31. Nas, "N.Y. State of Mind"
No track better sums up Nas' ability to spin dense, dazzlingly lucid verses. "N.Y. State of Mind," a highlight of his hugely important 1994 debut, Illmatic, is no anthem or ode to the city. It's a detailed narrative about a Gotham gunfight, delivered in a nearly 60-bar run that was later broken up to create a spellbinding track. "He did the whole first verse in one take," recalled producer DJ Premier, who exactingly balanced two jazz samples for the muted, moonlit beat. "He stopped and said, 'Does that sound cool?' And we were all like, 'Oh, my God!'"