Nas Is Still Ill, 20 Years Later

Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan, Oct. 17

© Al Powers,

Photo by Al Powers

If you ever wondered about the power of Nas’ debut masterpiece Illmatic two decades after he kicked the doors down, all you had to do was hear the crowd roar back through “N.Y. State of Mind’s” ominous creep because sleep is the cousin of death. Crowd-performer-lyrical synergy doesn’t get much better than that, and Nas reminded everyone in attendance why Illmatic is still considered one of the best hip-hop albums ever (even if he cut “Life’s a Bitch” way too short). He delivered his masterpiece with a mix of laser-precise nostalgia and Hennessy product placement, but at only 40 minutes, there was about a half hour left for Esco to fill. Which is where attention wandered. He banged through large swaths of the rest of his catalog mostly in twitchy medleys: “Hip Hop Is Dead,” “Street Dreams,” “I Can,” “Hate Me Now” and an extended take on “Made You Look.” A little jumbled, a little rushed, it reminded you that as good as Nas has been through his career, he burned the brightest right from the rip. ★★★✩✩

Photos by Al Powers

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