During the 20th-anniversary celebration of Illmatic, Nas has been described as the hip-hop generation’s Angela Davis. Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson declared that Nas’ debut album should be studied alongside Toni Morrison and Ernest Hemingway, and in recognition of his 20-year career, Harvard University established the Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellowship at the prestigious W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. Despite being only 39 minutes long and a commercial dud by 1994 standards,Illmatic even received a symphonic remix by the National Symphonic Orchestra.

Not bad for a kid from New York City’s Queensbridge housing projects who dropped out of the eighth grade.

Nas is a thought-provoking artist, and he said something during a recent appearance on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher that’s worth further examination: When asked whether daily life in impoverished communities has improved during the 20 years since he began exploring the issue in Illmatic, he responded, “Hell no. Things have changed, but not for the better ... the influx of guns is worse than it was in 1994.”

And he’s correct. The pathology of American gun culture has worsened. In the wake of the second shooting at Fort Hood in Texas, President Barack Obama underscored the need for the troops to be safe from gunfire while on American soil. Unfortunately, skyrocketing gun and ammunition sales and “Stand your ground” laws place all Americans in the line of fire.