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Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas's Illmatic Paperback – December 29, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Though not an overwhelming chart success when released in 1994, Nas’ album Illmatic has long been hailed as a hip-hop masterpiece, whose sales steadily climbed until in 2001 it attained platinum status (i.e., one million-copy U.S. sales). Editors Dyson and Daulatzai corral a team of all-star commentators, including themselves, to assess the album’s merits and its place in the larger cultural context. Arriving at the very end of hip-hop’s “Golden Age,” Illmatic pointed the way for hip-hop’s post-gangsta crossover into and alteration of the pop-music mainstream. The essays aren’t easy reading, but they constitute a vital book for readers eager to understand the history of the genre. As Daulatzai observes, “There is something about Illmatic that transcends the categories of hip-hop,” though at the bottom line, “Illmatic is just a dope album, embodying everything that is hip-hop while mastering what matters most: beats and rhymes.” An absolute must for serious pop-music collections. --Mike Tribby

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“A vital book for readers eager to understand the history of the genre.”

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Civitas Books (December 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465002110
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465002115
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #263,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sohail Daulatzai is associate professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies and the Program in African American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is coeditor of Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas's Illmatic.

Customer Reviews

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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By C. Koch on April 17, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I try to write reviews that I would have found helpful when I was shopping.
The following info has already been mentioned in other reviews, but is important:
This is a collection of essays connected to the tracks off of Nas' classic album "Illmatic." There is an essay for every song, including the intro, plus bonus commentary, interviews, and the original 5 Mic review from the Source. If one wants a "making of" version of Illmatic, then definately buy the 33 1/3 book for Illmatic.Nas' Illmatic (33 1/3 series)

If you are thinking of buying this book, answer these two questions:
1. Do you think a fair interpretation of the second line in "The World Is Yours" ("writin in my book of rhymes, all the words pass the margin") could be "The margins also serve as a metaphor for urban youth relegated to the margins by being forced to work within clearly defined legal, economic, social, and political parameters (i.e., margins)."?
2. Would you agree that "N.Y. State of Mind" is "a bird's-eye view, a series of close-ups and cutaways that not only allows us to imagine the land-mine littered landscape of the globe under American power - but also to see the connections between the forces that have devastated urban centers in the United States and those that are destroying lives throughout the Third World"?

If the answer is "Yes," definitely buy the book. If you answered, "No" or "I'm not sure" then this book might not be for you. Personally, I found these connections very clever, but I kept thinking, "I don't think this was on Nas' mind when he wrote this." My recommendation, look at the library first or borrow from a friend. The additional essays and interviews are very good.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A L McGill on June 5, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First and foremost, I have always been a fan of Nas, since Illmatic. If you dont own Illmatic, you need to get it before you attempt to read this book. Each track is broken down, essay style by a hip hop academic personality. The subject matter gets pretty deep in this book and it's a conversation peice among other true hip hop heads. This book is thought provoking, you may have to put it down a few times to say "Dam!" and scratch your head. Don't be surprised if you need to get your dictionary out a few times. I highly recommend this book to people who enjoy a good discourse on the sociological perspectives of early hip hop. After you read this book you will have a lot more to talk and argue about.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Verbal Kentz on April 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was very informative and explored thoroughly by the authors. Illmatic is a true classic and needs to be examined and dissected as this novel does. Great insight on the history of this groundbreaking album and all the necessary producers that produced this exquisite masterpiece. How it got made and the necessary people that made it possible. The east coast was looking for something to embrace because at the time the west coast was becoming the source of current hip hop classics. Lyrical the east has always been the best not to say their aren't any lyrical cats elsewhere but the west was more into production of the musical renaissance. This album was influential in other classic's been made like "Ready To Die" and "Reasonable Doubt". Big might have taken the album art cover idea but "Reasonable doubt" samples the music from the classic "Illmatic" Also to know that "halftime" was on the "Zebra Head" soundtrack. Nas dropping classic verses on "Live at The Barbeque" and MC Search putting Nas on "Back to the Grill" and shopping his demo. The east-coast had group's dropping classics but not individual artist like the west-coast. This book is truly informative and deserves Five Mics for being written.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Reviewer on February 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
First, just so people don't get it twisted - bear in mind that this book is NOT a break down of how the music was made and does NOT have input from Nas or any of the people who worked on the album, which I thought it might have.

Some Hip-Hop books have a LOT of input from MCs/producers like Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies, How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC, DJ Shadow's Endtroducing... (33 1/3), and Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop (Music Culture)... but this isn't one of those kind of books.

Born to Use Mics is essentially a series of essays written on Illmatic, so don't be disappointed if you buy it expecting MC/producer quotes and stories like in the above books, because that isn't what this book is about.

So judging it on what it is - a collection of academic analyzes of various themes in the subject matter of Illmatic - it does this extremely well, with some of the most insightful break downs of the socio-political aspects of Hip-Hop that I have seen, from some of the best academic writers.

Each essay is themed around one of the tracks on the album, and they touch on a lot of the references in the lyrics and go in depth to cover the intricacies that Nas put into the subject matter.
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