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Nas’ ‘Illmatic’ Album: All 10 Songs Ranked 

The Queens MC’s groundbreaking debut turns 30 today.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the consensus best album in rap history. Illmatic, meaning “the science of everything ill,” was a pivotal moment in hip-hop, especially for the East Coast rap scene. At the time, West Coast “gangsta” rap was dominating the genre and the birthplace of the sound was becoming afterthought with the exception of groups like the Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest.

Enter Nasty Nas.

The teenage phenom hailing from Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, Queens had already made waves in 1991 with a guest feature on Main Source’s song “Live at the Barbeque.” He sounded like a newer version of Rakim and Kool G Rap and his verse was talked about like a mythical treasure like the Lost Scrolls. Since rapping about the time he “almost went to hell for snuffing Jesus,” his Queens OG Large Professor and his then-new manager MC Serch shopped for a deal and recruited a who’s who of producers to help craft what would become the perfect rap album. Nas was the Second Coming, the Chosen One, and Large Professor, DJ Premier, L.E.S., Pete Rock, and Q-Tip were the wise men following the North Star in search of the true and living god emcee.

Now, 30 years later, Illmatic remains one of the most important artifacts in hip-hop history, proof that perfection can achieved and a symbol of lyrical mastery. This is the first album you play for someone who has never heard rap music before because the poetry is deep and never fails.

For the timeless classic’s anniversary, we decided to break down each track and rank them (no clue how you can rank a perfect album, but I try my best.) Check out our thoughts and rankings below.

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