I Never Sleep, Cause Sleep is The Cousin of Death: illmatic — 25 Years Later.

Kevin Montes
4 min readApr 19, 2019


Nas’ way with words is unworldly and was a definitive refreshing breathe of air for the time. At 25 years, illmatic is a classic that is perfectly made for those with a boombox and tape cassette and are ready to create havoc in the city as they smoke blunts in the process.

As a child traveling throughout the boroughs of the city, the music adhered to what the cousins would play and Joann always laid down the genius of Nas. No matter where we rolled, the constant of it all gave way to a bigger appreciation to the culture. There was a past unknown to the blind eye and that past was hidden in the many factions or neighborhoods that we never hear about much.

And it’s crazy because just yesterday the tape deck was closed and as the cigarette lingered, “N.Y. State of Mind” began to play in the crisp summer weather in the middle of spring. The smell of New York City’s grit and smog emboldened the poetic raps Nas used to create a story of the life around and beyond Manhattan. It seemed as if the images Woody Allen and other New York legends painted wasn’t the true representation of the whole pie.

illmatic did deliver one constant thought. As much as something will give, it will always take away in equal or greater value.

That was true for New York City.

It is seen as place of opportunity for the artistically gifted and the business savvy, but one must due their best due diligence to make it worth living there. Any asinine can fuck up, eventually leading into a rabbit hole of full-assed steps that end up nowhere. You want to believe the city is the best place to be, but you’re going to look back at your life. If your parents are affluent enough to drop dough on your waiter/waitress ass as you pursue an artistic career or an expensive school for business, then consider yourself lucky. There are some of us that understand the struggle and Nas had a track to make us believe in ourselves harder than those rich hipsters.

“The World is Yours,” brings out the situational approaches the city will attack you with and the idea that one must flip their script and jump the hurdle. It inspires the world to take the world in the palm of your hand and grasp it hard.

“Dwelling in the rotten apple, you get tackled / Or caught by the devil’s lasso, shit is a hassle.”

The track carries irony in his words. His verses are riddled with his struggle and the visions that may come from others visualizing his words as something different. Showing possible implications of what could happen with his kids in the future, amongst other thoughts. The hook, on the other hand, shows that you can just say fuck it and take the world and make it yours. Don’t let your current implications take you away from your goals and make yourself a force to be reckoned with.

Nas’ keen eye on the situation reflected on how braggadocios he made us perceive him even though the intention wasn’t what some hip-hop fans are used to. It was evident in his first single, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” produced by Large Professor.

“I rap for listeners, bluntheads, fly ladies, and prisoners
Hennessy-holders and old-school niggas.”

For all of us who went through rough, humble, or great times, Nas made music for the masses. illmatic included the likes of Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and DJ Premier. All were already established and touted acts in the hip-hop community.

The braggadocios nature of Nas was refreshing due to the complexity of his flow and lyricism, encapsulating many layers like on the jazzy, “Halftime.”

As a student of the concrete jungle, it wasn’t a wife that remained faithful. It was a mistress that didn’t care about your outcome, it wanted to make sure that she got hers. It was such that you could see how it parlayed the views we saw today. It was aforementioned that we weren’t shown and exposed to the two sides of the street life that a lot people endured. From Marcy Ave in Brooklyn to low income housing in Queens, you mostly saw the despair and fright that came from the news of how it was, but not how it affected the people who lived there.

It was as if they were trying to shield the world. To put it loosely, it took away our views in the form of the freedom of speech. We mostly wanted positive news, but that is hardly ever the case. There was an abundance of gang violence and a rising drug epidemic that caused Rudy Giuliani to put his foot down on the system.

Nas was poetic in his approach and never shelled away from the linguistics he grew up with. He was a tremendous force with his depictions. He could come in smooth or destructive.

“I’ll leave your brain stimulated, niggas is frozen
Speak with criminal slang, begin like a violin
End like Leviathan.”

He helped redefine New York City and gave the world a phenomenal debut. illmatic is written with eloquence and profound beauty, that albeit harsh themes of the reality that is drug abuse and gang violence, his overall scope brought about the next wave of hip-hop in the east. So as you finish this, take a glass and fill it with two to three cubes of ice, some Hennessey and a cigar and kick back to some Nasty Nas.