Was 1994 The Best Year In Hip-Hop? A Look At Classic Albums Turning 20

  • Illmatic, Nas

    [Photo Credit: Columbia]

  • Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, OutKast

    [Photo Credit: LaFace]

  • Ready To Die, Notorious B.I.G.

    [Photo Credit: Bad Boy]

  • Ill Communication, Beastie Boys

    [Photo Credit: Capitol, Grand Royal]

  • Regulate… G Funk Era, Warren G

    [Photo Credit: Def Jam, Violator]

  • Tical, Method Man

    [Photo Credit: Def Jam/PolyGram Records]

  • Murder Was The Case

    [Photo Credit: Death Row/Interscope]

  • Creepin on ah Come Up, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

    [Photo Credit: Ruthless/Relativity/Epic]

  • It Takes A Thief, Coolio

    [Photo Credit: Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. Records]

  • Funkdafied, Da Brat

    [Photo Credit: So So Def]

  • Thug Life: Volume 1, Thug Life

    [Photo Credit: Out Da Gutta Records/Interscope Records]

  • We Come Strapped, MC Eiht

    [Photo Credit: Epic Street]

  • Hard To Earn, Gang Starr

    [Photo Credit: Chrysalis/EMI Records]

  • Dare Iz a Darkside, Redman

    [Photo Credit: Def Jam]

  • Nuttin’ But Love, Heavy D & the Boyz

    [Photo Credit: Uptown, MCA]

After 20 years in the public eye, Nas has been everywhere from the Grammy Awards to Billy on the Street. His most recent achievement, however, is something not even he or his family could have dreamed of. After the National’s Matt Berninger and his brother Tom opened the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival with Mistaken For Strangers, the Queens-born rapper took center stage at this year’s fest with his documentary Time Is Illmatic. The film pays tribute to the acclaimed artist and his breakthrough album, Illmatic, 20 years after its release. Who knew Robert De Niro was such a big music fan?

1994 was a pivotal year for hip-hop. While the genre was conceived in the Bronx, New York and has birthed numerous of East Coast legends like Nasir Jones, Dr. Dre and his protege Snoop Dogg paved the way for West Coast rhymes in the early ’90s, thanks to immensely popular albums The Chronic and Doggystyle. In 1994, hip-hop’s reign would spread even further, with unique Southern styles getting mainstream attention at the hand of two Atlanta friends named Andre and Antwan. OutKast’s recent Coachella performance and reunion tour has gotten most of the attention of late, but coming at the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, is no coincidence.

Up the coast, a young Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. made a name for himself with his larger-than-life storytelling, soon enough becoming the King of New York upon the release of Ready To Die. Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man released his first solo album, Tical, in 1994, just one week before friend and collaborator Redman dropped his debut, Dare Iz a Darkside. The year also saw iconic albums (and music videos) from Beastie Boys, the final release from Heavy D & the Boyz and a soundtrack that hit No. 1 on the Billboard album charts. There was a surplus of good music from a genre that was still carving out a space for itself in the larger world of pop culture. And all of this happened way before Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Kanye West’s producing career or Aubrey Drake Graham stepped into the role of Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi.

Whether you can recall the first time you heard “Regulate” or still recite a few “Juicy” bars any time you need a little inspiration, the rap albums of 1994 are all classics we can turn to again and again. We love anniversaries here at VH1 — even more so when they inspire an epic playlist. Check out some of the major rap albums turning 20 in 2014 and ease into your work day with some tunes, below.

[Photo Credit: Columbia]