I’ve decided as a tribute to one of the most, if not thee most, influential albums in the history of hip-hop on it’s 20th anniversary, I would share what I think are the 20 best lines throughout the whole album.
20.) “Life is parallel to Hell but I must maintain.” (N.Y. State of Mind)
Why: Haven’t we all felt like life is hell at times? Simple, short, easy line to relate to, but also gives an idea of the difficult environment in which Nas is in.
19.) “Straight out the fuckin’ dungeons of rap, where fake niggas don’t make it back.” (N.Y. State of Mind)
Why: Are there any intros better than this opening line? Few if any.
18.) “Born alone, die alone, no crew to keep my crown or throne.” (The World is Yours.)
Why: The environment Nas lives in doesn’t allow him to have a son to pass his growing legacy onto if his life were to suddenly end, just a real line.
17.) “Back in ’83 I was an MC sparkin’/ But I was too scared to grab the mics in the parks.” (Halftime)
Why: Nas transforms from a 10 year old too afraid to spit his bars to dropping a classic album as his debut
16.) “I rap for listeners, bluntheads, fly ladies and prisoners/Hennessey holders and old-school niggas.” (Memory Lane)
Why: This is the audience Nas thinks he’ll be able to reach, but with a solid debut his fan base has grown to include rap fans everywhere.
15.) “Pumping for something, some’ll prosper, some fail/judges hanging niggas, incorrect bails for direct sales/ my intellect prevails from a hanging cross with nails.” (Memory Lane)
Why: A testament to how African-Americans are treated and trialed unfairly in drug-related crimes.
14.) “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” (Life’s a Bitch)
Why: Because life’s a bitch.
13.) “Wilding on the island, but now I’m Elmira/ Better chill cause them niggas will put that ass on fire, last time you wrote you said they tried you in the showers.” (One Love)
Why: Nas’ friend in jail has been moved to a maximum security prison [Elmira Correctional Facility.] Nas warns him not to try anything, as his fellow inmates might put him through some sexual actions he wouldn’t like. Yikes.
12.) “Nas is like the Afrocentric Asian, half-man, half-amazing.” (It Ain’t Hard to Tell)
Why: In 5 percenter ideology, which is referenced in Life’s a Bitch, the idea of god is rejected and instead replaced with the idea that the black man is part of god, so Nas, being black, is half-man and half-god.
11.) “I drink Moet with Medusa, give her shotguns in hell/ From the spiff that I lift and inhale, it ain’t hard to tell.”(It Ain’t Hard to Tell)
Why: To shotgun is to inhale from a pipe, Medusa in Greek culture turns men to stone, but Nas gets her stoned, cause he’s the man.
10.) “Begin like a violin, end like Leviathan, it’s deep, well let me try again.” (It Ain’t Hard to Tell)
Why: Nas’ skills are smooth like a violin and yet destructive like Leviathan, a biblical sea monster that spits flames and scares away challengers, much like a MC would want to.
9.) “Somehow the rap game reminds me of the crack game.” (Represent)
Why: Great metaphor that’s still recycled by rappers today.
8.) “I can’t call it, the beats make me falling asleep/ I keep falling, but never falling six feet deep.” (The World Is Yours)
Why: Nas never puts himself in enough danger to be six feet under, the common depth of buried corpses.
7.) “Dwelling in the Rotten Apple, you get tackled/ or caught in the devil’s lasso, shit is a hassle.” (The World Is Yours)
Why: Play on the Big Apple that New York is commonly referred to, and that you’re bound to be in police trouble as an African-American in inner-city New York.
6.) “Hand me a nine and I’ll defeat foes/fours.” (N.Y State of Mind)
Why: With a N.Y. accent, foes and fours are close sounding. Nas is saying with his nine he’ll defeat his foes, and the. 44 caliber handguns they carry.
5.) “You couldn’t catch me in the streets without a ton of reefer, that’s like Malcolm X catching the Jungle Fever. – (Halftime)
Why: The use of drugs to make money and escape reality, plus a metaphor comparing that the chances of Nas not having his reefer are slimer than those that Malcolm X would have catching Jungle Fever, meaning being in an interracial relationship. [Jungle Fever was a 1991 movie about interracial relationships.]
4.) “Time is Illmatic, keep static like wool fabric, pack a 4-matic to crack your whole cabbage.” (Life’s a Bitch)
Why: Really solid line technically, to “keep static” is to keep friction/beef with his foes, which his 4-matic will crack their whole cabbage, cabbage being a reference to the head.
3.) “I switched my motto; instead of saying ‘fuck tomorrow,’ the buck that bought the bottle could’ve struck the lotto.” (Life’s a Bitch)
Why: Maturation of Nas, life lessons taught him to avoid wasting money on immediate pleasures and invest/save his money.
2.) “I’m out for dead presidents to represent me.” (The World is Yours.)
Why: Nas has given up hope on the presidents helping out those who need it in the ghetto, and has turned to be represent by the money [dead presidents/dollar bills] that he makes rather than the government.
1.) “It drops deep as it does in my breath/I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death/Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined/I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind.” (N.Y. State Of Mind)
Why: ‘I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death’ is one of the most recycled lines ever, and gets reused to this day. It also perfectly illustrates Naps’ lifestyle growing up in New York, any loss of focus could cost him is life in his violent environment. He can’t ‘be caught sleeping.’ Also interesting, with this being his debut album, Nas would be hungry for success, relentless in it’s pursuit, sleepless.
Feel free to comment your opinions!