DAR Roundtable Classics: 1994- Illmatic vs Ready To Die

The year was 1994. Hip hop was in an era of lyricism, aggression, storytelling, and defining artists. That year, two of the legends debuted, as Nas and Biggie released their first albums respectively in that year. Today, 21 years later, we look back at their debut albums and see who released the best album of 1994.


1. The Genesis
2. NY State of Mind
3. Life's A Bitch
4. The World Is Yours
5. Halftime
6. Memory Lane(Sittin In Da Park)
7. One Love
8. One Time 4 Your Mind
9. Represent
10. It Aint Hard To Tell


Ready to Die

1. Intro
2. Things Done Changed
3. Gimme The Loot
4. Machine Gun Funk
5. Warning 
6. Ready To Die
7. One More Chance
8. *#& Me Interlude
9. The What
10. Juicy
11. Everyday Struggle
12. Me and My Bitch
13. Big Poppa
14. Respect
15. Friend of Mine
16. Unbelievable
17. Suicidal Thoughts

I will have to go with Ready To Die. It feels like a more complete album without a doubt. Illmatic is definitely dope, but yeah I'm taking Ready To Die for sure.

Back in the day, many thought that Nas and Biggie had beef. Many of you may say yes or no, but we're here to discuss Illmatic and Ready to Die. Both albums cater to a slightly different audience IMO, but is there any difference between these albums? They both came out during a time where music just made much more sense than what's on the air these days. But if you ask me, Illmatic will win over Ready to Die. Illmatic has the classic tunes that make you want probably seriously consider a career in hip-hop. This doesn't mean that Ready to Die isn't timeless either. That album still gets play in my iTunes.

Both albums are classics of course. Both added to the respected legacy of east coast Hip-Hop. Both created two of rap's greatest legends. When I think about it, Illmatic and Ready to Die are similar from a storytelling standpoint. Telling that story of being young black men growing up in their respective urban areas. I feel like Illmatic is slightly better lyrically than Ready To Die. More intricate with painting pictures than Ready To Die. Meanwhile, Ready To Die was hardcore, raw, but sounding like an Oscar worthy film. That's the difference between working with DJs like Premo and Large Professor and working with pure "making great records" producers like Diddy. Nas and Biggie's rhyming were effortless on both projects as they gave you those long lasting images so poetically.

NY State of Mind and Things Done Changed start off giving you a feel of their ghetto livelihood. Tracks like Halftime and Unbelievable were those "let me show you my skills" songs. Memory Lane and Juicy being those "reflecting" tracks. Represent and Respect having that "put on" rap song feel. Although Nas didn't have those love tracks like Big Poppa and One More Chance, he did have a really written letter track that's better than some songs on Ready to Die. Nas was more chill and concentrated. While Biggie could be over the top and being a creative character as heard on Gimmie The Loot.

When it comes down to it, both are equal in my eyes, while having minor differences. If I had to choose however, I'd go with Ready To Die.

Gotta give it to Illmatic. It is still the quintessential hip hop album. It is the format artists use 20 years later: autobiographical, concise and a short amount of songs. While Ready to Die is also a classic, I think it has more filler to me. Life's a Bitch, NY State of Mind, One Love, Memory Lane. I mean these are all still arguably the best songs of hip hop. Plus, Nas is nicer than Biggie so that should count, so I'll give it to Illmatic.

Illmatic vs. Ready To Die is something heavily discussed among hip hop fans. Both are classics, both are arguably the top 3 hip hop albums ever, either one is arguably the best hip hop album ever created, and both artists are arguably two of the top 3 to ever do it. Since I'm a huge Nas fan, Illmatic wins, but it is very, very close. Illmatic told Nas's experiences in the projects. Illmatic has a raw sound, with incredible production, unbelievable lyricism, and perfect flow. It didn't receive much mainstream attention at the time, but eventually was certified platinum in 2001. Ready To Die however, sold 4 million copies. Ready To Die told Biggie's young life as a criminal in the drug dealing game. It had really good storytelling, great word play, great punchlines, and a hilarious sex skit. And then of course, there's "Suicidal Thoughts". Both are in my top 3 hip hop albums ever, and both artists are in my top 3 to ever do it, but illmatic slightly wins.

It's always tough to choose between premier albums of two brilliant MCs, let alone when they are also two of your favorite rappers of all time. This wasn't as easy of a choice as I initially thought, but after much consideration....I feel Ready to Die is a superior album. It was tough. Illmatic is one of my favorites, but its greatness comes in the form of storytelling, as if you're listening to a documentary against music and beats. Nas is brilliant, his lyrics are flawless and he delivers greatness with each album, but against BIG's RTD it comes up a bit short.

BIG gives us 17 tracks of great lyrics, amazing beats and perfect flow. "The What", "Juicy", "Big Poppa" and "Suicidal Thoughts" ...honestly most of the tracks are classics. Not only that, BIG gave us a variation with this album. We get the stories, and his storytelling abilities as well as the fun, upbeat "bangers". Ready to die easily becomes an overall better album for that reason. It's multifaceted and caters to a wider range of moods whereas in my opinion Illmatic only gives us a "serious" side.

Again, this was a tough choice, and as much as I love Nas and Illmatic, Ready to Die takes this one.

It's hard to believe that two of the greatest albums in Hip Hop came out the same year. 1994 gave us Illmatic and Ready to Die. Nas gave us lyricism in its purest form on Illmatic, while BIG pushed the boundaries and helped East Coast hip hop transition into a new sound. RTD was full of hits like Big Poppa, and probably the most memorable song in classic hip hop with Juicy. Still, nothing tops the near flawless Illmatic.
As much as I listen to Machine Gun Funk and Gimme The Loot, I still gotta give this one to nasty Nas. Illmatic is great from start to finish. From the gritty NY State Of Mind to It Ain't Hard To Tell's perfect flow over the Human Nature sample, Illmatic is a masterpiece artwork. As many times as I sing along to the first verse of Memory Lane, it never gets old. Both albums might just be top 5 all time, but Illmatic still reigns supreme.

This is an extremely tough choice. Both classic albums, both landmark moments for hip hop. I thought that Ready To Die was an amazing album, but there are 2 or 3 songs I may skip when I listen to it, so honestly, I would have to go Illmatic, just by a slight edge. I truly enjoy both albums still to this day, but with Illmatic, it is short, concise, cohesive, and lyrically top shelf. There are no songs that I feel the need to skip on here. Both great albums, but Illmatic takes it for me barely.

What about you? What is your choice? Let us know in the comments below.



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