As hip-hop goes, calling Illmatic seminal is more than a simple understatement. Released in 1994, Nas' grim portrayal of his hardscrabble Queensbridge upbringing defined modern rap, and laid the groundwork for East-coast sound. Nasir Jones had changed the game at only 19 years old.
News has come down the pipe recently (first via a clandestine listing on Amazon and then Pitchfork) that a book on Nas' Illmatic edited by hip-hop scholar Michael Eric Dyson will be released early next year. Titled Born To Use Mics: Reading Nas' Illmatic, the book will see "every song on Illmatic
analyzed, interpreted and rearticulated in the intellectual sense of
[Nas'] take on hip-hop" according to a recent interview with Dyson.
Dyson, currently a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the few academics who can truly be considered a hip-hop scholar, and is one of America's leading academics on the subject (unlike most intellectuals, he doesn't only half-listen). This isn't the first time that Dyson has lent his pen to hip-hop, with tomes like Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur and Know What I Mean?: Reflections on Hip-Hop under his belt. Dyson was also one of the few public figures to defend Nas after a smear campaign was launched against his appearance at a benefit for Virginia Tech.
Any lingering doubts about Dyson's credentials should be eased after taking a look at this video, where Dyson takes the spotlight after a recent Nas show to discuss his aspirations for the book, and drop a couple lines of "New York State of Mind" while he's at it. Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas' Illmatic is out Jan. 9, 2009 on Basic Civitas Books.
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