And Nas was still 20 years old when it was released. For me, Illmatic is the best hip-hop record ever because it combines the melodious syncopation of the roots of rap with the spellbinding storytelling element that modern hip-hop is built upon. While most people still sadly believe that rap music is about glorifying violence, Nas paints a picture of the ghetto with the robust accuracy that wins white guys like David Simon awards. Why? How?
The song Q-Tip samples owes its rich tones to the mbira, a sacred African instrument, the thumb piano.
UGK asks harder questions than Green Day. Serengeti paints a more visceral picture than Tom Waits. Saul Williams is a mad poet, the Wu-Tang Clan inspire children to play chess. The world's perception of rap music has more to do with its misconceptions about black culture than anything to do with the contents of the songs themselves- if you don't believe me, Beastie Boys.
It is hard to think of so many different sounds all as one type of music, let alone choose one representative record to be better than all the others. But. Illmatic is 20, timeless.