1. Nas, Illmatic
Release Date: 4/19/1994
Think about the question that pops into your head whenever a new rapper drops his first album: "Is it the next Illmatic?"
It's rare for an artist to live up to hype the way Nas did. The Queensbridge prodigy was hailed as The Second Coming, the heir to Rakim's throne. Years later, Illmatic stands as the definitive hip-hop record. On the boards, you have DJ Premier laying down the vitriolic "New York State of Mind," Pete Rock's wizardry on "The World is Yours," and timeless work from the likes of Large Professor, Q-Tip, and L.E.S.
Then you have this 20-year-old raw lyricist whose skills had surpassed tangible and reached prophetic. 40 minutes and nine songs doesn't even feel short because there's so much to digest here. Illmatic is the perfect rap album, the perfect debut album, and everyone knows it.
It's unlikely that it will ever be unseated as the genre's greatest opening statement from an artist.