Song: "One Love"
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In an era when a majority of hip-hop music is little more than over-used, uninspired, uncreative lyrics over bass heavy, poorly-produced music, it is important to remember the rich history of the genre, as some of the most amazing songs in history come from the genre. While it has largely been moved to the back burner, there was a time when, to truly establish your name as an emcee, you not only needed powerful rhymes, but also a creative and unique vocal approach. Much like being able to instantly recognize the tone of a great guitarist, the finest emcees in history have a delivery style that are so unique, that they cannot be mistaken. From lightning fast rhyming to a certain lyrical approach, there are countless aspects that can set an emcee apart from his peers, but there is a distinct group of emcees that have to total package, and they remain some of the most respected performers in music history. Powered by the success of his absolutely mind-blowing 1994 debut, Illmatic, New York emcee Nas instantly became a hip-hop icon with his distinctive voice and unsurpassed lyrical prowess. The album remains a true hip-hop classic, as there is not a bad note or rhyme anywhere on the record, and many of the songs remain just as powerful and fresh today as they were nearly two decades ago. Though the fact that the album is so good makes it hard to pick a "best" track, few would argue that there was a more important and influential song off of the record then the equally iconic single, "One Love."
Finding a perfect balance between hard hitting bass, a head-bobbing beat, and a catchy melody, "One Love" contains one of the most memorable musical backings in all of hip-hop history. Produced by Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, the core of the songs' sound comes from the double bass and piano taken from The Heath Brothers' 1975 song, "Smilin' Billy Suite Part II" while the drum break is lifted from Parilament's 1970 song, "Come In Out The Rain." This combination gives "One Love" a fantastic juxtaposition of a smooth, relaxed, jazzy feeling with the hard hitting, powerful sound of Nas' voice and the break beat. Q-Tip also contributes vocals to the songs' chorus, but it is his work with the songs' structure where he truly shines. Though the song found little mainstream success, the overall impact of "One Love" could not be denied, and it remains an absolutely iconic moment in hip-hop history to this day. Truth be told, "One Love" is so well produced, and the music so perfect, that nearly two decades later, the song remains fresh and largely unrivaled both musically and lyrically within the hip-hop scene. Giving a clear nod to the Bob Marley song of the same name, "One Love" almost answers Marley's rhetorical line from the song, "...is there a place for the hopeless sinner, who has hurt all mankind just to save his own?" As the song unfolds, Nas is clearly delivering news and hope to his friends in prison via a series of absolutely stunning verses. While the music and beats are absolutely phenomenal, they are somewhat restrained, leaving the focus of the song on Nas' top-notch rhyming style and his truly unsurpassed writing skills.
The fact of the matter is, regardless of what Nas did after the release of Illmatic, the album had instantly solidified his name as one of hip-hop's greatest emcees, and his rhymes on "One Love" are among the best he ever penned. With his smooth, almost relaxed delivery style, the verses seem to simply flow out fo Nas, and he is without question one of the most natural sounding emcees ever. It is almost impossible to name all the artists who took some of their style from Nas, but suffice to say, hip-hop music simply would not have progressed as it did without his presence. Lyrically, "One Love" is nothing short of stunning, as the "letters" that Nas presents give even the most oblivious person an insight into the realities of life for those in jail as well as life on the streets. The opening verse is one of the most chilling and "real" rhymes ever written, as Nas "tells" his imprisoned friend everything from new of his (the prisoner's) new child to a friends' niece getting killed to the fact that his (the prisoner's) girlfriend has been unfaithful. The second verse speaks of many of the same issues, but Nas also reassures this second friend that he himself is looking out for his family, embodying the "One Love" ideal. Yet it is in the songs' final verse that Nas drops one of his most chilling rhymes ever, as he recounts a conversation he had with an :up and coming" thug in the neighborhood. Discussing everything from murder to drugs, Nas almost subtle drops a bomb when he reveals that, "...only twelve trying to tell me that he liked my style..." The fact that Nas portrays someone so young in this light is unlike anything else in hip-hop history, and serves as a final, stunning revelation in this true lyrical masterpiece.
While the West Coast "G-Funk" was clearly still dominating the hip-hop scene, nothing could have prepared the world for the power and impact of Nas' legendary 1994 debut, Illmatic. Containing some of the most revered songs in hip-hop history, there is not an off or dull moment anywhere on the record, and it served as a blueprint for countless emcees that followed. From Q-Tip's absolutely superb musical backing to the overall tone of the song, "One Love" is one of the finest songs on the record, and it is without question the song that would define Nas as an artist. As a series of letters to his friends in prison, one would be hard pressed to find a song that more accurately defines the over-used term "keeping it real," as there is no boasting here, it is simply tales of the truth of what is occurring outside the walls of the prison. With some of the most gritty, yet absolutely mesmerizing lyrics ever penned, Nas finds a strange balance between the hardcore life of the streets and trying to give hope and strength to the imprisoned people to whom he speaks. Making things clearly personal, Nas even name drops fellow rapper Cormega, who at the time was serving his own prison sentence. The lyrics throughout "One Love" are nothing short of devastating, and many of the lines from the song continue to be referenced and "bitten" to this day, further solidifying the songs' iconic status. Easily one of the most pivotal moments in hip-hop history, Nas' 1994 song, "One Love" is a true musical masterpiece and is beyond required listening for every music fan.