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"Illmatic's a Let Down": Lessons Learned from the '90s Rap Internet

We found some of the internet's first rap forums - they thought "Illmatic" was a let down.

Some people research cures for diseases. Others research battles, presidents and wars. NASA researchers just sent a satellite 5 billion miles through the cold, empty reaches of space to take detailed pictures of Pluto. 


I research the rap internet.

One minute I'm finishing dinner and the next it’s 4:30 AM and I’m reading Eastern European rap forums or Facebook stalking a high school friend of Kendrick Lamar. I love digging up hidden stories and artifacts in hip-hop history; it’s kind of become my thing. There’s just something so exciting about falling recklessly into a rabbit hole not knowing where it will take you or what you’ll find.

Still, there are people who are way better at it than I am. Like, for example, the people who found this Illmatic forum...from 1994. What? Rap discussions on the internet were a thing in '94? And I could get a sense of what people thought the same day a now undisputed classic was first released? I was on it like Rick Ross on a honey bun covered in Kraft singles. 

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Well then. It appears that Illmatic was far from universally beloved on the first listen, but there were only three comments on that forum, I needed a larger sample size, so I had to keep digging. I was now officially traveling down the early rap internet comment section rabbit hole, and along the way, I learned some very valuable lessons.  

For example, people said "phat" a lot.

There are some words in the rap language that I just can't make out but yet I hear so many people using those words.   The words are  "Fat" or "Phat"  and I know that they don't mean what they mean in normal language, but must mean something else in the rap language.  (by the way, I'm a little FAT around the stomach)

More importantly, additional research revealed plenty of conversation on Illmatic on other forums, and the responses were mind-blowing. Like the guy on this forum who said AZ was better than Nas or how about these people debating whether or not Illmatic was worth the money.

I just read the Source feature article and review of Nas' new album, and I'm finding it hard to break free from the hype.  I heard the album is coming out this Tuesday (March 22nd).  Should I drop the 14 bones to buy it?  What have the other publications been saying about the album?

Reading these remarks was like watching a character in a horror flick head into a dark room and wanting to yell “Don’t do it!” I wanted to invent a time machine just so I could make sure that person bought IllmaticThere was even an entire track by track review, but I couldn't get over one of the first lines: 

“Album of the year? In April? Please...ya'll are trippin.'” 

Turns out the '90s rap internet looks a whole lot like the current rap internet. The biggest takeaway from my research, however, was that post-Illmatic there was a lot of animosity towards Nas. On one random forum in '97 about Wu-Tang, someone randomly added “PS. Nas was good when he was Nasty Nas... too bad he's Nas Escobar now.” In this debate from '97, people really seemed to believe he had sold out.

Nas has more potential. Meaning that if he wanted to get his respect back he could. It's just that he chooses not to. He's better than Escobar '97, but then Nas has shown no signs of going back to the days of "Halftime" and "Ain't Hard to Tell" so I figure that this is the Nas we're stuck with in '94, NAS was the hope for all of us. He was the rebirth of hip hop. But now that he had sell his soul to have mass appeal, everyone can fuck with him.



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Is this the same Nas? You know the one we consider a legend? The one who won our March Madness tournament? It’s so strange to hear people talking about how Nas sold out when this version of Nas is the one we compare other emcees to. 

These early forums weren't just about Nas. One of the most enthralling conversations I saw was about MP3s. As you all know - because you exist in the 21st century - MP3s are slowly but surely becoming the pennies of listening to music. They're still worth something, some people still use them, but in the age of streaming, they're increasingly looked at as unnecessary clutter. But back then? MP3s might as well have been diamonds.

Another thing though... Is it just me, or is it so hard to get mp3s?  (for those having problems looking for mp3s, get CuteFTP 3.0(the demo version), and use the search function).  To get some decent ones, you have to go through 5 porn sites, for one word, go to another 6 for the password, and then you can't even get into the joint.

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As much as I’d love to make fun of that guy, it got me thinking. In 15 years, what will the internet look like? How will music on the internet exist? Will the articles we write be laughed at like I’m laughing at this guy? The world was different back then, no doubt about it. I mean, they didn’t have goddamn MP3s and people hated Nas, literally the opposite of 2015. Even back then, the tired, played out, "hip-hop these days sucks" arc was still rampant.

Take a look at this one entitled, “I hate 90% of today's rap”: 

I hate royal flush

I hate the hilfiguzzzzzzz

I hate mobb deep

I hate non Phixion

It’s strange to hear someone from an era we put on a pedestal claim that era was horseshit. To hear him say Mobb Deep—an act modern day hip-hop heads cling to—is killing hip-hop puts my brain into a pretzel. Replace any of those artists with Thugger, Migos, Keef or Future and you might think you are reading the comment section on HipHopDX. Shit, you even had racist comments, Illuminati conspiraciesthe indie vs. major label dichotomy, and of course the old sales don’t mean shit argument.

bullshit,being the best is not based on record sales status, just because your platinum don't make you the baddest.

We think of racist trolls and old heads as a product of the Worldstar era, but clearly, that’s not the case. This was before the internet was a mainstream phenomenon and people are acting exactly the same. What does that say about us as humans that even in the pre-troll era people were abusing the gift of connectivity? Is trolling just human nature?

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So what did we learn? What’s the big takeaway? Other than to make sure "phat" never becomes a thing again, I think it’s to try and live in the moment. To put music in the frame of how it makes us feel now and not which 90's album it doesn’t live up to. We love to exalt the '90s, the Golden Age, as pure and pristine - nostalgia is a hell of a drug - but if anything this little trip down Memory Lane has taught me that the '90s were not that different from now. They were golden, sure, but there was also rust underneath that gold.

People were calling Nas a sellout just two years after Illmatic. If the hip-hop community in '94 couldn’t recognize greatness, what makes you think we can? If the longing for the Golden Age has been around since the Golden Age, it has to be human nature. There's something inside us that longs for the past; something that says it was better back then in the “good ol days.” But truthfully, all we have is now. Instead of trying to fit everything into the boxes of the past, let’s just let it live in the moment.

That would be phat, right?


By Lucas Garrison



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