The 100 Best Hip-Hop Albums of the 2000s

01
of 10

10 Best Rap Albums of 2000

© Shady Records/Interscope

10. Slum Village - Fantastic Vol.2
Two of the three masterminds behind Fantastic Vol.2 are no longer alive, but this album left an indelible mark on hip-hop. SV's experimentation with neo-soul and quirky raps flung the door open for groups like Little Brother and Tanya Morgan.

9. Reflection Eternal - Train Of Thought
Lyricist extraordinaire Talib Kweli and sonic force Hi-Tek collaborate on a masterwork that underlined the Rawkus era in hip-hop.

8. dead prez - Let's Get Free
The most revolutionary hip-hop group since Public Enemy, dead prez helped revive the conscious movement with this powerful debut LP.

7. M.O.P. - Warriorz
M.O.P. hits the pleasure center of high-energy hip-hop lovers. Not for the weak at heart (or ear), Warriorz gets a boost from DJ Premier's grimy production.

6. Blackalicious - Nia
A transcendent mix of lo-fi rap and beautiful noise that eschewed hip-hop stereotypes. Nia positioned itself as the anti-DMX in a realm where gun-toting was the norm.

5. Del Tha Funky Homosapien - Deltron 3030
Rather than chase trends by faking gangsta reality, Del opts to fuse his unabashedly geeky concepts with Dan the Automator's sharp rhythms and emerges with a wildly imaginative debut.

4. Common - Like Water For Chocolate
The epic that signaled Common's stunning leap from booky underground darling to fully realized artist.

3. OutKast - Stankonia
Two dope boys from ATL lay down funky riffs and melodies while dropping musical bombs. The jagged edges fit together like a sonic Jenga.

2. Eminem - Marshall Mathers LP
An undeniable hip-hop masterpiece that reinforced Eminem's status as one of the most exciting artists of the new millennium.

1. Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele
Ghostface teamed up with The RZA to create an album that redefined hip-hop's cutting edge sensibilities. The rest of the game is still playing catch-up.

02
of 10

Best Rap Albums of 2001

10. Aesop Rock - Labor Days
Aesop is one of the best rapping white boys not named Marshall. The dictionary-toting MC/producer Aesop Rock made his presence known by creating an album that was sonically and thematically superior to hip-hop's bland parity of the time.

9. N.E.R.D. - In Search Of...
When childhood pals Pharrell, Chad, Shay decided to explore their nerdy tendencies on In Search Of..., they were taking a road less traveled. But people didn't embrace In Search Of... because it was different. They embraced this album because it signalled a new wave of alt-rap culture that would prove influential down the road.

8. Cannibal Ox - Cold Vein
Cann Ox's debut was uncompromisingly fierce from start to finish. It still sounds as fresh as the first time Def Jux unleashed it.

7. Missy Elliott - Miss E...
As if real life didn't already offer enough opportunities to hang out with weirdos, Missy Elliott decides to explore the full range of role-playing. One minute she's trying her hand at bhangra. Another minute she's frolicking with zombies in the jungle. Get your freak on, indeed.

6. Cormega - The Realness
Mega fell out of step with The Firm and turned his sorrow into a compelling solo album.

5. J-Zone - Pimps Don't Pay Taxes
Goofy without being cheesy. Evocative without being hopelessly nostalgic.

4. Pete Rock - Petestrumentals
Chocolate Boy Wonder slides behind the boards and drips piano licks over crisp drum blasts.

3. Masta Ace - Disposable Arts
Like a film-noir hero who knows he's capable of outsmarting his nemesis, Ace boldly flaunts his cerebral rap pedigree, wagging his finger at your rap idols along the way.

2. Nas - Stillmatic
As the title suggests, Stillmatic was Nas' attempt to recapture the spirit of Illmatic. It arrived at the height of the legendary Nas vs. Jay-Z rivalry, so a few lines were devoted to that matter, notably the vicious "Ether."

1. Jay-Z - The Blueprint
It's impossible to exaggerate The Blueprint's cultural relevance -- an album so powerful not even Osama bin Laden could stop its flight to the top when it arrived on 9/11/01. The Blueprint launched Just Blaze and Kanye West into the spotlight, made Nas relevant again, and solidified Jay's place as a contender for the crown. From power pop ("Izzo (H.O.V.A.)") to vulnerability ("Song Cry"), Jay demonstrated range and versatility throughout the album. Undoubtedly the best hip-hop album of the 2000s.

03
of 10

Best Rap Albums of 2002

Scarface - The Fix. © Def Jam

10. Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow
The reason to root for Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel is that occasionally they show you things you didn't know were possible within the confines of hip-hop. Hardcore, grown-ass rap bathed in breezy soul rhythms, for example.

9. Mr. Lif - I-Phantom
Lif's Def Jux-powered debut is an album for well-dressed poor people who wish to strangle their boss.

8. RjD2 - Deadringer
RJD2 insists on stuffing a gumbo pot-size surrealistic sounds in one tube no matter how artistically illogical. Looking back, it's now obvious that the trick worked wonders.

7. Devin The Dude - Just Tryin' ta Live
Amid a cloud of marijuana twice the size of the Milky Way, Devin the Dude makes a soundtrack for the working class, striking some comedy notes along the way.

6. GZA - Legend Of The Liquid Sword
GZA dribbles words around with relative ease and proves why he's the Wu's most underrated lyricist.

5. The Roots - Phrenology
After winning a Grammy for the Erykah Badu-assisted rap ballad "You Got Me," The Roots show they're neither gangstas nor punks. Sometimes you can't tell if they're trying to break trends or kneecaps.

4. El-P - Fantastic Damage
In a post-911 U.S.A., El-P is more interested in painting dark portraits of apocalyptic clouds than in shopping for new shoes.

3. Talib Kweli - Quality
If skills sold, truth be told, Quality would be one of the highest selling hip-hop albums of all-time. Just ask Jay.

2. Nas - God's Son
There comes a time when a man must put youthful idiocy aside and grow the f-ck up. For some, it happens in their mid 20s to early 30s. For others, it happens in their 80s. For Nas, it happened on God's Son. The timing of this album (it arrived on the heels of his mother's death) couldn't have been more brutal. It forced Nas to look within and, in the process, revealed a soul learning to deal with new vulnerabilities ("Warrior Song") while simultaneously seeking closure on old rivalries ("Last Real N---a Alive").

1. Scarface - The Fix
Forget everything you've ever learned about southern rappers when traversing Scarface territories. He attacks the mic with a brazen poise. He's one of the greatest storytellers in the game. And he commands a cult-like following from the east coast to the west coast. Face's heightened spiritual awareness and ominous street tales on The Fix helped make this a southern classic and an essential album for all hip-hop heads.

04
of 10

Best Rap Albums of 2003

10. T.I. - Trap Muzik
You could argue that Trap Muzik was T.I.'s middle finger to Arista, which dropped him after his first outing, the consciously unprofessional I'm Serious, tanked. Trap Muzik supplemented the grimy sound of T.I.'s debut with polished layers that underlined his versatility.

9. CunninLynguists - Southernunderground
Southern-fried beats and gripping narratives were all in a day's work for this forward-thinking Kentucky group.

8. Danger Mouse & Jemini - Ghetto Pop Life
The funny thing about Danger Mouse is that he never really altered his aesthetic. The same populist production style that graced his collaborations with Jemini is present on his latter projects with Cee-Lo, MF Doom, and others. It's amazing what a little exposure can do for a starving artist.

7. Viktor Vaughn - Vaudeville Villain
Hip-hop's most beloved victim of multiple-personality disorder lets another identity (and moniker) take centerstage on Vaudeville Villain.

6. Little Brother - The Listening
Little Brother's masterful debut hearkens to a musical lineage that traces all the way back through A Tribe Called Quest. 9th Wonder's soul-heavy beats served as the perfect backdrop for Pooh's swift narratives and Phonte's words of wisdom.

5. Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner
Unheralded East London wunderkind Dizzee Rascal crafts bewildering odes to navigating life in the path of resistance. At the ripe age of 18, he was already wise beyond his peers.

4. JayLib - Champion Sound
It's hard to imagine Dilla Dawg and Madlib ever having a single dispute during the recording of Champion Sound; their similarities were strong and it showed on their first and only collaborative album. The genius of the concept was that Dilla produced half the songs with Madlib on vocals, while Madlib produced the other half with Jay on vocals.

3. 50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin'
Before he got rich and stopped tryin', 50 Cent made this fierce masterpiece under the watchful eyes of Dr. Dre.

2. Jay-Z - The Black Album
Ah, the much trumpeted swan song that wasn't. If Jay stopped rapping after The Black Album, he would have gone out with the loudest bang hip-hop has ever heard. Jay's 8th studio LP gave us instant hits like "99 Problems" and "What More Can I Say," as well as the concert favorite "P.S.A."

1. OutKast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
The double-disc — Speakerboxxx for traditional OutKast fans, The Love Below for the eccentric Kast fans — yielded two disparate but equally striking sides of the ever-evolving duo. The glorious, nervy strut of "The Way You Move" and wrenching vulnerability of "Roses" all in one place? Epic.

05
of 10

Best Rap Albums of 2004

10. Masta Killah - No Said Date
The spectacle of in-fighting will never tarnish the fearsome intensity of Wu-Tang Clan. This wasn't quite the collective effort a la Only Cuban Linx, but it was a stunningly impressive debut by the Clan's most underrated lyricist.

9. Brother Ali - Champion Sound EP
"There’s a thin line between anger and hunger, my man, and I ride a unicycle down the middle," Ali proclaims on Champion Sound's "Self Taught." That's Brother Ali in a nutshell -- cautiously passionate yet unmistakably vicious.

8. Masta Ace - A Long Hot Summer
Tired of being overlooked, Ace cranked up the intensity on his movie-like narratives, making this weightier than earlier albums. The skits became irritating after 3 go-rounds, but the music aged well.

7. Murs - Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition
Nothing better illustrates the nature of Murs' appeal than this 9th Wonder-helmed album. The west coast rhymelord brought smoky, dreary, hauntingly introspective hip-hop to the forefront with Murs 3:16.

6. Royce da 5'9" - Death Is Certain
On the heels of his fallout with Eminem, Nickle Nine went into the lab and came out with an album so dark most people simply avoided it. It's an indestructible document of human emotion gone wild.

5. Madvillain - Madvillainy
The predictably unpredictable rap poets Doom and Madlib greeted the new millennium with a dreamy instant classic.

4. Cam'ron - Purple Haze
This 2004 opus featuring the Kanye-aided "Down and Out" and a bevy of hilariously scabrous skits remains Cam'ron's definitive statement.

3. De La Soul - The Grind Date
Even on their worst day, De La still effortlessly ran circles around the young'uns.

2. MF Doom - Mm..Food
In a year that saw Daniel Dumile drop three stellar albums under three different monikers. Mm...Food was the star of the show. Doom employed food metaphors almost as wildly as he employed samples, cribbing everything from Mashmakhan to the Sesame Street closing credits theme.

1. Kanye West - College Dropout
This was one of the decade's most anxiously anticipated debut albums and Kanye delivered one for the ages. His warm and witty storytelling made College Dropout an all-round favorite that appealed to both mainstream and underground ears.

06
of 10

Best Rap Albums of 2005

10. Sean Price - Monkey Barz
Sean Price's everyman charm and self-deprecating taunts is fresh in a realm where every press photo is a mean mug. Price turned conventional thinking on its head and doesn't apologize for it.

9. Beanie Sigel - The B-Coming
Fresh off a stint in jail, Beans drops rhymes of unparalleled depths and emotions on this magnum opus. Further proof that rappers tend to write their best songs while locked up.

8. DJ Muggs vs. GZA - Grandmasters
The entirety of Grandmasters dances around the concept of chess as a metaphor for life. GZA's crisp rhymes and Muggs' haunting beats crystallize into one bold work of art.

7. Quasimoto - The Further Adventures of Lord Quas
Stoned out of his mind, adventurous sound architect experiments with winning curveballs and fallen feelings. The idea might seemed indulgent at the time of release but the music, which swoops in and out with graceful arcs, has withstood the test of time.

6. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter II
This was the album that established Wayne as a notorious rock star. He showcased his full repertoire of skills here and emerged with a few lyrical triumphs.

5. Cage - Hell's Winter
Cage exorcises an ocean of personal demons (drug addiction, label politics, and a lame father) on his sophomore effort, which featured production from heavyweights like RJD2, El-P, and Jello Biafra. Hell's Winter sports the fullest realization of his aesthetics.

4. Common - Be
The title track/opener is like the thesis of a crucial term paper, paving the path for the rest of the album and offering lyrical purity on the way: "The chosen one from the land of the frozen one/Where drunk nights get remembered more than sober ones." Elsewhere, he perches on “The Corner” with the Last Poets on his side, and observes street dreams over Kanye's hard-hitting percussion.

3. Little Brother - The Minstrel Show
After their remarkable debut, Little Brother expanded on their sound and returned with a clever eye over hip-hop culture. Their objective this time? Spell out out hip-hop's hypocrisy and then punch it in the mouth with ingenious satire.

2. The Game - The Documentary
Dr. Dre's latest protege shows that L.A. hasn't been safe since 1988.

1. Kanye West - Late Registration
When everyone wondered if Kanye could reenact the magic of his stellar debut, his response was a resounding yes. Late Registration not only built on his previous sound palette, it packed even more lyrical punch than his debut. West was rewarded with a Grammy for his effort.

07
of 10

Best Rap Albums of 2006

10. Apathy - Eastern Philosophy
Apathy clearly wanted to evoke the spirit of the records he grabbed his crotch to as an unassuming teen at Connecticut house parties. And that he did with relative ease.

9. The Coup - Pick a Bigger Weapon
We're reminded of The Coup's staunch refusal to settle for the status quo throughout Pick a Bigger Weapon, an album loaded with enough politically-fused cannonballs to inject an eargasm in even the harshest Coup critic.

8. T.I. - King
If you have the audacity to name your album KING, then you better drag along some balls to back up your claim. Thankfully, T.I. delivered the goods, giving each track a regal touch and handing us two of the year's best tracks: the Neptunes-blessed "Good Life" and the DJ Toomp-laced "What You Know."

7. Louis Logic & JJ Brown - Misery Loves Comedy
Louis Logic isn't nicknamed The Drunken Dragon for nothing. He has a knack for bullying good beats into submission, especially if those beats are courtesy of longtime collaborator JJ Brown. Louis' favorite topics center around failed relationships and personality chaos, but he approaches them with a unique blend of style and substance that rarely exists in today.

6. Trae - Restless
The first time you encounter Trae's rap voice you'll think he's fighting off a bad cold. After a few spins, you'll think he's a clergyman at a funeral procession. Grim, introspective, thought-provoking.

5. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
Pusha T, Malice and honorary Clipse member Pharrell served up a percolating, lilting plate of fantasy, brutal reality, and remorse. Hell Hath No Fury is brisk but bold and affords little margin for error with 12 songs that document the Clipse being remorseful, wistful, and trill as it gets.

4. J Dilla - Donuts
Without a larynx in sight, Dilla served up this tasty compilation of blips from his sound palette. It's the audio equivalent of spying on a scientist in the lab.

3. Ghostface - Fishscale
Fishscale was colored by raw emotion and angry ramblings. Just Blaze's bass-heavy concoction on "The Champ" inspires Ghost to kick hip-hop in the groin: "Dog, why y'all stuck on "Laffy Taffy", how did y'all n****s get past me? I"ve been doing this before Nas dropped the “Nasty." Similarly, on the poignant MF Doom-laced "Charlie Brown," the aesthetic is one of asphyxiating toughness. Snares smack and smother each other, while soul samples blare in harmony. Epic Ghostdeini fare.

2. Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor
Whether rhyming over rock-inspired beats or dishing social insight atop a soul soundbed, Lupe Fiasco always has his Steve Urkel-esque eyeglasses tightly-fixated on the big picture. This was easily the year's best hip-hop debut.

1. The Roots - Game Theory

The world was going to hell in a hand basket and The Roots wanted people to stop, look, and listen. Themes about confusion, loss (inspired by the Hurricane Katrina debacle), corporate woes, double standards and war are recurrent on Game Theory. It's the ultimate statement album.

08
of 10

Best Rap Albums of 2007

10. Devin The Dude - Waiting to Inhale
As tempting as it is to dismiss Devin the Dude's records as paeans to weed and women, the swift-sailing soul underneath his smokescreen and smooth talk will keep naysayers in check. The Dude keeps evoked laughs and dialogs simultaneously with his bewildering tales.

9. Prodigy - Return of the Mac
Return of the Mac is a back-to-basics hardcore rap album that hearkens to the 90s era Mobb Deep. Alchemist, who produced the entire disc, keeps the soundscape gritty and cohesive, making it easier for P to focus on his CSI-esque crime tales.

8. Blu & Exile - Below the Heavens
After one listen, you'll swear that Blu has been rapping for 10 years, even though Below The Heavens is his first outing.

7. El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
I'll Sleep When You're Dead is metaphysics on wax. From abstract dialogs about falling through space to candid quips about selling dreams, El-P's melodramatic musings make for a unique headphone experience.

6. UGK - Underground Kingz
This 2-disc LP is like a crash course for UGK fans who were still in Underoos when Too Hard To Swallow broke big. It also spawned 2007's most memorable rap song, "Int'l Players Anthem." Listening to this album now serves as a bitter reminder that Pimp C's riveting hooks and production prowess will be sorely missed.

5. Pharoahe Monch - Desire
We waited damn near a decade for this bad boy, but it was worth every year. Pharoahe's fierce delivery on Delivery found a perfect match in his unique sense of lyrical equilibrium. "Slave to the label, but I own my masters," he rhymes on the politically salient "Free."

4. Kanye West - Graduation
If hip-hop were college, Kanye would be the mildly irritating senior -- acing Calculus, kicking it with that sexy young English major, and spewing self-righteous jazz in the parking lot. Scratch that. Hip-hop is college and Kanye is always ahead of his class. No diploma necessary.

3. Jay-Z - American Gangster
This was Jay's response to the criticism that followed Kingdom Come. Jay puts it this way: Here we go/And I'm a domino/"When it All Falls Down" I'm like Kanye's jaw -- I might break, but I don't fold." Bottom Line: No matter how many times he hits the floor, he can still bounce back stronger ever. But who knew it would only take a movie and a bucket of popcorn?

2. Brother Ali - Undisputed Truth
Ali breathes life into Ant's beats with ease, kinda like a translator of oneiric symbologies.

1. Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's The Cool
In a year when hip-hop exploded with concept albums, many of them gimmicky, Lupe Fiasco's The Cool stood taller than Yao Ming on a court full of six-footers. From the smoothed out vibe of "Paris, Tokyo" to the frenetic "Hello/Goodbye," The Cool packed enough pizzazz to keep the listener glued. By crystallizing his divergent interests into one bold work of art, Lupe proved that the elements of modern hip-hop (eclecticism, zaniness, swagger) don't have to be mutually exclusive.

09
of 10

Best Rap Albums of 2008

10. Immortal Technique - 3rd World
Immortal Technique spits rapid-fire like an automatic weapon. Think of The 3rd World as a commercial-free C-SPAN along with the films Syriana and Fahrenheit 9/11 set to music. Like graphic war coverage, it’s not for the faint of heart.

9. Elzhi - The Preface
It's hard to believe that The Preface is Elzhi's first full-length -- The Detroit MC has been around since the early 90s. After earning his lyrical stripes as a member of the revered hip-hop outfit Slum Village, alongside J Dilla, El emerges from behind SV's shadow and asserts himself as one of hip-hop's brightest MCs.

8. Jazz Liberatorz - Clin d'oeil
American audiences have been clamoring for the return of jazz-hop, a sub-genre popularized by the likes of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. But it was three sound architects from Meaux, France that stepped up to answer this clarion call. On their first try. Relax, Clin d'oeil was cosigned by a bevy of American MCs, including Asheru, Buckshot, Apani B Fly, and J-Live.

7. The Roots - Rising Down
Like they did so well throughout the 2000s, The Roots transform angst into art on Rising Down.

6. eMC - The Show
The Show chronicles eMC's journey as a rap group, from the streets to the stage. Each song tells a unique story and the skits add sugar and spice to the narrative.

5. J Live - Then What Happened
The verbal energy and inspiring production that J Live brings to the table on Then What Happened? makes it a special album.

4. Black Milk - Tronic
Tronic's highlights include "Losing Out" and "Give the Drummer Sum." The latter is a street anthem laced with gorgeous hi-hats and snares that would make J Dilla smile.

3. Nas - Untitled
Untitled is an intellectually sizzling ride that embodies all the introspective expressionism, unabashedly biting commentary, and naked honesty about issues that dominate our daily conversations.

2. Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons
From Ant's rich, organic layers of instrumentation to Slug's metaphor-heavy, crisply delivered lyrics, When Life Gives You Lemons is a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere sullied by the stench of mediocrity. Having a bad day? Chug down this bit of optimism and you're good to go.

1. Q-Tip - The Renaissance
Eminem. Jay-Z. Nas. You can now add Q-Tip to the incredibly short list of MCs who can single-handedly hold down an entire album. The absence of guest MCs is not only refreshing, it also builds cohesiveness that's often absent from albums cluttered with too many voices. Who needs a guest MC when you have a linguistically dexterous tune like "Dance on Glass" or a silky funk-jazz number like "Life is Better"? Q-Tip finally blessed us with that masterwork we knew was bubbling inside him. This one will still sound fresh in 2020.

10
of 10

Best Rap Albums of 2009

10. K'Naan - Troubador
Troubadour finds K’naan assuming the role of a street griot and dishing out some of the most compelling narratives you’ll hear all year. In his own words, “My job is to write what I see/So a visual stenographer is what I be.

9. K-os - Yes!
K-os continues to show his maturity with yet another solid addition to his brilliant catalog. On his fourth go-round, the Canadian MC teeters the brink between thought-provoking stories and accessible rhymes.

8. Eminem - Relapse
Relapse maintains a cinematic vibe from start to finish. While Eminem's narratives are too familiar (it's another Slim Shady album, after all), his method of delivery has evolved. It's not his best work (the shock value wears thin after a while), but you'd have to go back 9 years to find a better Eminem album.

7. Clipse - Til' The Casket Drops
Give the Clipse credit for sticking with a formula that yields quality music (Clipse + Neptunes = Success). Give them even bigger props for exploring new sounds on Til The Casket Drops, the first Clipse album that wasn't exclusively produced by Chad & Pharrell. Adding DJ Khalil and Sean C & LV to the production lineup helped breathe new life into the their sound.

6. Slaughterhouse - Slaughterhouse
If you've ever wanted to see four individually acclaimed wordsmiths band together for the sheer purpose of rewiring hip-hop's current disposition while staying true to the game's fundamentals, then this is your chance.

5. DOOM - Born Like This
After observing the game from the sidelines for several years, DOOM (formerly MF Doom) decided he's seen enough. The masked one returned with one goal in mind: to reinject his esoteric brand of hip-hop into the game.

4. UGK - UGK 4 Life
Bun B’s bassy mid-paced enunciation is almost as hypnotic as Pimp C’s high-pitched delivery. The result is a mix like night and day, and they complement each other perfectly.

3. Brother Ali - US
Two years ago, Brother Ali teamed up with esteemed producer and Steven Seagal’s illegitimate twin (that would be Ant) to create one of the most brutally honest albums hip-hop has seen in years, Undisputed Truth. Ali’s back rapping about going from underdog status to shopping for underwear with Rakim, among other things.

2. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... PT2
Cuban Linx 2 is indescribably new yet familiar -- a smart blend of early Wu-Tang rawness and stylishly anti-modern production. Those Wu fans who turned on the Chef for alienating RZA on Immobilarity get their recompense on Cuban Linx II, which sports two vintage RZA beats.

1. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
Mos Def has struggled with consistency in the past. One listen to The Ecstatic, however, and you'll forgive and forgive Mos' past transgressions. Pretty Flacco finally conquered his demons, and Ecstatic finds him returning to the breath-defying, head-spinning lyricism that made him a hip-hop great.