To say that Nas’s new album is one of the most anticipated of the summer is true, but it misses the point—every Nas album is highly anticipated, because no rapper is held to as high a standard. When a Nas record is about to drop, hip-hop fans cross their fingers and wonder: Will he change hip-hop forever, again? Will the new record be as good as Illmatic?

Released in 1994, when Nas was 20, Illmatic was a prodigious debut. No other rap debut, and few rap albums at all, are as lauded. It’s hard to quantify the album’s achievement precisely, except to say that rapping is a craft, and Nas was the first to discover how to do it right. Rap has two components—beats and rhymes. On Illmatic, the beats were mostly good, sometimes great; and there had been virtuoso emcees before Nas who’d moved the stylized rhythms of early groups like N.W.A toward the conversational. But no one had ever sounded as natural as Nas. “One Love,” which takes the form of a monologue to an incarcerated friend, exploits poetic devices like enjambment so subtly that it works as prose. Every rapper who hopes to be taken seriously—from Kanye West to the Game—must grapple with Nas’s discovery.

more from New York Magazine here.