Transmission Out of Ritual: Nas’ Stillmatic
Nas - STILLmatic (2001)
Origin of Sound
The birth of Hip Hop began in the Bronx, New York during the late 70s by founding fathers Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Hip Hop culture syndicates five elements: breakdancing, graffiti art, DJ, emceeing, and knowledge. Although, what people may see in today’s media doesn’t portray Hip Hop as well as it once did, up until the mid 90s. The culture’s characteristics match the ritual view of communication. The blending of ragtime jazz, funk, rock and roll, soul, and skat was slowly forming over history. With the solid foundation of the founding fathers and the five elements, Hip Hop has built a community of artists that specialize in one or more of the cultural elements. Like any culture, Hip Hop provides a small window to the world, but has grown to be a billion dollar business, adapting and becoming more realized over time. Through the elements of both knowledge and emceeing, Nas’ catalog can be experienced ritualistically as an embodiment of Hip Hop culture. The piece of Hip Hop, known as Stillmatic, helps Nas set a new standard in rap music, conveying his messages using the transmission view of communication.
Harold Lasswell conveniently breaks down communication into five parts, “Who says what in which channel to whom with what effect?” In better understanding of the “…says what…”(the message - text analysis) it is important to comprehend the “who…”(the source – control analysis)
Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, also known as Nasty Nas, was born close to the epicenter of Hip Hop, Brooklyn, NY in September of 1973 (currently 40 years of age). Son of a jazz and blues musician, Olu Dara, he was raised in Queens Bridge housing projects located in Long Island City, Queens. Enduring the harsh living conditions and rough dispositions of poverty, Nasir struggled in the public school system falling victim to his surrounding environment. The incompetent decisions he made in his youth developed a form of “hustler’s mentality.” Dropping out in 8th grade and influenced in becoming a drug-dealing stick-up kid, Nas was still able to recognize that knowledge is power. Education on the streets of Queens, New York for a young African American male in the late 80’s came from teachings of the Five Percent Nation, the Nuwaubian ideology, the Bible and the Quran. Learning came with deep bias in preservation of the African culture. Many of these movements provoked song writing as well as production in much of the late 80’s to early 90s’ Hip Hop. Nas staked his claim as rap’s king of New York in 1994 with his debut album Illmatic. He continued to be relevant and portrayed himself as an intellectual through the vehicle of “gangster-rap.” his masterful abilities in lyricism were displayed throughout the next four albums he pressed during the late 90s’. As the millennium approached, Nas began loosing his “street-credibility,” while rival artist Jay-Z began his take over.
Nas (2001) “Stillmatic” Full Album
Ether vs. Takeover
Who's "diss track" is better?
Nas’ Stillmatic album was released in 2001. This is a very controversial album, mostly known for its contributions in the “beef” between him and Jay-Z, which is continually referenced in today’s Hip Hop culture. He rebuttals Jay-Z’s “diss track” to him called Takeover in the beloved song Ether, which is riddled with humiliation towards his competitor and begins with the introductory sample of fellow rapper, Tupac Shakur, saying “F*** Jay-Z!” very blatantly.
Ether quote (2:12)
While the LP received subpar reviews at first, it persisted, resonating in music history as a pivotal thought-provoking masterpiece. Classic songs such as One Mic, Ether, Got Ur Self a…, You’re Da Man, and Rewind are still being spun on radio station record-players worldwide. Nas portrays himself in the Stillmatic album as the greatest man to ever bless the microphone, (How shocking) but the difference between all other rappers at the time is that he makes a strong argument. He projects himself here as a gangster/revolutionary activist speaking on the mental slavery in modern capitalism. He holds his scope over many issues surrounding poverty in the U.S. in attempt to hypothetically form a rebellion.
The transmission view of communication is used in the production of Nas’ Stillmatic. Its distribution across space allowed the control of distance and people to generate revenue. The albums extension helped build consumer rates. This experience of media is considered “dis-placed” in the sense that the album is enjoyed globally through the medium of a rap album and never recognized as one origin of sound. Nas and Stillmatic’s positive influence have inspired most of todays rap artists such as J Cole, the Game and many more. His world-renowned display of talent has left a large footprint, peaking at 5th in 2001 on the Billboard 200 and selling around 2,179,000 copies. The information it holds is important in understanding the culture it derives from. Stillmatic’s message contains socially conscious and philosophical themes, ghetto life, U.S. domestic and foreign polices, and the negatives of modern capitalism.
To strengthen the argument of what may determine communication view of transmission qualities, Lasswell establishes that in order for media to work efficiently it needs to be experienced by a rational society. Major Label, Sony/Columbia, allowed backing for Nas’ high quality records to be manufactured. Copyright laws protected against quality degradation. Lasswell believed the ultimate function of communication is to create “equivalent enlightenment” and convert “attention aggregates” into “publics,” or activists. Communication of a rational society by accomplishing this reflects the symptomatic meaning of Nas’ Stillmatic album. (Bordwell, Thompson)
Through surveillance, Nas uses judicial rhetoric when putting his surrounding environment on trial. He accurately monitors his peers, his ghetto of Queens Bridge, and the U.S. government. Through correlation, Nas legislates the coordinating of effective answers to occurrences. Answers such as standing up for one’s self in becoming self-aware, in understanding humanity as a whole help listeners organize a response to scenarios. Through assimilation, Nas uses musical ceremony to pass on these responses in the form of values for the next generation.
Nas' Album Sales: From "Illmatic" To "Life is Good"
It Was Written (1996)
I Am... (1999)
God's Son (2002)
Lost Tapes (2002)
Street's Disciple (2004)
Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)
Life Is Good (2012)
Model “Of and For” Reality
Carey states, “Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, transformed,” meaning the human ability to code all thresholds of life as a way of mapping helps form our understanding as well. The Stillmatic album is Nas’ model of and for reality, mapping his environment with technically sound topes and schemes that now set the bar for any future Hip Hop artist.
He creates a map of reality, utilizing the codes of Hip Hop rhetoric and the art of emceeing as a model to reconstruct his surroundings. He paints a concrete story of his surroundings in the first verse of 2nd Childhood, “Explode, my thoughts were drunken from quarts of beers. Was years back, before Nasir would explore a career in rap. As a music dude, I mastered this Rubik's Cube. Godzilla, fought gargantua. Eyes glued to the tube. Was a, long time ago, John Boy Ice, Geronimo, po-lice jumpin’ out Chryslers, Easy Wider paper. Pops puffin his sess, punchin’ his chest like a gorilla. Outside was psychoes, killers” The message reflects the people and setting of everyday life and also helps still-frame its beauty in giving posterity to the ugly. (Susan Sontag/Andre Bazin)
2nd Childhood quote (25:02)
In the third verse of What Goes Around, Nas uses a strong metaphor, “The Chinamen built the railroad, the Indian saved the Pilgrim, and in return the Pilgrim killed them. They call it Thanksgiving. I call it Holiday-Hell-Day, ‘cause I’m from poverty neglected by the wealthy.” This line is meant to portray how the United States is built on the repeated wrongful abuse toward minorities. This also reflects Nasir’s path of education in realizing the public school curriculum does not teach the manipulation and pillaging of Native Americans.
What Goes Around quote #1 (54:38)
Nas creates a map for realty, building a new standard for rap with impeccable undeniably fresh rhyme schemes. A great example of assonance is in the first verse of What Goes Around, “…my hood be getting’ shOT, given poison in hOSpITALS. ShOTs RIDDLE the blOCK. LITTLE… children and elderly women run for their lives.” The audience easily consumes this bone chilling depiction because of this great use of rhetoric.
What Goes Around quote #2 (52:40)
Nas entices listeners to educate themselves by challenging them to pick up a dictionary when rhyming in the first verse of Smokin’, “…A harem of hoes. In my mystic got ‘em tearin’ my clothes.”
Smokin’ quote (11:31)
As well as open the listener’s minds towards cultural diversity and spiritual enlightenment when in his second verse of You’re Da Man, “…It was clear why the struggle was so painful. Metamorphoses. This is what I changed to. God, I’m so thankful.”
You’re Da Man quote (16:52)
In reference to Hip Hop artistry, producer/rapper Kanye West states in a BBC interview, “We dedicate our entire life to making our current time in civilization better, to adding something to the culture. And there is only two words you can say: Thank you.” Because of his text, Nas is now etched in history as one of the greats. Regarded by his peers as one of the top 5 of all time, Nas’ Stillmatic will carry on well after his passing. (Bazin)
In accepting Hip Hop culture as ritual communication, it encompasses the view of transmission applied in the production of Nas’ Stillmatic. Hip Hop is slow forming, has solid foundation, creates “place,” and builds community. Stillmatic is produced and transmitted in space for control of distance and people, has “dis-placed” experience, spreads influence, has a large footprint, and provides important information. Stillmatic proves to be an efficient and rational from of transmission communication. Georgetown University Professor, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson states during an interview about Nas “My admiration for him is unlimited and my appreciation for what he does not only as an emcee but as a human being, who’s engaged in the political realities of the world around him. And to use his platform to articulate visions and understandings of the world in which we live with such poetic clarity and passion.”
Bazin, A, & Gray, H. (1960). The Ontology Of The Photographic Image.” Film Quarterly, 13(4), 4-9.
Bordwell, D., & Thompson, K. (2010). The Significance of Film Form. Film art: an
Introduction (9th ed., pp. 62-65). New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Carey, J. W. (1989). A Cultural Approach to Communication. Communication as culture: essays on media and society (pp. 1-27) Boston: Unwin Hyman
Dyson, M.E. (2014, March 27) An Evening of Conversation with Nas and Michael Eric Dyson. Georgetown University, Washington D.C. YouTube. GU. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from
Jones, N. (n.d.). Nas. Stillmatic Lyrics. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.metrolyrics.com/stillmatic-lyrics-nas.html
Lasswell, H.D. (1948) The structure and Function of Communication in Society. (pp. 216-228)
Nas (2001) “Stillmatic”. (2014, January 17). YouTube. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDd4PQZnGTM
Sontag, S. (1977). The Heroism of Vision. On photography (pp. 65-87). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Stillmatic – Nas | Awards | AllMusic. (n.d.). AllMusic. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://www.allmusic.com/album/stillmaticmw0000016472/awards
Tardio, A. (2014, April 19). Nas’ Album Sales: From “Illmatic” To “Life is Good”.” HipHopDX RSS. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.hiphopdx.com/index/news/id.album-sales-from-illmatic-to-life-is-good-
West, K. (2013, October 2013 “Kanye West. Zane Lowe. Part 3.” Zane Lowe. YouTube. BBC1, London. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PED4zgjG3Ng