Published March 23, 2022
THE BEST HIP-HOP ALBUMS OF EACH YEAR (2000S)
Including honorable mentions.
2000, The Marshall Mathers LP
Anyone that knows me is aware I’m not big on Eminem as an artist. In his prime, though, he was great. And that includes this record.
It’s crude, immature, edgy, with all sorts of things that haven’t aged too well, but the lyricism is brilliant and the production hits the mark. Eminem takes a creative approach to a lot of ideas, and although it can be excessive (…Kim), it’s full of more than enough worthwhile content to stand out amongst a year as stacked as this.
It remains his best record and the peak of a quality three-album run that ended up being the most we got from a once consistent artist.
Best Track – Drug Ballad
2000’s Honorable Mentions
Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele
Quasimoto – The Unseen
Common – Like Water for Chocolate
2001, THE Cold Vein
Cannibal Ox are a forgotten gem of the early-2000’s underground. One of the Def Jux label’s main names back in the day, these two were a pair of lyrical geniuses that even drew some early comparisons to the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan by critics.
The Cold Vein is not only the best album of this year, but one of the best hip-hop albums of all-time. It themes itself around the corruption in New York and finding a way out of its system, with fittingly murky lyricism to support that concept.
The production from El-P is a huge standout, though; it sounds almost video game-like, combining boom bap with experimental synths and samples to force a futuristic atmosphere. It makes every track something to anticipate.
Best Track – The F-Word
2001’s Honorable Mentions
CunninLynguists – Will Rap For Food
JAY-Z – The Blueprint
Nas – Stillmatic
2002, Fantastic Damage
Right after producing a future underground classic the year before, El-P decided to show the world what he was capable of on his own. Fantastic Damage is a grating political record that feels incredibly directionless and cohesive at the same time; it’s meant to fuck with your mind.
Not many hip-hop records before this can claim they’ve reached a remotely close level of experimenting that also managed to be successful. El is one of the only people that can always hit the mark with a “weird” record; Fantastic is as a result an unsurprisingly acquired taste, but the content is more layered than some may realize.
With this choice, El-P has the unique distinction of being involved in three year-topping albums in this series. As a member of Company Flow during Funcrusher Plus and as the producer for The Cold Vein, not only is his greatness apparent, but also his versatility.
Best Track – Tuned Mass Damper
2002’s Honorable Mentions
Eminem – The Eminem Show
Cam’ron – Come Home With Me
Clipse – Lord Willin’
2003, DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY
Some people forget how big The Diplomats (a.k.a. Dipset) were in their prime. The flows, braggadocio raps, soulful beats; they defined this era. Diplomatic Immunity, a monster double album that brought their best qualities as a group together, is their best record.
Not everyone can tolerate lengthy projects, but this one is a must-hear. Both sides of Diplomatic are full of amazing beats (largely thanks to the underrated Heatmakerz) that will grab your attention alone, not to mention the replay value and iconic nature of the whole joint.
Everyone can have their opinions on how the group have been since this era, but one thing’s undeniable; they were ’bout it.
Best Track – I Really Mean It
2003’s Honorable Mentions
Madlib – Shades of Blue
Dizzee Rascal – Boy in da Corner
Nujabes – Metaphorical Music
The list has primarily been low-key classics up to this point; the 2000’s best records went under-the-radar, and this is perhaps the most iconic they get.
Madvillain, consisting of rapper MF DOOM and producer Madlib, were a short-lived duo that also happened to release one of hip-hop’s most important albums. This is to the underground as It Takes a Nation of Millions was to the golden age’s emcees, or Illmatic was to the late-90’s rappers.
It flows seamlessly, all-the-while dishing out strange rhyme schemes and song concepts that for the most part have absolutely no hooks. It’s as unconventional as it gets, but the experience is addictive and unforgettable.
Best Track – Rhinestone Cowboy
2004’s Honorable Mentions
Kanye West – The College Dropout
MF DOOM – MM…FOOD
De La Soul – The Grind Date
2005, Monkey Barz
Sean Price is my favorite rapper of all-time. Nobody executes every level of lyricism as well as he does in my eyes, and for that reason, his magnum opus Monkey Barz remains the best rapping performance I’ve heard.
P is both hilarious and gifted with words, throwing together mind-blowing rhyme schemes all throughout that seem effortless. The production is book definition 2000’s, with a chipmunk soul beat perfectly transitioning into a hardcore, modernized sound on the next track.
The same way MF DOOM is known for shaping the alternative side of the underground, P is the godfather of the hardcore half. Roc Marciano, Griselda, Dump Gawds…that entire wave started with this man here.
Best Track – Onion Head
2005’s Honorable Mentions
Common – Be
Little Brother – The Minstrel Show
Kanye West – Late Registration
2006, A PIECE OF STRANGE
In an era where southern hip-hop had entirely leaned towards trapping and party anthems, the CunninLynguists were a strange act without much of a place in the mainstream. They were focused on still delivering conscious records along the lines of Outkast or Goodie Mob, and it shows in A Piece of Strange.
It’s a concept record about the influence southern culture has on its inhabitants; the main character, largely portrayed through rappers Deacon the Villain and Natti, is a criminal that falls in love with a woman. Conflicts in interest and race take their toll, though, and the second half focuses on the evils that come with the still-ongoing war black people in the south face in particular.
It’s critically acclaimed and largely respected by those that know it, but if you don’t…listen. It’s peak conscious hip-hop, with gorgeous production backing it all.
Best Track – Brain Cell
2006’s Honorable Mentions
Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor
J Dilla – Donuts
9th Wonder & Skyzoo – Cloud 9: The 3 Day High
2007, Below the Heavens
This post is touching upon a lot of favorites of mine, because this right here is my favorite album of all-time.
Blu & Exile are a rapper-producer duo that deserve to be in conversations with the best of the best. Yes, I’m talking Gang Starr, Pete & C.L., Kool G & Polo, etc. Their influence on the modern generation of hip-hop is far too undermined, with Blu being the first member of a late-2000s group of conscious lyricists (including Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, etc.).
This record is dense and lengthy, tapping into the entirety of Blu’s growth from a child to adolescent. Each track is like a journal entry, providing vivid storytelling that embodies both his current mind state and how he wants to move forward. And amidst this all, Exile supplies exquisite beats that make the tracks increasingly emotional and reflective.
The 2000’s is known for its “chipmunk soul” wave, and this can probably be considered the last acclaimed record to largely use that style. It marked the end of an era sonically, but also the beginning of a resurgence for west coast hip-hop.
Best Track – Dancing in the Rain
2007’s Honorable Mentions
Sean Price – Jesus Price Supastar
CunninLynguists – Dirty Acres
Kanye West – Graduation
2008, Grey Hairs
Boston hip-hop is by far the most underrated scene of them all, and Reks‘ Grey Hairs is the most pure it gets. Largely produced by regional legend Statik Selektah, the album jumps between lyrical gauntlets and thoughtful moments, slowly calming down in pace to establish itself as a project of growth by its finish.
Several underrated hip-hop artists find themselves contributing on this record; besides Reks himself, other overlooked talents such as Termanology, Lil’ Fame of M.O.P., and Consequence appear throughout to aid in creating this work of art.
It’s one of the best-rapped and produced of all-time, with no low-quality cuts that make the listener question its length. Instead, the bulkiness is a positive factor, resulting in more content.
Best Track – Telescopes
2008’s Honorable Mentions
Elzhi – The Preface
T.I. – Paper Trail
Q-Tip – The Renaissance
2009, The Salvation
Skyzoo is the definition of consistency. Not a bad record in his career, and The Salvation isn’t even his best; that speaks volumes about his catalogue, considering it was the peak record of the decade’s finishing year.
It works as an autobiography, laced with meaningful content that centers around all facets of his life. It feels like a slick upgrade from his already great 2006 project Cloud 9, remaining equally soulful and pondering. Production input from the likes of 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, Black Milk and more helped form the most complete work of his career up to this point, and a true jumpstart to who would become one of the most seasoned rappers of the following decade.
Best Track – The Necessary Evils
2009’s Honorable Mentions
Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon: The End of Day
Fashawn – Boy Meets World
Sean Price – Kimbo Price