2010 will be the year of the Illmatic tribute album with projected releases from Slum Village's Elzhi and Cali-sensation Fashawn. Who will have the better tribute is yet to be determined, but will undoubtedly be debated ad nauseum at all the major hip hop blogs and forums. Get your brown bags ready.
Elzhi has yet to premiere his Illmatic dedication, but I am part of the minority that looked forward to announced project. No, I don't think it will battle for space in the special place in my heart that I keep Illmatic lyrics stored. I view this as an interesting writing exercise, similar to Hunter S. Thompson typing Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises in order to feel what it's like to type great words. Maybe, just maybe these tribute records will make Elzhi and Fashawn better emcees in the long run.
It seemed as though Elzhi would handle the classic with proper care, not stepping on the legacy of one of hip hop's most celebrated records. But, with no word from the Slum Village camp as to the status of Elzhi's project, Fashawn has swept the idea from under Elzhi's feet. He's already released two reinterpretations, one of which is “Memory Lane” with Talib Kweli assuming the role of AZ.
I'm always quick to dismiss Kweli as the last rapper I want to hear in the guest slot of a song, but his adjustment of the classic AZ verse is good look for Kweli – homage paid. After catching Fashawn's live set this project is not much of surprise. Comparison's between Nas and the young sensation become apparent when you see Fashawn rocking “Hey Young World” from his debut over Nas' “The World Is Yours.” If I'm not mistaken, he even kicked a reinterpreted Nas verse that night, so this has possibly been in the making since at least December.