In 1994, the legendary Illmatic rapper Nas stopped by BBC Radio One to freestyle on the UK’s only legal mainstream hip-hop radio show, The Tim Westwood Show. In the early 1990s, Nas was the king of New York with regard to rap. Along with the likes of Biggie Smalls, Wu-Tang, and Big L, Nas was running the vibrant city. However, concerning pure lyricism and not mainstream appeal, Nas was the go-to emcee.
As the popularity of electro hip-hop began to steadily decline in the early 1990s, by 1994, highly lyrical, story-telling orientated hip-hop was the sound of New York. Melodic yet dark boom-bam beats from the likes of DJ Premier and Q-Tip were dominating the underground of the city, and acts such as Mobb Deep but, more importantly, Nas were the reflections of this sonic shift.
In spite of Diddy’s launch of Bad Boy Entertainment in 1993, many New York hip-hop fans were not keen on the mogul’s materialistic, slick-talking style of hip-hop. Heaps of New Yorkers didn’t want the Versace suits and Prada shades of Bad Boy. Instead, they yearned for the abrasive, raw rap that was being produced by the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan and Nas.
Nas was a rapper, songwriter and storyteller whom many artists envied greatly. The musician (real name Nasir Jones) immersed his listeners in all of his stories, and his music (especially Illmatic) remains some of the most memorable hip-hop creations ever, and his contribution to the culture is unparalleled.
In promotion of his album, in 1994, Nas took to the UK to perform and visit some of the nation’s most important media outlets, most notably BBC Radio One. Here, Nas performed a freestyle on the Tim Westwood show to showcase his lyrical ability and versatility.
Recently unearthed from the archives, you can listen to the golden audio in the video below.