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Sylvan Esso at the Commodore Ballroom

At their sold out show Aug 15 2017. Kirk Chantraine photos.

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Nas’s Illmatic tour hits Vancouver

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Nas at Rock the Bells at Deer Lake Park, Burnaby, Aug 1 2009. Kayla Joffe concert photo.

Review – Nas at the Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, Oct 16 2014

– review by Taisuke Tanimura

Hip-hop has never been the same since Nas released his debut album Illmatic way back in 1994. Fusing groundbreaking lyricism with production from now legendary producers like Q-Tip and DJ Premier, the album redefined what a hip-hop album could sound like. Two decades later, you won’t find a single soul who is into hip-hop who hasn’t listened to and loved Illmatic. The album is often cited as the best hip-hop album of all time.

So when Nas announced a tour celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Illmatic, many people (myself included) felt that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event. So many, in fact, that an extra late show at the Vogue was added after the first one sold out in the blink of an eye.

The show began with a screening of Nas: Time is Illmatic, a documentary chronicling the creation of the album and its lasting influence on a multitude of contemporary artists. It was an interesting look at the circumstances that gave birth to the masterpiece, and provided some in-depth context to the show that was to follow. Watching Nas perform the songs on film, and knowing that he was going to be on stage afterwards, created a palpable sense of excitement. The venue was jam-packed early on, and the crowd grew louder and louder as the film drew to a close.

As the credits rolled, Nas took the stage and immediately launched into “N.Y. State of Mind”. The hip-hop artist, who appears to be drinking from the same fountain of youth as Pharrell, worked the crowd with an easy smile while delivering classic line after line. Judging from the fact that everyone around me was shouting along to every song, it was clear that Illmatic holds a special place in many hearts. All the tracks have stood the test of time remarkably well, although it is rather depressing that many of the issues Nas tackles such as gun violence, the war on drugs and racial inequality are still prevalent today. Still, the mood at the Vogue was one of love and the eager crowd lapped every second up.

Illmatic is a short album, clocking in at only 38 minutes. Skip the intro and it’s even leaner. Its brevity is one of the album’s strong points, but I was worried that it would make for a set that was too short – especially because there was that later show to get ready for. Nas cut “Life’s a Bitch” short, skipping AZ‘s guest verse and continuing straight into “The World is Yours”. By the time the last bars of “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” rang out, everyone knew that we would have left satisfied but a little let down. Lucky for us then that after an expletive-laden show of love for Vancouver, Nas finished up with a three-song encore of his later hits “Hate Me Now”, “Made You Look” and “One Mic”.

His later work has never managed to scale the heights of Illmatic, but his dexterity on the mic is still enough to put most MCs to shame. All I could hear as I filed out of the venue was praise for one of hip-hop’s greatest living legends.

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