YouTube video

Nas Breaks Down ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ With Harvard Poetry Professor

by Terry Heick

In April of 1994, Queens artist Nas released what would become one of the most iconic hip-hop albums of all time.

‘Illmatic’ contained 10 tracks, including ‘One Love,’ ‘Halftime,’ ‘Memory Lane,’ and ‘NY State of Mind.’ With legendary producers like Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest), and of course DJ Premier, the album instantly captured what had emerged as a then-modern east coast hip-hop sound.

Nas’ considerable talent for creating authentic vignettes that are easy to visualize, through hooks and wordplay that is easy to remember, gave the album instant-classic status.

Working with producers like Large Professor, who had helped establish the east coast scene and sound, there was a tension between Illmatic’s aesthetic and the booming west coast p-funk infused, ‘gangster rap’ which was perfected in Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ released in 1992.

The video above explored ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell,’ a track full of ranging similes and metaphors delivered with a pace that required 50+ plays before you could begin to appreciate it all, and even then only ‘getting it’ insofar as you realized you’d never entirely grasp the place the rhymes were written from.

There is a ($499) Harvard University Course on Poetry in America, which sounds especially similar to a course I was teaching 10 years ago in rural Kentucky for free, but Ivy League academia don’t come cheap these days.

‘My poetry is deep, I never fail…’

Nas Breaks Down Hip-Hop Classic ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ With Harvard Poetry Professor