Hip-Hop Classics Turning 20 in 2014

Bad Boy Entertainment
The Baby from Ready to Die is now 20
There's a reason "bring it back to '94" had become such a heartfelt calling card for hip-hop traditionalists. While it's always been a primarily singles-driven genre, you would be hard pressed to find a single year with more endlessly influential, important and well aging rap classics than 1994. A landmark for many reasons, we're just reminding you early to get ready for a calendar year full of thinkpieces regarding some of the greatest collections of rhymes over beats ever made.

See also: The 10 Best New York City Rap Albums of 2013

Illmatic: Declared a classic upon release, Nas' debut has encompassed for many exactly what a rap album should contain. Recounting and reflecting all that he saw from his Queensbridge Project window, Nas worked with a dream team of producers to assemble the definitive rite of passage for rap listeners. While much has been written about every second of perfection that occurs whenever someone presses play, it's comparatively understated what a factor coming out on Columbia had for Illmatic. One of the largest record labels on the planet, Illmatic was an unapologetically street record. Listen to the distilled Michael Jackson sample on "It Ain't Hard to Tell" and realize THAT was what was intended to be the pop single. It's a sheer miracle that Illmatic came through the Columbia channels the way it did, and the promotional push for what was such a street record helped make sure it connected with critics and listeners who otherwise may not have heard it.

Notorious B.I.G.
Ready to Die
It's truly unfortunate that, for all that's gone into mythologizing Biggie's legacy to the point where we have major motion pictures based on his life and action figures in his likeness, that same energy hasn't gone into preserving the essential rap masterpiece that is Ready to Die. Revisionist critics and new jacks alike have scoffed at Biggie's inclusion on countless Greatest of All Time lists solely based on this album, but the perfectly realized vision that Big and Puff had here is precisely the stuff legends are made of. Unfortunately, the dubious 10th Anniversary Edition and its subsequent re-printings have been the subject of numerous lawsuits, stripping this flawless classic of some of its most important moments. To celebrate 20 years of Biggie, we suggest digging out your original copy for remembering when "It was all a dream..."

The Diary
Scarface might be the most underrated rap artist of all time. Whether as part of the Geto Boys or in his own solo career, you would be hard-pressed to find anybody that's been in the game as long as he has and maintained such consistency. With 25 years of material to choose from, his 1994 album The Diary remains his masterpiece. A southern Rap-A-Lot classic when merely taken at face value, a closer inspection on how each subsequent track peels away layers of gangsta rap until Face ultimately rewrites his biggest hit "Mind Playin' Tricks on Me" to reflect his own life, makes The Diary one of the most layered and endlessly rewarding releases in the genre.

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