Ready to Die, 1994
The greatest rapper that ever lived at his absolute peak: hilarious, incisive and insanely inventive as he balances urban realism ("Birthdays were the worst days") and playalistic excess ("Now we sip champagne when we're thirsty"). The funky first single from the Notorious B.I.G.'s world-smacking 1994 debut, Ready to Die, was a departure from the rugged East Coast rap sound he wanted. But executive producer Sean "Puffy" Combs insisted Big flow over a simple, club-friendly loop of Mtume's early dance-party jam "Juicy Fruit." (Producer Pete Rock says that Combs got the idea for the track from him.) "I wanted to release music that let people know he was more than just a gangsta rapper," Combs said later. "He showed his pain, but in the end he wanted to make people feel good."