The 11th Illmatic Track
Miles Davis weaved in and out of clearly defined styles throughout his storied career. Likewise, several unique periods of creative success preserve Picasso's legacy. Now maybe you don't put Illmatic up there with Kind of Blue or The Old Guitarist, but just as those achievements were indicative of artistic stages that would eventually give way to pursuits in other artistic directions, for many, the move from Nasty Nas to Nas Escobar was no minor event.
Perhaps more than any other rapper, Nas has traveled through multiple distinct and definable personal and musical stages. There's overlapping and certain similarities throughout, but major content and stylistic changes are evident. Nasty Nas was the pavement-perched poet with a stoop sensibility and dreams of being a gangster. Escobar was the realization of those dreams, a glitzy griot with a Fortune 500 flair. The I Am-period proved the hubris-driven backlash against critics who "dared" to question Nas' changing intonations, while Nastradamus was all balance thrown off, a schitzo dilemma arising, where identity was momentarily lost amongst gimmicks and complacency. Stillmatic then ushered in a simpler "Nas", with a clearer focus, but ultimately frustrated by what he wanted (everyone's praise), what he expected (everyone's hate), and what he ended up with (enemies). And if Stillmatic, Ether, and notoriously the Power 105 rant were Nas screaming at the world "fuck you, love me", then God's Son was his voice gone hoarse, left melancholy, equally fueled and distracted by grief. Finally, most recently, Street's Disciple read like the emergence of Nasir Jones, the thirty-something man, and the relative downplaying of the rapper side.
Now this is all mundane Beginner's Psychology talk to introduce One On One, or, what is for many, that last breath before Escobar came in, Nasty Nas exited stage left, and the Rotten Apple went from gutter-minded to Manhattan-bound. It's as close to an 11th Illmatic track as has ever been put out and, curiously enough, came to be thanks to Ryu, Chun-Li, and 'em. As part of the Hip-Hop-studded Street Fighter soundtrack and released during that magical year of 1994, One on One also saw Nas injecting a bit of the lighter side into his lyrics: "I brawl with Blanka, caught Bison in a thinker."
All in all, if you want to commemorate a moment before gloss replaced grit, before NY State of Mind went international, when the young city bandit still dedicated scrolls to rolling papers and wrote scenes on street corners, as vocabulary cut through the violence and the 'hood was dissected by its strongest voice, observed with its keenest eye, and phrased in its most poetic truth, One On One is that moment. (And pretend like you don't hear the new jack crooning--it's better that way.)
In the Rotten Apple, take a bite, taste the wormNas: One on One
Embrace the world of reality we're faced to learn:
Coke connects and drug busts, graveyards where thugs rest
I keep my mug blessed, the evil is illegal substance sold