Is Illmatic the Best Rap Album of All Time?: Head to Head with Edd

Welcome back to Head to Head with Edd, where yours truly goes toe-to-toe with the superfans of the game’s biggest artists. We’ll take a look at the selected artist’s biggest hits and misses and see where we can find common ground.

We’ve been doing the Head to Head series for over a year now, and when the homie Joey Hip-Hop asked if I covered Nas yet, I was shocked that we hadn’t. Glad to cover one of my favorite MCs with one of my favorite Twitter follows – him up on bird app at @gothamcityrap, he’s one of the best.

And speaking of the best, let’s celebrate a true hip-hop legend.

Y’all know how we start off: Name Nas’ three best albums.


1. Illmatic

2. It Was Written

3. The Lost Tapes

Illmatic and It Was Written have to be the two easiest front runners of possibly any rap artist ever, LOL. Both classics. For No. 3, I’m going with The Lost Tapes, just slightly above Stillmatic.


1. Illmatic

2. Stillmatic

3. Life is Good

Well, there’s no debate needed about Illmatic, easily one of the greatest records ever recorded, of any genre. But more on that later. Sometimes I think Stillmatic doesn’t get its just due today because it was a real “you had to be there” moment – it’s mightcould be the best comeback record in rap history. And yes, I’ve celebrated its greatness before and will continue to do so here: Life is Good is an absolutely incredible album and in the conversation for best rap album of the past 10 years. All three albums get 5 stars from me, and you know how stingy I am with those.

And what’s Nas’ worst album?

Joey: Nastradamus

Nastradamus, pretty clearly. However, I don’t think it’s as bad as people claim. It’s mediocre for sure but not really a terrible album to me.

Edd: Nastradamus

Totally agree. You weren’t around back then but trust me, when that album dropped in 1999, playas acted like this was a zero-star album – I’m talking a Lil Pump Harverd Dropout level disaster (apologies if y’all actually like that album – seek Jesus immediately). But no, there’s plenty of solid tracks there. It’s just a bit mediocre for an artist who rarely misses.

What Nas’ most underrated album?

Joey: God’s Son

God’s Son has got to be one of the most underrated albums ever. It’s incredible and arguably not even top five Nas. The production is really intriguing on this one and Nas reaches some emotional heights that he doesn’t match even in his best projects.

Edd: Life is Good

Nas often gets locked in the Illmatic box (and in more recent years, It Was Written has joined that convo) and fans rarely give his underrated post-Stillmatic run props that are due. Joey’s right, God’s Son is too often overlooked, his collabo album with Damain Marley works WAY better than you’d expect and Untitled, which was saddled with unneeded controversy in 2008, would be considered a Woke Masterpiece today. But once again, I gotta give props to Life is Good – it’s everything y’all celebrated Jay Z’s 4:44 for innovating, except done much earlier and even better.

Nas doesn’t get enough credit for his singles. Which is his best?

Joey: “Halftime”/”If I Ruled the World”

This shows my age but I didn’t realize Nas had singles LOL. Gotta be “Halftime” or “If I Ruled the World.”

Edd: “Nas is Like”

“If I Ruled the World” might be Nas’ best selling and most celebrated single and, surprisingly, “I Can” is his biggest mainstream hit, but to me, the most NAS Nas single is “Nas is Like.” The wordplay, the confidence, the subtle wisdom, the INCREDIBLE DJ Premier production – it’s truly all that makes Nas legendary all in one package.

Name an album cut that should have been a single.

Joey: “War”

“War” is one of my favorite Nas songs and I’m not sure a lot of people know about it. It’s a deep cut off Street’s Disciple that is generally looked at as a weaker Nas album, but it has some gems.

Edd: “You Won’t See Me Tonight”

I could name several tracks worthy of this spot but Nas’ collabo with Timbaland and Aaliyah was a guaranteed mainstream hit and I’m still shocked we never got a video (Nas has said in later years it was planned, it just fell through). There’s no way this wouldn’t have dominated radio in 1999, and it’s leagues better than the Timbo/Ginuwine teamup we got months later. That song still irritates me.

Esco has several show-stealing guest verses. Which is his best?

Joey: “Eye for an Eye”

Hot take here because I think the obvious choice is “Verbal Intercourse,” but I’m going with “Eye for a Eye” off The Infamous with Mobb Deep and Raekwon.

Edd: “Fast Life”

See I was about to do “Verbal Intercourse” but then Joey made me feel basic for doing so. But then I remembered “Fast Life” with Kool G Rap, the best MC y’all never give props:

Police searchin’ up my Lexo, but who’s petro?
My tech blows straight off the roof and tests yo respect, though
But dough don’t respect me, it got me handcuffed
The rough life, I just be up nights, breathin’ with scuffed Nike’s
Pour my beers for my peoples under the stairs
These years I got they names in my swears


Speaking of that, whom would you like to see Nas collab with next?

Joey: J. Cole

I NEED an official follow-up to “Let Nas Down.” “Made Nas Proud” is good but I want something on steaming and I want it to be while Cole is arguably in his lyrical prime.

Edd: J. Cole

I probably would have said Cordae but that just happened recently. So yeah, Cole is a great pick. Cole was slapped with the “new Nas” label years ago – while that was definitely unfair pressure back then, he’s risen to the occasion in recent years. I have no doubt he’d bring his A-game at this point in his career.

Has Nas ever been outrapped by another artist on a track? If so, who?

Joey: Yes, by AZ on “Life’s A B****.” It’s one of the best features of all time, stealing the show from Nas who also had a great performance.

Edd: Truth be told, Nas doesn’t get outshined often. AZ is the most prominent example but I gotta tip my had to Luda on the Made You Look Remix. For an artist at the time who was seen as strictly a “party rapper,” Luda proved he had bars for days, blowing past Nas AND Jadakiss. Luda’s a beast, man.

Nasir is one of rap’s greatest storytellers. Which show best showcases this ability?

Joey: “I Gave You Power”

A song told from the point of view of a gun that gives you insight into Nas’s life? Genius. The instrumental is really smooth too, perfectly complements Nas’s chilling delivery.

Edd: “I Gave You Power”

“I Gave You Power” is not only my favorite Nas song, it’s one of my favorite songs PERIOD. It’s a cautionary tale that expertly describes the circle of violence that grips our communities. The final verse gives me chills EVERY TIME.

What direction would you like Nas to go in for his next album? Gritty, underground? High volume trap? Jazzy?

Joey: He dabbled in a lot of these on King’s Disease, to some success, but if he wants to rise above “good” and achieve greatness again with his next album, I think he’s going to need to do something extremely well planned and thought out. I would personally love a Life Is Good 2 with a sort of “update” on his mindset this late in life (it could be on the 10 year anniversary!). I am particularly interested in these sorts of stories from older MCs because I think they have so much wisdom after all their experiences, and giving simple advice can easily be eye-opening to younger audiences. We saw a bit of this reflection on Nas’ “10k Hours” verse off Jhene Aiko’s album and I would love to hear something similar for a full album.

Edd: HMMMMM, I hadn’t considered it before but now I kinda want Life is Good 2. I think it would be much better received today than 2012, when the younger fanbase was more googly-eyed over the Young Money kids. Here’s the thing about switching sounds – a great MC is a great MC, it doesn’t matter what the beat is. It’s like I’ve said millions of times before, I have no problem with trap beats in theory, I have a problem with LAZY RAPPERS on trap beats. Nas proved on King’s Disease that he can murder a trap track as easily as classic boom-bap. What I REALLY want is a mix between LIG and what he TRIED to accomplish on the Nasir project with Kanye – elder statesmen wisdom drenched in classic soul. That would be the ultimate Nas release.

You know we had to take it there: Nas or Jay Z – who has the better catalog?

Joey: I got Nas here but this classic yin and yang duo is so close that it could definitely go either way. What I give to Jay-Z’s catalog over Nas’ is that he has an iconic album in every era. Nas doesn’t have that; his classics past the year 2000 are all highly debated and weren’t nearly half as big as Hov’s. However, I think Nas is more consistent. Lots of great albums and very, very few misses. Jay-Z has some bad misses (Magna Carta comes to mind).

Edd: I agree you, playa. For those on the periphery who haven’t taken a deep dive into both discographies, it’s easy to say JAY WAYYY BETTER because Jay’s releases have always been more high-profile – and we know how much the Internet loves hype over substance. But when you compare their careers, song for song, album for album, verse for verse, I think Nas has been slightly more consistent. It’s very, very close for sure but there’s a reason why I moved Nas ahead of Jay in my personal top 10 a few years ago. And speaking of…

Is Nas in your top 5?

Joey: Yes, he’s Top 2 for me only behind Pac. I don’t see how someone could possibly not have Nas top 10. His discography is too deep, skill level too high for him to not be considered one of the greats. Besides Hov, Black Thought, and flashes of Eminem, how many other rappers are rhyming this well in their 40s/50s? Longevity.

Edd: He’s in my top 5 and he ain’t 3-5. As I said earlier, my Top 3 was Biggie > Jay Z > Nas for years and years. It’s only been in the past decade that Nas leapfrogged Jay, when Jay was doing those goofy “breasteses for breakfast” verses while Nas was quietly having a career renaissance. Top 5 lists are obviously subjective – none of us use the same metrics for success – but if you’re talking lyrical skill, storytelling, legacy, longevity and consistency, Nas is the greatest rapper alive, in my eyes.

Is Illmatic the greatest rap album of all time?

Joey: No, but it is REALLY hard for me to find an argument for why not. I really do think it comes down entirely to personal preference. Greatest debut album of all time? Yes. All-around rap albums? Top 10. Most influential rap album ever? Absolutely. I love the album just not sure if it’s my absolute favorite, and I’ll save the favorite vs. best discussions for another time.

Edd: See, I’m glad you made the distinction between “favorite” and “greatest,” something EVERYONE seems incapable of doing these days. I mean, Lil Cease’s Wonderful World of Cease-a-Leo is one of my favorite albums ever, how crazy would I look trying to claim it’s a GOAT-level release? No, Illmatic is not my favorite rap album – it’s not even my favorite Nas album – but it’s the album that reshaped the culture as we know it. The emphasis on storytelling, the production, even the album cover itself is iconic and ushered in a generation of clones. There’s a reason why we call an artists’ greatest work “their Illmatic” – it’s because it’s the best rap album of all time.

Who made the most sense, Joey or Edd? Share your favorite Nas picks below and see more Head to Head battles here.



  1. This was a good article, could’ve been great if Jay wasn’t mentioned. They don’t always have to be mentioned when the other is talked about. They are both great in their right. Nas has had a great career, give him his shine without mentioning Jay and Vice versa…

  2. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is THEGREATESTALBUMOFALLTIME rap wise!! It’s not even close!!!! The greatest and The best!!!!

  3. Great article, I loved the Banter format and both of them made excellent points.

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