7. Nas "Nas Is Like" (1999)
Album: I Am...
The sixth joint effort between Nas and Premier and the lead single off of I Am, "Nas Is Like" opens with a two-four drumkick and a sound that crackles and pops, a sharp nod to the warmth of vinyl and the history of recorded rap in just a few seconds time. Like sunlight blasting through through a dusty room—replete with birds outside—the strings come through, with harp notes for good measure, as if the entire thing weren't rich enough already.
Contrasted with the album's other single, the violently operatic club banger "Hate Me Now," this was an insta-classic golden era sound, a refreshing backyard-blast with samples not just of Nas himself, but records that aspiring producers, 'heads, and obsessive crate-diggers would freak over trying to uncover for years to come. Premier famously almost trashed the original record that the sample originated from before hearing it. Can you imagine that universe, one in which "Nas is Like" had a different sample track? Neither can anyone else. —Foster Kamer