Nas dusts off a rare radio freestyle–originally delivered on Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito‘s WCKR radio show circa 1993–for inclusion on Disc 2 of Illmatic XX–the deluxe reissue marking the 20th Anniversary of the his sterling debut. I had to jump on this one myself since the throwback is also a personal trip down, ahem, memory lane for me, having had the privilege to be in and around Stretch & Bob’s show for some of these mid-90s rap magic moments that went down in WKCR’s studio B.
To be specific, I spent the summer of 1994–a good 6 months after this recording–sub-letting (squatting) a room in a ‘literary frat house’ on the campus of Columbia University from one of my childhood homies from Detroit. Said homie–one Bayardo Gonzalez, or Dito, as I remember him–was an actual Columbia student who happened to be the head of latin music programming on WCKR at that time. Dito introduced me to another student who did the hip-hop & reggae hour right before the Stretch & Bob show under the unlikely name of DJ Spoo Love. (See? I couldn’t make that up) thereby allowing me to lurk around the studio trying look inconspicuous enough to sit in on the real shit, which Bobbito to his credit, was extremely gracious about and still remembers me as ‘DJ Static from Pittsburgh’ (I was doing hip-hop on Carnegie Mellon’s college station WRCT in Pgh, in fact).
By that time “It Ain’t Hard To Tell; “The World Is Yours” and “Memory Lane” were all over New York radio and Nas’ legend was being written by Yo! MTV Raps and other mainstream outlets. But I can clearly remember being kicked out of the studio for the entire Wu-Tang Clan to come through one night, and clearly remember not being kicked out when Buckwild (who had the hit of the moment with O.C.’s “Time’s Up” and shortly thereafter made the beat for Nas’ and Kool G Rap‘s epic collabo) played his entire beat tape on air while Bobbito cracked jokes about it sounding like shopping music (“This is the Gimball’s beat…ok. now we’re in Macy’s”). Just to give you the vibe of the times, Lauryn Hill was enrolled as a student at Columbia and allegedly DJing for or maybe dating her was Spoo Love’s big claim to fame. Good times.
This early Nas appearance, along with similar career-making moments from Mobb Deep & Biggie–all of which were passed reverently back and forth amongst us college hip-hop jocks in cassette form, treasured for Stretch and Bob’s hilarious off the cuff mic breaks as much as the incredible music and live freestyles–were actually the main reason I made it my mission to be in NY that summer. It’s easy to see why moments like these made a star of Nas and underground legends of Stretch & Bob–here young Nasir demonstrates how freestyle is supposed to be done, blending written couplets (you may recognize the “uncorrect bails” verses that became part of “Memory Lane”) seamlessly into a spontaneous flow of dome-top rhymes and ad libs (“take the microphone in your hand / kick the flim flam”) as he trades bars with his Queensbridge homie Grand Wizard. (seen lamping below with Nasir on a Queensbridge project bench alongside Ill Will, who gets the now-famous “God bless your life” shout out on this broadcast). Enjoy via the stream above, indulge in more ’90s nostalgia courtesy of Stretch & Bob here (and here) and hit the link below to cop Illmatic XX.