If the years that shook the musical landscape were measured on a magnitude scale, 1994 would rate an earth-shattering 10. Twenty years ago, six artists from the world of hip-hop and R&B dropped debut albums that not only signaled each artist’s arrival but also changed music altogether.
1. Ready to Die, the Notorious B.I.G.
Released at a time when West Coast rap was dominating the airwaves, Biggie’s Ready to Die immediately shifted the focus back East, where hip-hop was born. Hits such as “Juicy,” “Big Poppa” and “One More Chance” became urban anthems for fans on both coasts. As Biggie’s only studio album released while he was alive, Ready to Die reached legendary status and is often listed as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.
2. Illmatic, Nas
The Source magazine, once hip-hop’s bible, awarded Illmatic “five mics”—instant classic—a rarity for a debut album. Nas’ lyricism—a callback to the days of rap pioneers Big Daddy Kane and Rakim—inspired a generation of rappers to step up their word game. Even though the album had modest success when it was first released, it’s now hailed as a hip-hop masterpiece.
3. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, OutKast