You only get one chance to make a first impression.

Rap fans can be a fickle bunch, so you better grab their ear quick. Come wack or—worse—come boring early on your album, and we may never live to hear Track 2.

That’s why the intro is so critical to the full-length album.

Can your first track automatically stir excitement, draw intrigue, paint a mood, throw us for a spin, outline an unchartered world or simply blow us out the water with a display of skill?

In revisiting and narrowing down 25 of the greatest hip-hop album intros of this century (so far), we strictly limited our list to true Track 1s. So as much as we’d like to include “Nutmeg” off Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele, “Kill You” off Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP or “What Up Gangsta?” off 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin, we ruled them out. They may be the first actual songs on those records but are preceded by intro tracks that—listened to alone—don’t measure up to those described below.

As you’ll see, some of the 2K artists are especially gifted at capturing our imagination from jump (Kanye West, Pusha-T, Nas and Lil Wayne among them) and thus command multiple entries.

Regardless, these 25 intros serve as a reminder of the importance of album sequencing and a fun trip down memory lane as we revisit some of raps’ most mind-blowing and eye-opening first impressions. —Luke Fox

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