Nas, Illmatic – ‘One Time 4 Your Mind’ BREAKDOWN
‘One Time 4 Your Mind’ begins with a chorus delivered by Nas’ friend Grand Wizard which repeats the song title while Nas bounces off with ‘Yeah, whatever’. It is simple and catchy which goes to show how the most basic of hooks can be the most profound.
Nas kicks off the first verse with the classic New York phrase ‘Check it out’ and mentions his love for ‘Buddha’ (marijuana) and the occasional beer which he states his ‘crew’ bought as he was under the legal drinking age at the time. This theme of drugs, especially marijuana, is present throughout the album which represents Nas’ affinity to the product. He also notes he would watch movies and root for the villain while drinking and smoking as stated earlier.
A few lines down, Nas tells a youth to get him a pack of ‘Phillies’ (cigars whose tobacco is removed and replaced with weed) which shows the respect he possesses from the younger generation who see him as an inspiration. Once Nas smokes this he lies down and relaxes. Here, he describes ‘being blessed by the herb’s essence’, a description likening drugs to a spiritual experience/ feeling thus highlighting the significance of their existence him.
Later in the verse, Nas notes how lucrative his pure rapping ability through the metaphor:
‘a cappella rhymes’ll
Make me richer than a slipper made Cinderella, fella’
This adept reference to the famous fairy tale of Cinderella shows Nas as an undiscovered emcee who has overcome hurdles and whose talents are immense and even of royal stature which is fitting given the motif of royalty in ‘Cinderella’.
The verse concludes with the bars:
‘When I was ten I was a hip-hoppin’ shorty wop
Known for rocking microphones and twisting off 40 top’
Here, Nas tells us that he has been practising his skills as a rapper since the age of ten which is insane, a tender age which I can only liken to Lil Wayne off the top of my head. The ending of the verse on this point represents Nas’ passion for hip hop and natural emceeing prowess which is brought up and demonstrated throughout ‘Illmatic’.
The chorus plays until we get to the final verse which begins by noting the infamous rap alias ‘Nasty (Nas)’ who is attributed to the status of ‘villain’. This links back to the start of verse one where he raps about rooting for the villain in ‘flick(s)’. This switching of positions from observer to the observed is a neat figurative device and self-homage if you will.
The next line is a stark reminder that poverty and starvation are the main causes of crime as the deprived are simply fighting to stay alive. This is a poignant reality which Nas may have experienced or witnessed first-hand. However, he stresses that writing rhymes helps to keep him away from crime thus presenting rap as rejuvenating or therapeutic to him as well as a much safer way to earn money. This idea of crime is carried on in the line ‘n***** catching 3-9’s’ (i.e. ‘3-9’ year prison sentences).
‘And I’m from Queensbridge, been to many places
As a kid when I would say that out of town, n***** chased up
But now I know the time, got a older mind’
Nas delves into his childhood here as we are told that every time he used to visit ‘out of town’ and tell people he was from Queensbridge they would chase him out of their neighbourhood because of the notoriety of the place. This is a tragic memory that Nas holds and shares to exemplify his upbringing in the hood. He then jumps to present ‘time’ mentions his ‘older mind’ as a mark of his maturity and awareness of certain areas that can be dangerous or hostile.
In subsequent bars, Nas raps:
‘I’m new on the rap scene, brothers never heard of me
Yet I’m a menace, yo, police wanna murder me’
The dichotomy of these lines is genius as Nas informs us that he is ‘new on the rap scene’ and unheard of but is labelled a ‘menace’ and a murder target by the ‘police’. He brings up the social issues of devastating police brutality/ murder which permeates through black societies in particular to this day. Overall, the juxtaposition of these bars is poetic with the first line resembling positivity and a bright future and the second a bleak and violent reality of institutionalized racism and police brutality.
Further on, Nas describes his feelings while high on drugs. He notes ‘floating like I’m on the North 95 Interstate’, in other words travelling fast as he moves up the ‘interstate’ (an American term for the motorway) – a metaphor for getting ‘high’.
Towards the end of the verse, Nas says that he ‘wreck(s) shit so much, the microphone’ll need a paint job’ which tells us that he raps so well (‘wreck shit’) and constantly that he will literally destroy the mic – a hyperbole representing genuine rapping enthusiasm.
A following line states ‘My brain is incarcerated’. This is another reference to the oppression of the justice system imprisoning even one’s thoughts. The prevalence of arrest is also seen here as the closest to Nas (represented by his very ‘brain’) are being ‘incarcerated’. This idea of proximity also shows us how those near to a crime are also considered as suspects. This short but emphatic line is an example of Nas’ street poetry, written intelligence and social awareness.
The proceeding line details Nas’ rampant frequenting of parks where rap contests and displays took place. He cannot remember the number of times he has performed which is yet another example of his love for rapping. It is widely known that scenery of parks in the New York rapping scene of the 90s were infamous for such events.
The verse concludes with Nas stating:
‘I hold a MAC-11, and attack a reverend
I contact eleven Ls and max in heaven.’
This shows us the ruthlessness and mercilessness of Nas who would ‘attack a reverend’, an innocent man of God, and smoke an excessive ‘eleven Ls’ while entering ‘heaven’. This jarring pair of lines sees Nas murdering a ‘reverend’’ and still believing that he can reach heaven.
The chorus plays for the final time before the outro. Nas explains that he raps in order to entertain and write rhymes that relate to those who live on poor incomes as he once was. It is safe to say that his music did more than just entertain, it in fact rewrote the standards of rap and set the bar for quality hip hop albums which has not been reached since.