I grew up on the mean streets of Kerrisdale, which is quite comparable to New York’s Queensbridge projects. Very few made it out of my vicious hood alive. In fact, I’m one of a few from there who, despite the shitty hand they were dealt in life, went on to make something of themselves and inspire an entire generation. So obviously I feel a strong kinship with Nasir Jones.
I’m not the only one.
A whole lotta dudes wearing New Era caps and cheap cologne sold the fuck out of the Vogue on Thursday. They were there to hear Nas perform his magnum opus, Illmatic, in its entirety on the 20th anniversary of its release. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, unless you caught him doing a virtually identical set two months ago at the Squamish Valley Music Festival.
The evening began with a screening of Nas: Time Is Illmatic, a documentary about Nas’s early life and how he went on to record the genre-defining album. You are probably wondering if watching this is conducive to people puffing lye. It totally is. Even a Reefer Madness–esque tale in the doc, about one of Nas’s friends smoking weed for the first time while watching Alien 3 and then beating up a woman and getting shot to death, did little to assuage it.
At one point, a stoned disciple of Nas's turned to his friend and confessed, “I’m so fucking stoked for this show.” Fortunately, he wouldn’t have to wait much longer. The credits rolled and everyone jostled their way to the stage to procure a good vantage point to Instagram their hero from.
The legendary rapper from Queens hit the stage and launched into “N.Y. State of Mind” while wearing shades and a shirt that read "Illmatic", as if we needed another reminder of what we were about to hear. Joints were immediately sparked and hands were waved in the air with reckless abandon—almost as if they just didn’t care. When he rapped, “It drops deep as it does in my breath/I never sleep” and pointed the mike at the crowd, we all knew to shout, “’Cause sleep is the cousin of death” back at him.
“I know you heard this music in the documentary, but fuck it, we’re gonna to do it live,” said Nasty Nas. No one complained because that’s what we all paid $68 to see. The next song, “Life’s a Bitch”, proved to be another sing-along favourite. You almost got the feeling that a large portion of the faithful had been practising for this show for a significant chunk of their lives on the off chance that Nas got injured and an understudy was needed to cover.
Between “Represent” and “One Love”, Nastradamus, intuiting how insecure we all are, took an opportunity to compliment Vancouver and said, “Yo, I must admit this is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.” He then went on to praise our architecture, of all things. What the hell, Nas? Are you sure you knew what city you were in?
Fortunately, the show didn’t end after “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”, the final cut from Illmatic. After assuring everyone he fucking loved us and would fuck with all of us, he pointed out, “Every time I come here I gotta act the fuck up a little bit.” In this case it meant we got to hear “Hate Me Now”, “Made You Look”, then “One Mic”. I guess playing three more songs is considered badass when you’re 41 and have kids.
Getting fucked up and belting out the lyrics to your favourite rap album of all time is pretty much the best thing ever. That Nas was in the building and totally on point made it the hip-hop fanboy night of the year. While it’s still certainly true that nothing’s equivalent to the Kerrisdale state of mind, Nas proved on this evening that he just might be able to hack it there too.