Fittingly occurring on the same date as the Record Store Day 2014, Nas and the world of hip-hop celebrate the 20th anniversary of Illmatic - one of the most legendary hip-hop records of all time, and arguably the most remarkable debut rap release of all time too. Illmatic flew the then 20-year-old Nas over the moon and back again, giving the rapper an iconic status in music that is still felt.

The album is now regarded as the hallmark of rap debuts, setting the bar for all others to compare and measure against. Illmatic has achieved more than most albums ever will in that it defined a young man's life, his music, and most importantly, it redefined the sound of New York hip-hop, bringing the city with its stories and music back to the centre of attention in the world of music. Replicating this is unimaginable, as the success story had its context - the right time, the right place and the right man for the job.

So what was the context for Illmatic? The album was released in 1994 when East Coast hip-hop was considered to be in tatters and inferior to the rap scene stemming from West Coast. NWA and Dr. Dre had taken the West Coast sound into the mainstream, bringing the murky urban subject matter closer to the mainstream. The sound of New York had developed from the pioneering work by the Sugarhill Gang, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, but had largely become stagnant by the early '90s. The scene needed someone to initiate its revival - to take on the West Coast and its success it had achieved through a renewed street-smart sound. The man for the job was to be Nas.

Alongside Wu-Tang Clan's Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Mobb Deep's The Infamous, Illmatic drew attention to the street-life of New York, the drugs and the violence, in a completely fresh and lyrically engaging manner. Nas was able to rap about the darkness of urban life, the Queensbridge housing projects, in a way that no one else had before him. He was rugged in his approach - unforgiving, but all the same downright honest about the life on the streets bringing it into the consciousness of his listeners, where it hadn't resided before. In doing so, he pushed aside the jazzy and glee playfulness of popular alternative hip-hop acts like A Tribe Called Quest, relaunching the East Coast as the centre of true hip-hop that followed its street roots.

Aside from reviving the East Coast rap scene, Illmatic is infamous for being the record against which every promising new hip-hop act is compared against. With credit to the album's profound influence on the world of music in general, most comparisons have never lived up to their expectations. There is one exception, however. Many parallels can and have been drawn between Nas and Kendrick Lamar. They both rose to fame when they were young, they both have very distinct rapping styles, and they are both incredibly strong lyricists. Most importantly, however, Kendrick's major label debut Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is about the streets and Kendrick himself is the most promising young hip-hop act currently on the scene, similarly to Nas' reputation in the early '90s. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City can be regarded as the contemporary counterpart of Illmatic, becoming an instant classic already upon release.

So what's happened down the road for Nas after Illmatic? I guess you could say a whole lot, since he's released twelve studio albums since. However, he's never quite lived up to hype created around him at the time, nor the expectations set upon him afterwards. It's the great tragedy of peaking early that has troubled Nas. Releasing a near-perfect album on the first try, just as Nas did has taken a toll on the rapper's future success. And that's not to say he needs to replicate the album or its success. It's clear that artistic intention and integrity needs to be in the forefront of creating music. But the innovation, and development in sound and lyricism of Nas just haven't lived up to the expectations of the fans of the hardcore ruggedness and wholehearted honesty that was displayed on Illmatic. He raised the bar so high that he couldn't match nor exceed the success and acclaim. It became improbable if not impossible, because what can you do, really, when you're already being called perfect?

Regardless of the whatever Nas has done after the release of Illmatic, and regardless of what he will do in the future, the album needs to be celebrated - having earned its place in history. 20 years from when it was first released, it still remains as the sound of housing projects and street life around the world. It shun light on them, displaying what they were really like, and in doing so, was able to again spark up the sound of the East Coast. And if all that doesn't deserve respect, especially 20 years down the road, I don't know what does.

Illmatic was released on April 19, 1994, by Columbia Records.