The Classic: "Queens Get the Money"

Nas wanted to call this album N****r, which was the only title guaranteed to generate more controversy than Hip Hop Is Dead, from two years earlier. Mercifully, the album began with a much more understated tactic. Clocking in at just over two minutes, “Queens Get the Money” isn’t a rap song, but something better: A rapping song. No flashy beat, no hook, not even drums—just the sound of a great emcee doing the thing with his voice that he was born to do. Jay Electronica’s minimalistic track only serves to heighten the impact of this masterwork.

The Stinker: "Make the World Go 'Round"

In every aspect, “Make The World Go Round” is the polar opposite of “Queens Get the Money.” A bloated mess devoid of soul, the song commits a sacrilegious act by interpolating the Stylistics’ heavenly “People Make the World Go Round” into a song that can’t even be deemed glossy. It’s worse than glossy—it’s glossiness mashed up and reassembled and then shrink-wrapped and sold in a gaudy wrapper. In other words, a Chris Brown song in everything but name.

The Buried Treasure: "You Can't Stop Us Now"

There has never been a bad rap song based on the sample to the Whatnauts’ “Message From a Black Man.” The original is so spare and unflinching that rappers are forced to commit to its example of hushed authority. Nas’ first verse is essential: “Sip Moonshine, so-called coons, shines, and darkies/I love y'all/Pyramids to cotton fields to Wrigley Field/Forgotten men who did get killed.” In drawing a bridge between the horrors of black American history and the present-day heroes of hip-hop, Nas imparts to his fans a crucial lesson: You can’t fully appreciate the fruits from a tree unless you understand the depth of its roots.