Migos might only spend 45 minutes to create a record from scratch, but once upon a time, rappers would take weeks, if not months to carefully assemble their rhymes.
For instance, take legendary MC Nas, who, when asked during a recent interview with SongFacts to describe his writing process for his acclaimed debut, Illmatic, revealed that from start to finish the album took him at least four years to write.
“I realized, writing the first album, you’ve been writing it all your life until that point, I’m sure you’ve heard that before,” Nas told veteran scribe Roger Catlin. “So I’d been writing it since I was 9 years old, in a way. But when I narrowed it down to what would be album material, it probably started at 16 years old. I got a record deal at 18 and then finished the record at 20.”
Much like life itself, the record industry didn’t operate in 1994—the year Columbia Records released Illmatic—the same way it does today. In the ’90s, artists were often given time to develop their sound and work on improving their craft. Sadly, in the era of streaming, artist development, especially on a major label level, is a lost art. Nowadays, records are often written, recorded, mixed, mastered and released in less than a week.
That said, there are still artists who practice patience and perfection. In an interview following the release of his 2017 album SYRE, Jaden Smith revealed that “BLUE,” a stretch of four songs on the project, took him nearly three years to complete. Likewise, Pusha T has revised his long-delayed King Push album several times on a quest to quench Kanye West’s need for perfection.
On Friday, at 9 p.m. EST, PBS will air Nas Live From the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop, a concert that was filmed in 2014, featuring Nas performing Illmatic alongside the National Symphony Orchestra. The event will mark the first time that the “Great Performances” series will be headlined by a hip-hop artist.