By Ray Rahman
Updated March 18, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
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In her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling of the American Office argues that “with the [British Office] character David Brent, Ricky Gervais guaranteed that he would live in the pantheon forever, even if he did years of terrible, mediocre stuff.”

Gervais should get a beer with Nas. While he hasn’t produced anything truly terrible yet, the 38-old rapper will likely never outdo his 1994 debut, Illmatic. He’s had some good albums (and some just-okay ones) since then, but that record — one of hip-hop’s finest, period — will always define him.

As such, the classic East Coast album was on everyone’s mind at the Queensbridge rapper’s SXSW show at ACL’s Moody Theater. The stage was expertly dressed to resemble a New York street corner, complete with graffiti, a subway entrance, and an authentic-looking NYC trash can. For the many traveling New Yorkers weary on the last night of the festival, it was a little tempting to pull out a Metrocard and ride the imaginary train all the way back home.

Nas was also looking to take a trip to another time and place. Much like Jay-Z’s recent Carnegie Hall debut (which featured a Nas cameo), this NYCentric show splashed the wall with large, postcard-ready images of Big Apple icons like the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. The decor cemented what many had hoped: Nas would be serving up llmatic, the album that helped shape the New York sound.

With DJ Premier at his back, the rapper launched into his classic five-boroughs ode “N.Y. State of Mind,” one of those standout tracks that gets everyone to sing along. Check it out in the video below:

But however nostalgic Nas must be for those glory days, the underrated rapper AZ must be that times ten. A rising star of his day thanks to his own stellar (and criminally forgotten) debut, Doe or Die, the 40-year-old vet joined the show for his excellent “Life’s a Bitch” cameo. See it with your own eyeballs:

The night went on in this fashion, with a few interruptions — such as a friendly DJ battle between Illmatic producers Premier and Pete Rock. When Nas finally knocked out that album’s tracklist, he gave the crowd a peek at what’s next for him via the first performance of his new single “The Don.” Give it a view in the video below:

That song will be featured on his upcoming tenth effort Life is Good, which, according to his SXSW interview with Steve Stoute, should drop this May or June. If that lead single is any sign, Life might end up being one if his better albums — but if not, we’ll always have Illmatic.

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