When Nasir Jones dared listeners to “name a rapper that I ain’t influenced,” fans were left scratching their heads.

That was in 2001, and the echo of Nas’ ground-breaking debut LP, Illmatic, could be heard resonating in the voice of any MC keen on writing rhymes past the margins.

Now a quarter of a century removed from Illmatic’s landing on April 19, 1994, the impact of the perfect 10-track LP spawned from the mind of a half-man, half-amazing poet soaking in life from his project window is still being felt.

Some of the biggest stars in hip-hop 2019, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar, openly cite that chipped-toothed kid from Queensbridge as an influence. Just as a young Nas pulled his motivation from Rakim, J. Cole wants to do his hero proud. Pay it forward.

With its jazzy loops, dense lyricism, spellbinding flows, precision storytelling, limited guest list, utter distaste for filler tracks, all-star production cast (Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Large Professor) and sheer hunger, Illmatic revolutionized the game and permanently raised the bar in hip-hop. Even Nas himself extracted inspiration from his magnum opus in 2001, for the aptly titled masterpiece, Stillmatic.

"They thought I'll make another Illmatic/But it's always forward I'm moving, never backwards, stupid, here's another classic," Esco rhymes on "Stillmatic (The Intro)."

As Illmatic celebrates 25 years and its author readies a summer tour with Mary J. Blige, XXL revisits other 10 classic rap projects that wouldn’t sound quite the same without it. —Luke Fox

See 10 Classic Projects That Were Influenced By Nas' Illmatic

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