Nas is an American born New York City hip hop artist. His style reflects that of a critical commentary of both society and individuals themselves. In 1994 Nas released perhaps the most influential hip hop albums of all time in his debut album “Illmatic” containing many tracks that reflect the struggles of living in an urban society such as New York City. The song that most clearly represents the significance of Nas’s upbringing on the album is track number 2 “NY state of mind”. Although similar in name to a 1976 Billy Joel song, Nas’s song takes a much more critical lens on the perspective of urban New York City. Nas’s critical perspective of New York City is fueled by the changing and increasingly more dangerous streets of New York City.
This song is very representative of a first hand account of the adverse situations going on in New York City during the early 90’s. Nas mentions the ubiquity of firearms and violence that seemed to appear in the “ghettos” of his upbringing. Nas writes “It’s like the game ain’t the same, got younger niggas pulling the triggas, bringing fame to their name.” This is a heavy lyric to say the least, as he identifies that there is a problem with violence and it has become apparent among the world. While identifying those firearms remain prevalent in his neighborhood, Nas is very critical of the youth being involved with such activity. He blames society in general for members of the youth for taking part in such an activity. His words reflect that participants of firearms and gang activity are doing it to simply gain street credit. When Nas writes “bringing fame to their name” he is talking about how participating in this culture gives an appearance of being thug or tough rather than for personal protection. This act is reflective of a failing society which Nas is increasingly disproving of.
While Nas disapproves of gang activity in terms of reflecting society, he recognizes that gang activity is a reality he has to live and be mindful of this fact. To site specifically Nas writers “I never sleep because sleep is the cousin of death. Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined, I think of crime when I’m in the New YorkState of mind” Nas is commenting that his association to New York is a life of crime. He must remain aware of the pending dangers of New York City crime life, and sites “I never sleep because sleep is the cousin of death”. Nas is fearful that if he is not watchful he may well be subjected to violence and perhaps death. He remains fearful of his surroundings even when sleeping so he remains awake during what should be a tranquil time.
The overall message of the song reflects that of a critical view of New York City. Nas attributes this “New YorkState of mind” as one to be fearful and wary of impending danger that exisits in the urban areas of the city. Nas is aware that ensuing danger is ubiquitous in these areas and is preaching for change. He blames society for influencing younger members of society in a negative way. He longs for the improvement of society, so other members are not subjected to the same experiences he had to face.