Tuesday, May 09, 2006

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


Anonymous RegDudeOnHghrLvl said...


May 09, 2006 10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man I love Memory Lane ever since I copped Illmatic way back when...
I dont like the Premo remix of it though

May 10, 2006 3:49 AM  
Blogger Fletch said...

regdude, is that a good "whoa"? I know this entries features a touch of melodrama and rambling. :)

anonymous, I put the remix up just for the sake of putting up a rare track, not because I necessarily like it either. I think I'm more on your side. It changes up the vibe too much, makes it almost circus-like. Sounds like a precursor to You Know My Steez a little though.

May 10, 2006 8:56 AM  
Anonymous RegDudeOnHghrLvl said...

fletch, no worries brother. My comment was certainly of a gracious nature, haha.

I am intrigued by what you have with this blog, as I have been checking back daily since around your second entry. I'd like believe Nas himself would be impressed. Somebody get Nas in here...

May 10, 2006 12:18 PM  
Blogger the prisoner's wife said...

illmatic, although filled with bleak imagery, still makes me feel so hopeful (and reflective). growing up in the hood for me is scored by as many bright spots as it is bullets. you can't help but "reminisce" over the good and the bad. for that reason i love Nas. he painted such an accurate picture of life, and in many cases my life (although i was 3000+ miles away).

when i saw Queens Bridge for the first time, i was immediately taken aback. it is massive. concrete upon concrete. so many stories. so close to manhattan, yet worlds away. i tried to imagine Nasir scribbling in a notebook, recording his world. and i am still in awe.

May 10, 2006 3:41 PM  
Blogger MAB said...

yeh this is an impressive site...a site that takes a detailed look at such a great artist is practically impossible to come by...

Nas is my favourite artist ever...and Illmatic is the best hip hop album ever...I like Memory Lane too but its not as good as some of the other tracks on the album like 'Halftime', and 'New York State Of Mind'...

Wasn't Memory Lane the last track added to illmatic...DJ Premier went back in the studio to produce another track after hearing the amazing tracks produced by Pete Rock, and Q-Tip...

May 11, 2006 6:10 AM  
Blogger MAB said...

By the way that DJ Premier remix...Does that mean Premier remixed the same track he produced?

May 11, 2006 6:11 AM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Mab, you should read Jon Shecter's piece from the Source. Premier talks about changing up Represent at the end and also adding Memory Lane, as you mentioned.

DJ PREMIER: After I heard brothers like Q-Tip and Pete Rock's joints, I was like, "Oh shit, I gotta go back to the lab." Them niggas represented with they shit. When we did "Memory Lane" towards the very end, he said he wanted something that was way different from the other stuff they did. Q-Tip's track kinda set a new tone for the album, along with "The World Is Yours" and "Memory Lane." Not anybody could rhyme to that. Most MCs would probably reminisce about situations like he did, but the way he did it is the way the niggas like to hear it, and we the hardest ones to please.

DJ PREMIER: When it comes to beats, Nas is super picky. It's many times when I gave him tracks, and he'd call the next day and say, "Yo, I can't get with that." But it don't bother me 'cause I told him, "I want you to be happy, it's your record." There was many times when he liked a track, and then he was like, "Naa, I want to change it." I'd go back in there and change it, which is what happened to "Represent."
And yeah, the Memory Lane remix means Primo remixed his own song, but from the very same album Large Professor did it also w/ It Ain't Hard To Tell.

May 11, 2006 9:00 AM  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Love the site, Fletch. Keep up the great posts. 'Memory Lane' is one of my favorite Nas songs. Sick flow with the amazing sample that perfectly compliments the emotional tone of the lyrics. One question, though: is it "live amongst no roses" or "live amongst neuroses"? While I suspect the former, it always amused me that that the latter would also work.

May 15, 2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Yeah, it's "amongst no roses." Check the contrast of the "no roses" with "only the drama" in the following line. (That's actually quoted in the OG Source review.) "Amongst neuroses" sounds like the Woody Allen remix.

May 15, 2006 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm I love the idea behind this website, very unique.

May 23, 2006 4:20 PM  

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