Classic Hip-Hop: Nas Performs Illmatic With the National Symphony Orchestra


Nas’ first full-length feature, Illmatic, was the very first hip-hop album to get The Source magazine’s coveted five-mic rating. It was sonic and lyrical perfection; it remains an undisputed hip-hop classic.

A progenitor to soaring street lullabies like Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City or even Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Illmatic vividly captured the life and times of a young black man-child growing up during the 1980s and ’90s, an age when gun violence and mass incarceration threatened to decimate an entire generation.

Nas has always seemingly recognized his place and the place of Illmatic in the larger culture. In 2013 he began a relationship with Harvard University, and in February he will bring his debut magnum opus to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in concert with the National Symphony Orchestra.


“It’s crazy, you know, I wrote [Illmatic] in the projects in New York City. Here we are in the capital of America, Washington, D.C., and, you know, a bunch of white people with strings and all that, playing this album, and they feeling it,” says Nas in behind-the-scenes footage taken during rehearsal before the concert.

The concert film, Great Performances—Nas Live From the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop, premieres nationwide Friday, Feb. 2, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

A press release about the event promises that the orchestra will reinvent the sound of some of Nas’ most popular songs, like “N.Y. State of Mind,” “The World Is Yours,” “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park)” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.”


Fans can be a part of the conversation on social media by posting and sharing using #NasPBS.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.

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Petey Wheatstraw The Devil Son in law

As much as I love Nas and Illmatic, when is Organized Konfusion gonna do Stress: The Extinction Agenda with an Orchestra! This sound epic tho!