The story behind classic song 'N.Y. State of Mind' by Nas (2024)

The story behind classic song 'N.Y. State of Mind' by Nas (1)

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‘N.Y. State Of Mind’ by Nas is undoubtedly one of the best songs of the 1990s when it comes to East Coast hip-hop. During the early ’90s, rap music saw a shift in the regional power dynamic of the genre that had been in place for over a decade. New York, the mecca of hip-hop, was the hub and epicentre of the culture throughout the 1980s, and (aside from N.W.A) New York and Jersey were the key bearers and, more importantly, the gatekeepers of rap music.

However, this quickly changed when Death Row presented The Chronic and Doggystyle. It made the East Coast and New York, in particular, know that LA hip-hop was legitimate and here to stay. The early-’90s saw all kinds of aesthetics and sonics emerge from New York. However, the gritty and grimy sound that we now associate with acts such as the Wu-Tang Clan, Lost Boyz, and Nas was what the East Coast was gravitating towards.

Nas was edgy, raw and unapologetically coarse in his music. The Queensbridge act told vivid stories and in-depth tales of growing up in poverty. Never afraid to highlight the uncomfortable realities, his music was hard-hitting, and Illmatic epitomises everything that makes him a legend. The act (real name Nasir Jones) is widely considered one of the best MCs ever to touch a microphone. His 1994 debut album is regarded as one of the most remarkable bodies of work to ever come out of the genre, and he has solidified his status as one of the greats.

Illmatic boasted several iconic songs, all of which are held in high regard. From ‘Halftime’ to ‘Life’s a Bitch’, the tracklist itself is timeless. However, one song, in particular, has become a hip-hop classic, and that is ‘N.Y. State Of Mind’. The aforementioned track is the album’s opening song and intro. He was hailed for his lyricism on the cut, and since its release, many artists have freestyled over the iconic beat. J. Cole once graced the instrumental on Hot 97.5 radio in Las Vegas. Remy Ma also covered the song for her HOT97 Funk Flex in 2016.

Produced by DJ Premier, the backbeat for ‘N.Y. State Of Mind’ samples two tracks, the 1977 Jazz’ Mind Rain’ by Joe Chambers interpolated by Premier for the track’s iconic bass riff and which the beatmaker used for the ambient city soundscape that sits behind the track. The producer (real name Chris Martin) also integrated vocal samples from Eric B. & Rakim’s ‘Mahogany’. Recalling when he made the beat, Martin toldHipHopDX,“Shout to Showbiz, Showbiz from D.I.T.C. [Diggin In The Crates] was there that day. It was Showbiz, Biggest Gord, me and Nas. He had a whole bunch of his friends with him from Queensbridge,” he recounted. “Back then, he used to roll real thick with a lot of dudes. Big crew. We all had posses. I used to have 100 people on stage with me. I made the beat on the spot, right there at D&D studios, and he likes to sit at the head of the control board and rhyme like this, with his hand over his mouth, like he can only hear himself while the beat plays.”

Martin was known for his lo-fi, gritty sound and was a sought-after producer concerning East Coast hip-hop during the ’90s. As the resident producer of D&D Recording Studio on Manhattan’s West 37th street, most ofIllmaticwas recorded there.Once Jones had the instrumental, at first, he was unsure how to approach the track.

In an interview with the renowned online publication Complex in 2018, Martin revealed, “Nas watched me build the beat from scratch. And he wrote the verse in the studio. If you listen to ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ you’ll hear him going, ‘I don’t know how to start this sh*t,’ because he literally just wrote it. Before he started the verse, I was signalling him going, ‘One, two, three,’ and he just goes in like, ‘Rappers I monkey flip’em, in the funky rhythm.” He did that in one take. After he did that first verse, he goes, ‘How was that? Did that sound all right?’ And we were just like, ‘Oh, my God!'”

The rapper did not realise how impactful the song was going to be. However, it has been dubbed as one of the greatest rap songs of all time and was even ranked number 31 on Rolling Stone’s 100 ‘Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time’. You can take a listen to the track in the video below.

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The story behind classic song 'N.Y. State of Mind' by Nas (2024)
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