaks/never put me in your box if the shit eats tapes…eats tapes…”

“It drops deep as it does in my breath/I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death”

When you peeled the plastic off your CD or cassette and stuck it into your stereo or Walkman, right away Nas snatched you up with this opening track. And to think, he didn’t even know how to start the song off.

As the legend goes, when he stepped into the booth to rap, he was confused as to how to start the track. The beat threw him off a bit. He even stared off with some ad-libs,

“Straight out the fu**ing dungeons of rap/where fake niggas don’t make it back…”

& then literally says a few seconds later,

“I don’t know how to start this shit…”

As he looked up from his notepad, DJ Premier was literally waving at him already counting down for him to catch the beat. 4, 3, 2, 1….

& then in one take, Nas sheds the nerves & rips through the first verse like a veteran, stunning everyone in the studio. After he finished, he stepped out of the booth & asked in all seriousness, “Did that sound cool?” The entire studio erupted, completely freaking out over what he spit.

That moment & the song set the bar high for the rest of the album as a listener. If this was the first song, what the hell was the rest of the album gonna be and sound like??? Even though “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” was already released & was blowing up on radio everywhere, we were still waiting to hear the finished product. The beat by Primo was so eerie & menacing on top of everything else, it just took it to another place. This song was never released on the single, as the other ones mentioned in the top 5. With that said, it remains the most important song on Illmatic without question.

The Illmatic album cover represents the official Declaration for Hip Hop Greatness.

Along with Tribe’s Midnight Marauders album cover, Illmatic is in the category of the “most classic & original” album covers ever. Unlike Marauders, the Illmatic cover has been replicated repeatedly. This was the first cover that didn’t feature someone posing hardcore or otherwise on the cover, or have some kind of artwork done, or the artist/group’s logo sprawled on the front cover. Instead, it has Nas’ face as a kid blended in with the Queensbridge project buildings in the background. Nobody at the time knew what to make of it, until we started hearing tracks spew from the album. As time went along, it started being viewed as one of the greatest albums ever made in the genre (even though it did not reach gold status in the first year). Others started following the Illmatic artwork, starting with the Notorious B.I.G. on his debut album Ready to Die. While Biggie’s album became a certified classic & worldwide smash, some knocked him for copying Nas’ album cover, including Raekwon and Ghostface Killah who called him out subliminally on the infamous “Shark Ni**as” interlude off the legendary Only Built For Cuban Linx LP.

Whenever viewing the album cover, it’s automatically equated to “ultimate greatness”. Don’t think our favorite rappers don’t feel the same way. Starting from Common, to Lil Wayne, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and more, they have all used a variation of this blueprint. Personally, I feel it’s a way to not just pay homage, but a statement to the masses that, “this is my greatest work, I’m reaching for elite/iconic status right here”. It’s no coincidence that those albums in particular were either good if not straddling the greatness line. It’s the “Baby Picture Theory” I call it. You put a baby pic or pre-teen pic of yourself on your album cover in hip hop, and it better be damn good…..because you know what it’s gonna be compared to.

Sidebar/Wild angled question: Can you imagine if after all this time, Nas really stole this idea for his album cover from Nirvana? It may sound crazy, but that “Nevermind” album they had back in ’91 was HUUUUGE & I’m not even a rock guy. PLUS that album had “Smells Like Teen Spirit” & I don’t know Nas personally, but he had to have loved that song. Who the f*** didn’t like that song??? Tell me you didn’t love that song. I f***ing dare you!

Illmatic is the greatest East Coast album ever.

With deep apologies to Jay-Z, Biggie, Tribe, Wu, Redman, Boot Camp Click, Eric B & Rakim, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Mos Def, The Roots, Talib Kweli, 50 Cent, Mase Puff Daddy DMX & every other hip hop classic album I’m forgetting from the East Coast, none of those albums are deified quite like Illmatic. They just aren’t. For most rappers, they all strive to have Jay-Z’s success and/or be revered like 2Pac and/or Biggie. Everyone is forever trying to retrace their footsteps of success, but every rapper strives to make an album that is on the level of Illmatic. In their own way, rappers have followed in Nas’ path. From using their album cover as a spinoff of Illmatic or having a short tracklist (i.e. at least two of Kanye West and Common’s albums have a limited playlist), or even trying to be lyrical & heartfelt (i.e. J Cole), everyone’s used this album as a barometer to strive for greatness.

The formula was so tremendously successful, it’s a wonder why Nas himself hasn’t followed suit. He’s delivered many great albums since this Illmatic (including 2012’s “Life is Good) as well as collaboration projects like The Firm & Distant Relatives. They have all been good if not great, but none of them have quite matched up like his first album. It shows you how hard it is sometimes to replicate greatness, & it has nothing to do with Nas’ skills as a rapper/lyricist. One of the biggest complaints for Nas is the production selections in the past doesn’t match his talents. Doesn’t matter how good his albums are, there always seems to be a few beats that seems like they don’t belong there. Every time I purchase (yes, I said purchase) a Nas LP, a part of me keeps expecting a flawless LP, where his skills & the beats are one & the same.

I’ve heard rumors that he is thinking about making Illmatic 2. Normally I would cringe to hear these album sequel projects. Only this time, because of the stature of the original, Nas would literally have the ear of every major producer in hip hop about wanting to get on the project with him. It would be a producer’s dream. Until that day becomes a reality however, we’ll have to continue to honor the original. An album that was ahead of its time, but yet the future is still trying to catch up to it. #IllMatic #20Years

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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