Label: Def Jam

Much like the similarly named De La Soul album that preceded it, the title of Nas' eighth album is both an ingeniously provocative publicity stunt and a thought-provoking thesis. Southern rappers who felt slighted, including Young Jeezy and Ludacris, lashed out at Nas in response, which only added to the album's hooplah. And though Esco's conclusion was certainly premature-hip-hop is alive and well in 2012-the conversation the album helped spark arguably provided a much-needed course correction at the height of the ringtone era.

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