Illmatic is 20 years old this year, and it remains an album so peerless it was once called hot on a diss song. (This was the equivalent of you getting into a bar fight and having your opponent say, as he walked away bleeding and with a broken knuckle, “You have cool hair.”) It immeasurably impacted rap and every rapper on both coasts, and, as this pretty great Google Play feature shows, its impact is still being felt on the Schoolboy Qs and Kendrick Lamars of the rap world. But even though you can trace a straight line from the urban sadness of “Life’s a Bitch” to Good Kid’s dour tunes, arguably no rapper has yet to surpass the lyricism of Nas at his best. “Memory Lane” should be featured in every poetry collection everywhere. It’s better than Shakespeare anyway. (I’m half-kidding.)
Anyway, Illmatic, at just 39 minutes long, still holds up in a big way. No small thing for a 21-year-old from Queens.