8. Nas, "Illmatic XX" (Sony Legacy)

Nasty Nas, chip-toothed villain and blunted poet of the project stairway, created 10 vivid docudramas for his 1994 debut and instant classic, superimposing himself over a backdrop of street life. A hard light on the Queensbridge underbelly, the smell of Phillies, Hennessy, piss, blood, and beer still wafts around every time you hit play. Underscored with minimal and flawless production by four hip-hop legends (Large Professor, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, and Q-Tip), "Illmatic" catapulted its animator into a class with the best writers of his generation. Nas has grown significantly as a lyricist, but 20 years later "Illmatic" remains his most loved and essential album for good reason: It's flawless. (TK)
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