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Music Review: Album Anniversaries

It’s time to pull out the old iPod, blow the dust off the touch screen, and plug in those headphones for a walk down memory lane. This month’s album anniversaries will take you back to a time when CD players were still the dominant medium for listening to music on the go and rather than collect your music on iTunes or another Cloud they were alphabetically ordered in your CD binder. Last month and this month we celebrate the 20th anniversaries of albums by Nas and Weezer, albums that launched their musical careers and helped define their respective genres.

On April 19, 1994 at the age of 20, Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones or simply Nas entered the mainstream rap world full force with his first album Illmatic. Coming straight out of Queensbridge, New York, Illmatic foreshadowed the enormous success for this then young man. The album covers many aspects of his life in the Queensbridge Housing Projects and although not the easiest place to grow up, the love for his neighborhood comes through strong. Such love helped foster the East Coast rap scene and would ultimately contribute to the East/West rap and hip hop rivalry.

Undeniably it has been Nas’s ability to flow and rhyme while telling a coherent story, something widely heard in Illmatic, that contributed to his popularity. It should not come as a surprise then that in a recent interview with Bill Maher he defended Shakespeare as being “airtight.”[1] Throughout his career, especially as his fame exploded, Nas has had to balance his street reputation with his commercial responsibilities, but this first album depicts so many of the issues young black men in Queensbridge and throughout America were facing on a daily basis – gang rivalries, prison time, drug use, and poverty – in such a real way that his credentials can hardly be questioned. Although his lyrics express the everyday struggle, the album, with tracks like “The World Is Yours” and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” is also a story of overcoming through rap.

The story continues for many more years with more ups and downs, criticism and praise (even a Jay-Z rap feud), but the legacy is hard to deny. It’s fitting that in time for the anniversary, a documentary about his life opened the Tribeca Film Festival, simply another gesture in recognizing Nas as one, if not the King of New York.

On the opposite side of the music spectrum, Weezer released their debut studio album, Weezer or The Blue Album, on May 10 of the same year. The album opened the stage for bands that were not quite punk and not solely pop, but somewhere in between. The success of the album, supported by not one, but two music videos directed by the talented Spike Jonze, has made Weezer an easily recognizable name throughout the years. Singles from their albums are often used in films and television series, and their music is almost always in the newest Guitar Hero or Rock Band game. Yet, it can be argued that the success of The Blue Album is due to their ability to connect to the perceived outcast. Whether that outcast is the nerd, introvert, or skater, the album provides songs of pride for them and what others generally viewed as their lame pastimes. The humor and corniness combined with rock only made it more enjoyable for a wide variety of fans. Whether the listeners relate to dungeons and dragons played in the safety of a garage, or feeling threatened when homies diss their girl, Weezer’s The Blue Album reaches out to the kid striving, and often struggling, to be cool in all of us.

If somehow over the past twenty years you missed either album or their more recent hits, there is more than enough time to hear what you have been missing. Last month Nas released Illmatic XX to celebrate the twenty years and Weezer, according to the most recent rumors, are in the studio now working on a new album (once again with producer Ric Ocasek who worked on both The Blue Album and The Green Album).[2] Remember, spring may be a time for new birth and change, but looking back can bring new life to something classic.

Sean Mulvihill


[1] Nas. Interview by Bill Maher. Real Time With Bill Maher. HBO. 4 Apr 2014. Podcast.

[2]            Newman, Jason. “Weezer Teaser: Band Returns to Studio in Cryptic New Clip.” Rolling Stone. 19 Mar 2014. Web. 23 Apr 2014. <http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/weezer-teaser-band-returns-to-studio -in-cryptic-new-clip-20140319>

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