The 1980s established the core of what hip hop would become.  The 1990s took those ideas to extremes that produced FBI investigations, Congressional hearings, and even served as a talking point in two Presidential elections.

So what next?  Starting in 2000, hip hop started to break away from shock value and started getting much more personal.  And independent, less mainstream rap starting showing up from between the coasts–from the rest of the U.S., and raps voices became far more diverse and culturally representative as a result.

This all set the stage for the 2010s, where rap would break through to every genre.

  1. and
  2. (tie) Jay Z – The Blueprint (2001) and The Black Album (2003).  All the real headz will tell you Blueprint was Hova’s best album, and they may be right.  But for me, these are two albums I can’t live without.  Maybe my two favorite records of all time.  Bonus: If you can find it, check out 9th Wonder’s remix of the entire Black Album.  Dangermouse got all the attention for mashing Jay and The Beatles, but 9th Wonder showed that a single produce for the entire Black Album would have produced a much different, and in some ways even better, sound.
  3. Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004).  MF DOOM is one of my all time favorite rappers, and this is hands down his greatest masterpiece.
  4. The Game – The Documentary (2005).  I recognize my own personal biases at work here.  Few people would put this in their top 10 and even fewer would put Game in the their top 5 rappers of all time.  But I do.  NWA basically invented the West Coast gangsta rap genre.  Dr. Dre took it to a higher level.  And The Game is its master.
  5. Lupe Fiasco – Fahrenheit 1/15 Part II: Revenge of the Nerds (2006).  Lupe’s entire 1/15 run of mixtapes is brilliant, and this one is the best of the bunch.
  6. Masta Ace – A Long Hot Summer (2004).  One of rap’s most underappreciated voices.  So many less deserving people have made millions off the genre while Masta humbly continues to this day to make extraordinarily albums that push everyone else to make better songs.  At the time of this writing, I’d probably say my top 5 are Jay-Z, Game, Pusha T, Kendrick, and Ace.
  7. Kanye West-808 and Heartbreak (2008).  He’s an annoying fuck, but he made some extraordinary records.
  8. J-Live – The Best Part (2001).  J-Live is one of the most skillful rappers in the game, and yet he’s stayed underground for his entire career.
  9. Clipse-We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 2 (2005).  Vol. 1 is also great, but #2 is the best.  If you don’t like the slick production on their albums, check out how they savagely dominate everyone else’s beats in this mixtape series.
  10. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000). Wow.  Just look at those top ten albums.  All undeniably great, all very different from each other, yet all coming out within 6 years of each other.  Marshall can’t quite crack that list.
  11. Brother Ali – The Undisputed Truth (2007).Lyrically, it’s hard to match Ali.
  12. Murs & 9th Wonder – Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition (2004)
  13. Little Brother – The Listening (2003)
  14. Grip Grand—Brokelore (2008).  If you’ve never heard–or even heard of–this album, you need to go get it.  Now.  Seriously.  Why are you still here?
  15. Q-Tip – The Renaissance (2008).
  16. Eminem – The Eminem Show (2002).  The best selling album in the entire world in 2002.  Let that sink in for a minute.
  17. Lil’ Wayne-Dedication 2 (2007).  Weezy never mastered the art of the album, but his Dedication series of mixtapes show why he should be regarded as an excellent rapper.  #2 is the best, and the only one I’m listing, but there are plenty of gems in Dedications 1 and 3 as well.  It’s timeless, and still available at datpiff.
  18. Buckshot and 9th Wonder-Chemistry (2005)
  19. Jean Grae-The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP (2003).  A great set of songs on the EP, but the real reason this makes the list is thirty minutes of songs not listed in the track list–gems from her time with Natural Resources and mixtape cuts that steal beats from all the best of the late ’90s.  And she murders nearly all of them on their own cuts.
  20. Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein (2001)
  21. Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain (2003)
  22. Joel Ortiz-The Brick: Bodega Chronicles (2007).  Ortiz is undisputedly a great rapper–but he’s also one of the greatest to rarely release good albums.  This, in my view, is his only great record.
  23. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor (2006)
  24. Scarface – The Fix (2002)
  25. 50 Cent – Get Rich Or Die Tryin (2003).  Come on.  You know you love it.
  26. Masta Ace and Edo G-Arts and Entertainment (2009)
  27. Missy Elliot-Under Construction (2002).  Representing the best work of both Missy and her producer Timbaland.
  28. Gorillaz-Gorillaz (2001).  Go ahead, make your arguments that this isn’t hip hop.  Then listen to Del’s verses again.
  29. Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (2000)
  30. Atmosphere-Sad Clown Bad Summer/Winter EPs (2007)
  31. J Dilla-Donuts (2006)
  32. Blu & Exile – Below The Heavens (2007)
  33. Metty the Dertmerchant-Fink Ployd (2009)
  34. The Roots – Phrenology (2002).  By today’s standards, including punk rock and a 10+ minute long, twisting, garage psych ramble, may not be revolutionary–but this kind of extreme genre-busting was far from the norm in the early ’00s, and makes this album a daring classic.
  35. J Cole-Friday Night Lights (2000)
  36. MF DOOM – Mm…Food (2004).  Yes, lots of Doom on here.  He’s not in my top 5, but he might be #6.
  37. Brother Ali – Shadows On The Sun (2003)
  38. Sean Price – Monkey Barz (2005)
  39. Fashawn – Boy Meets World (2009)
  40. Foreign Exchange – Connected (2004)
  41. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
  42. Common – Be (2005)
  43. Jay-Z-American Gangster (2007)
  44. Young Jeezy-Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005)
  45. Little Brother – The Minstrel Show (2005)
  46. Elzhi – The Preface (2008)
  47. De La Soul – The Grind Date (2004)
  48. Nelly-Country Grammar (2008).  Sure, it’s commercial AF. But you know all the words.
  49. Masta Ace – Disposable Arts (2001)
  50. Jean Grae – This Week (2004)
  51. Nas – The Lost Tapes (2002)
  52. Atmosphere – Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EPs (2001)
  53. Wale-The Mixtape About Nothing (2008)
  54. Danger Doom-The Mouse and the Mask (2005).  MF DOOM, famous for sampling cartoons in his intricate beats, teamed up with Cartoon Network and, of course, Dangermouse, for this incredible collection of songs woven together as a concept album tribute to CN’s Adult Swim programs.
  55. Deltron 3030-Deltron 3030 (2000)
  56. Eyedea & Abilities – E&A (2004)
  57. T.I.-Down with the King (2004)
  58. Atmosphere-You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005)
  59. Diamond District – In The Ruff (2009)
  60. CunninLynguists – Southernundergroun (2003)
  61. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale (2006).  His most mainstream–and most fun–album.
  62. El-P-Fantastic Damage (2002)
  63. Immortal Technique-Revolution Vol. 1 (2001) and Vol. 2 (2003)
  64. Joe Budden-Mood Muzik 2 (2006).  He used to have chops.  Seriously.
  65. J-Live – All Of The Above (2002)
  66. 50 Cent-50 Cent is the Future (2002)
  67. Eve-Scorpion (2001).
  68. El-P – Fantastic Damage (2002)
  69. The Game-Doctor’s Advocate (2006)
  70. Eminem-Encore (2004)
  71. Large Professor-1st Class (2002)
  72. Nicki Minaj-Beam Me Up Scotty (2009)
  73. Nas – Stillmatic (2001).  If all you know from this album is Ether, listen again.
  74. King Geedorah – Take Me To Your Leader (2003).  I do love this album.  I also love Quasimoto’s, “Further Adventures of Lord Quas,” but putting two of these very similar alt-rap projects on the list seemed unncessary.
  75. Clipse – Lord Willin (2002).  Yeah, this is the one that introduced Pusha T and  Malice to the mainstream world, but it also began The Neptunes dominance as the most influential producers of the early ’00s.
  76. Lil Wayne-Da Drought 3 (2007)
  77. M.I.A.-Arular (2005)
  78. Aesop Rock -Labor Days (2001)
  79. Jadakiss-The Champ is Here (2004).  Jada is the best rapper never to put out a great album.  Lil Wayne would also be on that list.
  80. Blackalicious-The Craft (2005)
  81. Kanye West-The College Dropout (2004)
  82. The Roots – Game Theory (2006)
  83. Canibus – Rip The Jacker (2003).  Yeah, Eminem shit all over Canibus and pretty much ended his career, but this album, produced by Stoupe of Jedi Mind Tricks, is excellent.
  84. Three 6 Mafia-Most Known Unknown (2006).  Hustle and Flow is an underrated rap movie, and these motherfuckers won a Grammy.
  85. Beastie Boys-Hello Nasty (1998)
  86. Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner (2003)
  87. Jedi Mind Tricks – Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell (2006)
  88. Common-Electric Circus (2002).  Personally, I think the comparisons to Sgt. Pepper are a bit excessive, but I get the point: This album was unlike any that preceded it.
  89. OutKast – Speakerboxxx / The Love Below (2003).  The genius of this album was also what weakened it: Rather than break up, one of rap’s best duos each produced their own “solo” album–allowing Big Boi an unfettered blast of bangers and, frankly, over-indulging Andre 3000’s weird side.  There’s pure genius on both albums here–from “Church” to “Hey Ya,” but at the same time, about a quarter of the songs are skippable.
  90. Foul Mouth Jerk-Streetlight Music (2008)
  91. Rise and the Avid Record Collector-Present Risen (2009).  It doesn’t get much more underground, or more rewarding, than this.
  92. Hollywood Flo$$-Art or Fi$cal Intelligence (2009).  Whatever happened to this guy?  I loved this album!
  93. MF Grimm – American Hunger (2007)
  94. Obie Trice-Cheers (2003).  The guy who opens up Without Me gets his own album, and unlike Eminem’s D12 spin-offs, this one is actually really funny and really good.
  95. Sugar Tongue Slim-The Illustrious (2011).  Whatever happened to STS?  He had a good run at the turn of the decade.
  96. OutKast – Stankonia (2000)
  97. Lil- Kim-The Notorious K.I.M. (2000).  Kim flips the script on the precedent that girl rappers are supposed to be nothing but fuckdolls by turning her fans into the sex objects, there to please her.
  98. Common – Like Water for Chocolate (2000)
  99. Ludacris-Back for the First Time (2000).  Luda is much better than you think he is, and this album is part of the reason why.



Related Posts

About The Author