Time Is Illmatic PT II
Memory Lane's beat alone makes sense of its title. Immediately the instrumental strikes with a note of the sentimental, as the Premier loop of "ooh ooh ooh" channels a slow afternoon spent reminiscing on some forgotten park bench. (This is contrasted by the more festive remix also done by Primo.) But what exactly is Nas reminiscing about? "Park jams, my man was shot for his sheep coat." While memories may often deal with the nostalgic and rosy-colored, by relating his own with the death of a friend, Nas takes a darker turn. This underscores the idea that themes of desperation ultimately propel Illmatic into a different lyrical realm. Here you have the satisfaction of the technical attributes of the album, polysyllabic rhymes and verbal imagery, but the manner in which they are applied, to what end, is essential. The double rhymes convey the "trife life", a world of "hype vice" and "knife fights", while the picture painted is of that deceased homie lingering in cold air, "[I] see him drop in my weed smoke." It's as if the block has been weaponized and Nas a witness who can't shake the scene from his head.
However, perhaps the most telling line from Memory Lane finds Nas confessing, "a nickel-plate is my fate, my medicine is the ganja." This is a world where his man's memory serves as a prophecy of his own death, where he too will one day become just a feeling hanging on in the trailing smoke. His sickness is instinct, the street a stretcher, the dosage futile, and an end already decided, even acknowledged. Weed isn't going to stop a bullet, it's only going to try and dull the pain. But that pain is what he remembers with. For Nas, such precise hurt provides focus to his words. And growing up where his best friend, Ill Will, did indeed get shot in an exercise of the random and senseless, the poignant measure of his speech, that despair, is understood only more so.
Illmatic continually details this world, caught between the corner and the coroner, the 40 side labyrinth, where the cement top clenches all that it contacts. Friends disappear in smoke, you barter the next man's life for a wardrobe choice, sacrifice your time for a kilo, a kilo for the next, until the stash runs dry. This isn't cops and robbers, there's "beasts in the blue Chrysler." The landscape of QB is mythic in this sense, turning badges into beasts and the genre into drama. And even when Nas does take a moment to declare a truce, it's not pronounced with any hint of comfort or assuredness, "I guess that means peace." The characters in this one-act personify threat: "the hype vice . . . judges hanging niggas on incorrect bails", snakes, herbs, and dingbats. And when infiltrated, you're not left with much more than some dead homies and empty Heineken bottles, both laying still at your feet.
Nas: Memory Lane
BONUS: Nas: Memory Lane (DJ Premier remix)
BONUS: Reuben Wilson: We're In Love