Nas is arguably the most influential rapper on this list. In 1994, Nas dropped his debut album Illmatic and changed hip-hop, full stop. The album, nearly universally lauded as the greatest hip-hop album of all time, is an exploration and documentary of the streets in the Queensbridge projects in New York City. Its cold, grimy production paired with Nas’ smooth, but complex flow gives an unmatched immersive feeling of a New York winter night.
Illmatic was the beginning of a lot of street rap as well as some of the rhyme styles that we see everywhere in the rap scene today. There isn’t a rapper currently in the game that hasn’t been influenced by Nas and Illmatic, it’s the definition of a classic.
If it weren’t for Nas’ inconsistency in the letter half of his career he’d be number one, but expecting him to continue to innovate at that level considering what an asteroid Illmatic was to the landscape of rap would be too much to ask.