"From the beginning I knew that [Illmatic] was a template for other records to come, but I was just taking it day by day," says Nas, reflecting on his prodigy years. "The artist who I was back then is still buried inside. So I can venture off into new styles and musical sounds, but I can always come back to that part of me. I'm grateful for that, since I've seen a lot of people copy [me], and I didn't want to give it all up. It's a new thing today, but there's a part of [Illmatic] in me that still lives, and it's ready to come out."
INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE! Along with Mobb Deep, Cypress Hill are the kind of roughnecks who came up when radio DJs had balls.
Bell ringers: Three classics to catch at Rock the Bells
Nas is not the only icon set to resurrect a youthful masterstroke at Rock the Bells. From the elusive Lauryn Hill's debut to Black Moon's first LP, the canon of a whole rap generation will come alive, while thousands of diehard heads rhetorically ask one another the same question: how's it possible that all these gems dropped within a few years of one another?GZA | LIQUID SWORDS | It would be fitting for the Genius to lay into his dark cinematic opus — one of four Wu-Tang classics on display Saturday — as the sun slips behind the amphitheater. By far the most cameo-studded project of the lot.
Potential Guests: Masta Killa: "Duel of the Iron Mic," "Labels," "Hell's Wind Staff/Killah Hills 10304" | Ghostface Killah: "Investigative Reports," "4th Chamber" | Raekwon: "Investigative Reports" | Killah Priest, "4th Chamber," "B.I.B.L.E." | RZA: "4th Chamber," "Liquid Swords," "Labels," "Hell's Wind Staff / Killah Hills 10304," "B.I.B.L.E."
MOBB DEEP | THE INFAMOUS | Absolutely the hardest album of its time to make noise beyond the streets, Mobb Deep's criminal commentary upped the ante for blacktop hip-hoppers. Here the infamous conglomerate is united for the first time in years, with Prodigy fresh out of jail, and co-defendant Big Noyd hopefully also in tow.
Potential Guests: Nas and/or Raekwon, "Eye for a Eye" | Ghostface Killah, "Right Back at You"
BLACK STAR | MOS DEF AND TALIB KWELI ARE BLACK STAR | Driving home hip-hop's late-'90s underground-commercial schism, Mos Def and Talib Kweli emerged on their debut as anti-jiggy superheroes, sent to save real hip-hop. Although the two have toured together since, they've for some reason avoided sharing the stage for more than a few throwbacks. Until now.
Potential Guests: Common, "Respiration"
SOULS OF MISCHIEF | 93 'TIL INFINITY | Here's the critical reminder that West Coast cats also advanced vanguard underground stylings. A-Plus, Opio, Tajai, and Phesto embody the era at hand as boldly as any New Yorker, and they've got the title-track anthem to prove it.
ROCK THE BELLS | Comcast Center, 885 South Main St, Mansfield | September 24 @ 11 am | $49.50-$225 | ticketmaster.com