Villain State of Minds
If Nas Will Prevail gives you a sense of the early stages of Illmatic, then I'm A Villain is essentially the genesis story of Nasty Nas altogether. By all accounts, this is the very first solo studio song Nas ever recorded, especially highlighted by the heavy James Brown production, a sign of the times of the Golden Era courtesy of Large Professor, and the strong G Rap inflections in Nas' voice. It also served as an early draft for what would later become NY State of Mind. And just as that classic did, I'm A Villain captures all sides of the Illmatic narrative quite well: paranoid, poetic, brash, and QB all the way.
The point above, about the influence of Kool G Rap on Nas' early career, is one that often gets overlooked. Born as well in Queens, New York, everything from Nas' polysyllabic rhyme scheme to his crime-filled story raps can be traced back to the one Mr. Giancana. And while Nas certainly had other inspirations and his own innovations, I'm A Villain best epitomizes the influence left by his borough-mate. Here you have the quick-draw lyrical delivery ("I'm out to kill / Like Navy Seals / I'm crazy ill / And what I can't do my .380 will"), the hard-edged content ("At every block party / I try to catch a body"), and even that patented G Rap misogyny ("Stripping mad hoes and kick 'em to the side"). Nas' voice also sounds as if intentionally deepened to hang with the vets of the mic. With all this in mind, Nas trying to come off as though the baddest gunslinger in the entire Wild West, you could say he was pumping up his chest something extra, not yet comfortable in his own skin, with his own voice. Fortunately, this would all be smoothed out by the time Illmatic rolled around.
Now this is not at all to bash Nas' beginner steps, for even as just a teenager, cutting his chipped tooth on record, there is still something profound and unique in his rhymes, specifically in I'm A Villain's anti-government-charged second verse. You have to remember that Nas is the MC who once touted kidnapping the president's wife without so much a plan. While that may not be the most poignant political statement ever, it does underscore the mind state of this anxiously combative project resident, who saw threats not only from all sides of the block but from the executive branch as well. On Villain particularly, Nas has the constant ring of cop patrols in his ear, the posture of an outlaw, and the spirit of a rebel to America:
I got beef with the president and still loving itNas: I'm a Villain
Tryna to make plans to overthrow the government
It won't work, because niggas don't believe enough
They'd rather stand on the corners and receive a cuff