Nas' groundbreaking 1994 debut, Illmatic, laid the foundation for East Coast hip-hop in the '90s and beyond while establishing the Queensbridge, NY artist as one of hip-hop's most electrifying and influential urban street poets. Featuring production from Q-Tip, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, and Large Professor, Illmatic is universally hailed as one of the best hip-hop albums of all time if not THE best, generating the hit singles "It Ain't Hard To Tell," "One Love," and "The World Is Yours." Large Professor reflects on the 1994 classic, "The energy about making Illmatic was crazy. It was really New York at its peak, and then you had this ferocious rapper in Nas and these ferocious producers and it was what I called the burner age...It was a real thought-out, intricate masterpiece."
"Illmatic is the best hip-hop record ever made. Not because it has ten great tracks with perfect beats and flawless rhymes, but because it encompasses everything great about hip-hop that makes the genre worthy of its place in music history. Stylistically, if every other hip-hop record were destroyed, the entire genre could be reconstructed from this one album. But in spirit, Illmatic can just as easily be compared to Ready to Die, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and Enter the Wu-Tang as it can to Rites of Spring, A Hard Day's Night, Innervisions, and Never Mind the Bollocks. In Illmatic, you find the meaning not just of hip-hop, but of music itself: the struggle of youth to retain its freedom, which is ultimately the struggle of man to retain his own essence." - Matthew Gasteier, Prefix