Backed by an absolute all-star cast of new york's top-shelf producers - premier, pete rock, large professor, q-tip and a youngster named l.e.s. - the album never lets up. serious to a fault, and lyrically dense to an extent that has possibly never been matched, the 20-year old nas stood on the shoulders of his predecessors and proudly proclaimed, 'don't fuck with the east' we are back'. 'illmatic' was actually a slow-burn, which might surprise fans that have come to its genius more recently. despite an unheard-of '5 mics' rating in the source - breaking an unwritten rule of never awarding classic status to debuts - it didn't go gold until early 1996, and didn't hit platinum status until late 2001.