In 1993, the balance of power in rap music had shifted heavily toward the West Coast. After music made by gang members (which I refuse to identify by its accepted name because "gangster" does not have two A's) killed the "positive" rap movement with songs about selling crack, the East Coast struggled to find an identity for a few years.
To tilt the scales back in the direction of New York, it took a trio of legendary debut albums. The first was the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang in 1993, followed by Nas' almost perfect Illmatic in the spring of 1994, and, most importantly for this entry, Ready to Die by the Notorious B.I.G. shortly after that.
Pictured: The 1983 NFL draft of debut albums.
More on the Wu-Tang and their hand in ruining rap later, but for now, let's talk Nas and Biggie. For all intents and purposes, they were opposite-sized versions of the same person right before their debut albums came out. Both had made their names by delivering jaw-dropping guest appearances on other people's records (as if there's another place to make a guest appearance), and both were the next likely torchbearers for what's affectionately referred to as "real" rap. The hype around each man's debut album was off the charts, and each man lived up to it nicely.
In every way imaginable, though, the Notorious B.I.G. delivered in a much larger way. While Ready to Die went quadruple platinum and became the album of 1994, Illmatic struggled to sell 500,000 copies (it eventually went platinum, but not until 2001). If you're looking for a reason why that happened, I have a picture of it for you right here:
Meet the man who ruins everything.