30 years ago today.

Russell Simmons passed on Nas’ demo, famously claiming that Nas sounded too much like G Rap. Translation: great but unsaleable. He signed Warren G instead. Illmatic dropped and is widely regarded as the greatest rap album ever made.

Illmatic was the bridge. Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow, to Run-DMC, to Rakim, the Juice Crew, and Big Daddy Kane. Now Nas. Everyone said he had next since Large Professor brought the chipped tooth kid sporting Gazelles into the studio.

The more you listen to Illmatic, the more haunted it feels. When you’re younger, it clubs you with its hail of words and the skeletal beauty of its beats. But the older I get, the more it strikes me as a teenaged requiem for those still living.

“Old Soul” is the sort of stock phrase used by yoga teachers and amateur psychics, but it always fit Nas. He’s 20 and prematurely nostalgic, struck by memories of park jams and watching "CHiPS," when Shante dissed the real Roxanne, and how much he misses Mr. Magic.

Illmatic is a story of a gifted writer born into squalor, trying to claw his way out of the projects. It’s somewhere between The Basketball Diaries and Native Son, but Jim Carroll and Richard Wright couldn’t rap like Nas. not many can.

39 minutes and 51 seconds of perfection.

-vinnie paz