Nas Reveals Inspiration Behind “Illmatic” Album Cover

via Chris Holden / CC-BY-3.0

During a recent PBS special, which features Nas live from the Kennedy Center, the New York rap icon revealed the inspiration behind the artwork for his iconic debut album, Illmatic.

Featured on a documentary called Great Performances, Nas stood atop an illuminated stage with the entire National Symphony Orchestra behind him and performed track after track of the 1994 classic that introduced us to his Hennessy-soaked chords. Interwoven between each lyrical piece was the artist’s telling of the many experiences that shaped his childhood, but it was the jewels he dropped after performing “One Time 4 Your Mind ” — the eighth song on his classic project — that gave fans a new and unexpected surprise.

“I’m a big Michael Jackson fan,” Nas says. “I’ll tell you something I never said. On my album cover, you see me with the afro, that was kind of inspired by Michael Jackson – the little kid picture.”

The revealing of the inspiration behind the cover of Illmatic, which dons a childhood photo of himself, served as timely intel, before he broke into “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” the final track, which samples MJ’s “Human Nature.”

Illmatic was released in 1994 by Columbia Records. To this day, it is considered one of the greatest pieces of hip-hop musicality of all time from fans and lyricists alike.

Watch the entire performance here.