The dark, menacing beach town where Ozark is set doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Queens streets that inspired Nas’ 1994 debut album Illmatic, but the two have become surprising bedfellows in the Netflix crime drama’s latest episode.
Fan favorite character Ruth Langmore, the young, savvy criminal played by Julia Garner, has long been established as a dyed in the wool hip-hop head, preferring classic ‘90s rap like The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, and A Tribe Called Quest.
“The Cousin of Death,” the fourth season’s eighth episode, is entirely soundtracked by *Illmatic–*many will no doubt catch that the episode’s title itself references a lyric from “The World is Yours.” It depicts Langmore on the warpath, out for revenge against a cartel leader who hurt members of her family.
In an interview with Men’s Health, showrunner Chris Mundy spoke about why they went with Illmatic, calling it “one of the best records of all time,” and explaining they wanted something that even the script writing was influenced by the album.
“[There are] parallels between Ruth and Nas. I mean, in one way, they’re very different. She’s a 19, 20-year-old white woman who lives in a trailer in Missouri. That’s very far from Queensbridge. At the same time, she’s around the same age as he was when he wrote that album. I could understand her identification with it, or her love of it. The parallels seemed too perfect,” said Mundy. I also felt the way the album lays out, it feels very whole, but there are different moods in there that were going to suit what we shot. The second we decided it should be Illmatic, it couldn’t be anything else.”
Also tucked into the episode is a surprising cameo from Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, who Langmore meets at a diner and hits with the classic awkward-rap-fan-line, “I really love your shit.” In the scene, the two discuss “N.Y. State of Mind.” Mike opines about how it must’ve been particularly dispiriting to be able to see the Manhattan skyline from where the housing project where Nas grew up in Queens.
“You ever wonder if he’d trade that record if it meant not having to go through all that shit?” Langmore asks Mike. “If you’ve got to ask the question,” Mike says before trailing off. (The rapper told Billboard he was a fan of the show when the cameo was announced.)
Tracks from Illmatic have been used in a wide range of film and TV projects, including Denzel Washington’s Antwone Fisher and Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness, but rarely has the rapper’s music been as thoroughly integrated into another medium as it was in Ozark. Imagine what the music rights bill must’ve been like.