There are few artists in hip-hop who have ever truly matched their hype. Twenty years ago today, on April 19, 1994, Nasir "Nas" Jones became one of them. On that day he released his highly-anticipated debut album, "Illmatic." And while the project didn't initially sell well, the 20-year-old Queensbridge native's music made an impact with the right crowd; namely, die-hard rap fans, industry insiders and most importantly, his peers. It was difficult to listen to the album for the first time and not be blown away. Escobar season was about to begin.
Nas' story actually begins a few years prior, in 1991, when he appeared on Main Source's "Live at the Barbeque," a posse cut that saw him catch people by surprise with shock-inducing lines like, "When I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffin' Jesus." In its wake, 3rd Bass member MC Serch signed Nas— who originally dubbed himself Nasty Nas— to a publishing deal and went to work on trying to land him a record contract. He brought him to Def Jam, but Russell Simmons thought Nas sounded too much like Kool G Rap, and passed on signing him. The next stop was Columbia Records (at the time CBS), where A&R Faith Newman-Orbach leapt at the opportunity to bring him on board.