Illmatic wasn’t the only great rap album to drop in 1994 (in fact, we highlighted 49 dope discs that dropped the same year). But Nas’ classic album was most closely matched by his friend Biggie Small’s debut Ready To Die, which was released five months later and quickly dwarfed Illmatic’s modest sales with platinum-plus numbers. Needless to say, the pressure was on for the Queensbridge poet to make a major mark commercially.
In this sit-down interview with VIBE, Nas speaks about how Ready to Die helped him realize rap’s endless possibilities, the pressure to sell a million records and—in the words of The Notorious One, himself—how he “got the monkey off his back” when finally went 3x platinum with It Was Written. —John Kennedy