3. ILLMATIC (1994)
Production: DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Large Professor
Acclaim: Scored with gritty instrumentals by all-star beat makers, this quintessential hip-hop classic plays like a Queensbridge surveillance video, capturing street strife from the vantage point of a brilliant, adolescent author who’d seen way too much, way too young.
Peak moment: Nas delivers a park bench sermon to a smoking young gun on verse three of “One Love” with HD visuals.