Since January 1, 2000 we have reviewed nearly 1,400 albums, and probably listened to four times that. We got some right, we got some wrong. As this list shows, we didn’t always make the right call the first time around. Some albums turn into vintage wine, others into vinegar. It’s just the way the game goes. After rounds of voting, debating and head scratching, we whittled it down to the 10 best of the ’00s. The past decade hasn’t been Hip Hop’s finest hour – ’87 through ’96 it was not. But through the weeds, dust and piles of trash there were plenty of treasures to cherish. These are the albums that made an indelible mark on us.
Presented In Order Of Release:
Supreme Clientele by Ghostface Killah
Released: January 25, 2000
Label: Razor Sharp/Epic/Sony
Producers: RZA, Mathematics, Carlos “Six July” Broady, Inspectah Deck, Juju, Black Moses-Art, Choo The Specializt, Carlos Bess, Hassan, The Blaquesmiths
Guests: RZA, T.M.F., Superb, Raekwon, Cappadonna, Method Man, Redman, 60 Second Assassin, Chip Banks, Hell Razah, Solomon Childs, U-God, GZA, Masta Killa
Purchase Supreme Clientele by Ghostface Killah
After the great
est run of albums Hip Hop has ever seen from one crew, the Wu-Tang Clan inevitably began to disappoint in the late ’90s. Debuts from RZA, Inspectah Deck, and U-God and follow ups from Meth, Rae, GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard all failed to measure up to their first round of albums. It didn’t matter that it was basically impossible to reach the levels set by Enter The 36 Chambers, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords and the like, fans were beginning to write the Clan off. That was until Ghostface Killah saved the day. Ghost was still a relatively unsung member of the Clan to that point, nowhere near the status he enjoys today. Supreme Clientele certainly wasn’t pegged as the album to return the Wu to glory. Armed with RZA, who played the role of executive producer to perfection and production from him, Juju of The Beatnuts, Mathematics and Carlos “Six July” Broady, Ghost carved out his place in Hip Hop. His random seemingly incoherent rhymes have become stuff of legend, most notably “hit Poughkepsie crispy chicken verbs throw up a stone richie” from the opening bars of “Nutmeg.” Indecipherable lyrics didn’t make Pretty Tony a star though, it was his personality that truly stood out. Ironman is still the superior album, but one of Hip Hop’s all-time great characters emerged on Supreme Clientele.
The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem
Released: May 23, 2000
Producers: Dr. Dre, Mel-Man, The Bass Brothers (F.B.T.), 45 King, Eminem
Guests: Jeff Bass, Dido, RBX, Sticky Fingaz, Dina Rae, Bizarre, Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, D12
Purchase The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem
1. “The Way I Am” (Produced by Eminem)
2. “Amityville” featuring Bizarre (Produced by F.B.T.)
It is no exaggeration to say that The Marshall Mathers LP is a defining moment for pop culture. If for no other reason than curiosity, everyone and their grandmother bought this album. Literally, I know people whose grandparents who bought this album. Unprepared to deal with the swell of fame, love and hate brought on by his debut, Eminem was in the middle of a perfect storm when crafting the MMLP. He dealt with his newfound fame, fan obsession, influence on kids and family issues, all while thumbing his nose at critics. Just as importantly, he went from being an incredible lyricist to an incredible emcee, making huge leaps with his flow and rhyme schemes. His first verse on “The Way I Am” remains a technical marvel. It was shocking, it was controversial, it was genius, and he was white. That combination could only lead to good things. Even with Napster and bootlegging in full swing, MMLP sold nearly two million copies the first week, an unfathomable feat these days. The album has gone on to sell nearly 20 million copies worldwide, and remains the cornerstone of the most successful rapper ever.
Released: October 17, 2000
Label: Rawkus Records
Producers: Hi-Tek, Talib Kweli, Weldon Irvine
Guests: Dave Chappelle, Nonye, Vinia Mojica, Mos Def, Res, Big Del, Donte, Rah Digga, Xzibit, Kool G. Rap, Tiye Phoenix, Kendra Ross, Les Nubians, De La Soul, Piakhan, Supa Dave West
Purchase Train of Thought by Reflection Eternal
1. “Too Late” featuring Res (Produced by Hi-Tek)
2. “Down For The Count” featuring Rah Digga and Xzibit (Produced by Hi-Tek)
While the underground Hip Hop community clamored for another Black Star album, and praised Mos Def for his solo debut a year earlier, Reflection Eternal slid out as an unexpected masterpiece of the Rawkus catalog. Talib Kweli’s precise lyricism switched easily between heartfelt honesty, and the cold competitiveness of a Brooklynite who rose to the top of the Lyricist Lounge pile. This classic ’90s-minded emcee/producer duo declared Hip Hop dead six years before Nas on “Too Late,” while making trunk-pounding hits in “The Blast” and “Move Somethin’.” This album was an ensemble cast of Kweli and Tek’s Brooklyn-meets-Cincinnati crews, and a very telling of the direction both men would take after this album’s success and their label crumbling to major label politics and influence. Train Of Thought may one of the last great links in the post-Native Tongues chain, and it’s little surprise that both G Rap and De La appears to see their greatest disciples come correct.
Released: October 31, 2000
Producers: Earthtone III, Organized Noize
Guests: Khujo Goodie, Killer Mike, J-Sweet, Eco, Gangsta Boo, B-Real, Big Gipp, Erykah Badu, Slimm Calhoun, T-Mo, C-Bone, Cee-Lo, Big Rube, Sleepy Brown
Purchase Stankonia by OutKast
1. “B.o.B.” (Produced by Earthtone III)
2. “Toilet Tisha” (Produced by Earthtone III)
When OutKast made their debut in 1994, the south had gotten little to no national recognition outside of the Geto Boys. Six years later, Big Boi and Andre 3000 released their fourth album in a much different climate. Southern Hip Hop sold well across the globe, east coast elitists conceded that at least some of them were true lyricists and OutKast had three albums that were widely considered classics. Stankonia also came at a time when Hip Hop was as manufactured and inside the box as it had ever been. Creativity from mainstream artists was almost non existent, with everyone following proven hit-making formulas. Staying true to form, the ATLiens released a Drum & Bass lead single, unlike anything Hip Hop had ever heard. The success of “B.o.B.” paled in comparison to “Ms. Jackson,” which became the biggest single of their group career. “So Fresh, So Clean,” a reunion with Organized Noize for that classic ‘Kast sound anchored their singles and Stankonia went on to sell four million plus copies. It was a good sign for Hip Hop and pop music when their Grammy Award-winning, highest-selling album to date was also their most daring. Stankonia‘s challenging of the status quo paved the way for the likes of Kanye West and Common to break through.
Released: May 15, 2001
Label: Definitive Jux Records
Guests: El-P, Alaska, Cryptic One, C-Rayz Walz, L.I.F.E. Long, DJ Cip One, DJ PaWL
Purchase The Cold Vein by Cannibal Ox
Two Essential Tracks:
1. “The F-Word” (Produced by El-P)
2. “Stress Rap” featuring DJ Cip One (Produced by El-P)
Without Company Flow in effect anymore, El-P brought his knack for the unconventional sound, as The Cold Vein was a 2000-man’s Critical Beatdown. Newcomer Vast Aire delivered his self-proclaimed “hummingbird style,” touching the microphone 70 times a second. He and Harlemite partner Vordul Mega made the ultimate headphones album five months before Apple’s iPod was introduced. The descriptive, metaphoric lyrics described urban decay and split between a mercy for the mayhem, and a cold, tough exterior that would prey on toys and emcees alike. El-P, an avid fan of the 1982 film Bladerunner, delivered a soundscape of futuristic psychedelia that appealed to Urb magazine readers just as much as Elemental’s. While The Diplomats captured a flamboyant heritage, Harlem streets come alive in audio in “Stress Rap.” Meanwhile, songs like “The F-Word” brought the humanity into Hip Hop at a time when “Bling, Bling,” landed its way in the Oxford Dictionary. Just under nine years later, like Reflection Eternal, Vast and Vordul are constantly urged to reunite, and their rare appearances on each other’s subsequent solos hint that the magical chemistry still exists – as Can Ox remains a sum greater than its parts.
Released: August 6, 2002
Label: Def Jam South
Producers: Kanye West, Mike Dean, Scarface, Nottz, Nashiem Myrick, T-Mix, Tony Pizarro, China Black, Lee Stone, Flip, Lofey
Guests: Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, Kelly Price, Nas, Faith Evans, WC, Tanya Herron
Purchase The Fix by Scarface
Scarface has only released one solo album away from Rap-A-Lot Records, and many contest that it was his best. ‘Face’s famous street commentary, anger and paranoia came alive under some of the best production old friends (Mike Dean) and budding super-stars (Kanye West) ever had to offer. The big budget allowed for inspired proteges Beanie Sigel and Nas, as well as longtime contemporaries Jay-Z and WC to showcase deep chemistry that defied region and sub-genre. The album’s attitude and soundbeds were more Blues than Gangsta Rap, as ‘Face’s “On My Block” single propelled the Houston Rap icon to national status for another time. Def Jam affored ‘Face excellent packaging (The Fix was presented with tin-foil-masked liner notes in a small, clear bag, and the contents of the album were potent dope. “In Between Us” was a chilling song of lost ones, lost fights and gained perspective while “I Ain’t The One” was bully bravado that attacked snitching, and weak-minded sideliners that may have been the impetus for Brad Jordan to deliver has most polished album.
He started out as the opening act and little brother of independent cornerstone Atmosphere, but Minnesota’s Brother Ali quickly showed he was his own man. Shadows On The Sun was his true debut after the little heard do-it-yourself Rites of Passage. Ali showed it all on what is still his most complete record. Masterful storytelling, ferocious battle raps, and some of the most moving introspective lyrics ever spit. Take the trio of “Dorian,” “Star Quality” and “Forest Whitiker” for a small sampling of what Ali showed on his seminal debut. Shadows was produced entirely by Atmosphere’s Ant, who opened us up to a sound never heard from him before. The seamless blend of soulful melodies and rugged boom bap were the perfect compliment to the Big Bad Brother. The adrenaline filled horns on “Room With A Few” introduced us to one of the most imposing emcees since Ice Cube had a jheri curl. Shadows On The Sun has become an enduring classic that jumpstarted the career of one of independent Hip Hop’s biggest stars and one of the world’s best emcees.
Released: September 11, 2001 and November 14, 2003
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Producers: Just Blaze, Kanye West, Bink!, Eminem, Timbaland, Trackmasters, The Neptunes, DJ Quik, Aqua, Joe “3H” Weinberger, 9th Wonder, Luis Resto, Rick Rubin, The Buchanans
Guests: Eminem, Madonna
Purchase The Blueprint by Jay-Z
Purchase The Black Album by Jay-Z
Four Essential Tracks:
1. “The Takeover” (Produced by Kanye West)
2. “Renegade” featuring Eminem (Produced by Eminem)
3. “Public Service Announcement” (Produced by Just Blaze)
4. “Lucifer” (Produced by Kanye West)
People have their favorites. The HipHopDX staff couldn’t decide which Jay-Z album more deserved to be in the Top 10 (perhaps they both do), so we opted to say both. Jay-Z made the ultimate affirmation of his place in Hip Hop with 2001’s Blueprint. With very thematic production from Just Blaze and Kanye West, Hova earned his name in between sledgehammering his enemies, and going back to a Reasonable Doubt level of honesty and imagery. Two years later, Jay-Z fooled all of us, when he made the ultimate parting-shot album. The Black Album may have been the grand closing of the Roc as we knew it, but Jay’s songs and grocery list of super-producers made this an epic collection that arguably played better end-to-end than anything he ever did before or since. Although we’re forever thankful that Jay-Z never really left, none can say that there’s been a living rapper’s exit as powerful as The Black Album, from its “Public Service Announcement” to the declaration of “What More Can I Say?” To think, we thought Jay was a mogul then…this was the album that made HP, Barack Obama and Budweiser all dust their shoulders off with Rap’s most listened-to living emcee.
Released: March 24, 2004
Label: Stones Throw Records
Producers: Madlib, MF DOOM
Guests: M.E.D., Wilchild, Stacy Epps, Lord Quas
Purchase Madvillainy by Madvillain
The plan was to record one song together, it was a natural fit to have two of Hip Hop’s quirkiest artists combine their talents. DOOM and Madlib had such good chemistry that a week and a half later they had an entire album done. Madvillain was born and Madvillainy was the result of what was surely a smoke filled week of recording. Madlib’s dusty off-kilter loops were a perfect match for DOOM’s string of non sequiturs and obscure, outdated phrases. Rarely is a 22 cut album so tightly constructed, but with all two-to-three minute chorus-less songs, instrumental tracks and the usual DOOM skits the album played like a book (think Hunter S. Thompson). We live in an era where Hip Hop albums are thrown together haphazardly, a far cry from the micro-managed perfectionism of the Dr. Dre’s of the world. DOOM and The Bad Kid showed just how talented they are to craft such a brilliant album in such an improvisational manor. That isn’t to say this is a blueprint that anyone else should follow, after all “The rest is empty with no brain but the clever nerd/ the best emcee with no chain ya ever heard.”
Released: May 31, 2005
Label: Duck Down Records
Producers: Khrysis, Agallah, Ayatollah, 9th Wonder, MoSS, P.F. Cuttin, Star.com, Justice, Kleph Dollaz, Tone Mason, Ty Deals, Phat Babyz, Dub Z, Edward Maximillion III
Guests: Tek, Buckshot, Louieville Sluggah, Steele, Rustee Juxx, Rock, Agallah, Bizarre Royale
Purchase Monkey Barz by Sean Price
Two Essential Tracks:
1. “Monkey Barz” (Produced by Ty Deals)
2. “Onion Head” featuring Tek (Produced by Khrysis)
In the hiatus of Heltah Skeltah, like the whole Boot Camp Clik in the mid ’00s, Ruck was forced into adjustment. Rather than attempt a glorified case of re-invention, he stripped all the layers away and delivered an almost apathetic album that, like Madvillain, celebrated its rough draft status. Using his government name and beats from North Carolina, Price’s lyricism came alive, as his intricate wordplay and self-deprication made an album that challenged his family, his label, his bank account and himself. Sean took the age-old question of “if I wasn’t rapping, what would I be doing?” and scared fans by becoming the face of gully. Timberland boots still in tact, with a plate of rice and chicken wings, this album paved the way for a tangible style embraced by many new rappers to come. This release was the centerpiece of Duck Down Records’ 2005 “triple-threat” and their overall revival. Ruck proved he didn’t need Rock to be a towering emcee in the game, and turned his entire career around in an album that he initially swore would be his depature from the craft he mastered 10 times over.