Today marks the 25th anniversary of East Coast rapper Nas' iconic debut album Illmatic, released on this day through Columbia Records. As one of the most influential albums of all time, it changed the face of rap forever and remains one of those albums that all music fans should hear before they die.

Nas - IllmaticNas - Illmatic

With production from the likes of DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip and L.E.S., Illmatic was a collection of hardcore hip-hop tracks that followed Nas' experiences of growing up in inner-city New York, featuring songs like It Ain't Hard to Tell, The World Is Yours and One Love.

It may not have achieved the chart success expected, reaching number 12 on the Billboard 200 and selling 94,000 copies in the first week, but the critical response was overwhelmingly positive and its legacy continues to be an important landmark in rap music - particularly East Coast hip hop. Nas has been a huge influence on a number of artists within the New York City rap scene since Illmatic.

The gritty lyricism and dark themes were inspired by some devastating events in Nas' early career; his brother Jabari "Jungle" Fret as well as his best friend and collaborator Willy "Ill Will" Graham were shot by a gunman in Queensbridge when they were just teenagers. While Jabari survived, Willy sadly did not. Nas spent his whole childhood in the Queensbridge projects, surrounded by gang warfare, drugs, poverty and urban neglect. He wanted to make a record that was less about the rap persona of the time, and more a candid introduction into the world of inner-city desolation.

The album cover was just as evocative as the music, featuring 7-year-old Nas superimposed over a Queensbridge scene; similar in style to the 1974 jazz album A Child Is Born. He has since explained that that age was the first time he started to acknowledge the world around him and consider a future outside of the projects.

More: Watch the video for Nas' collaboration with The Black Eyed Peas, Back 2 Hiphop

Illmatic was all about dystopic authenticity, and Nas is often spoken about on the same level as the poetic geniuses of history. He is currently working on his thirteenth studio album, the details of which are yet to be announced.