In the 1990s, hip-hop reached its creative peak. By the 2000s, it reached it commercial peak — bursting through to mainstream audiences like never before.
Let’s look at the 10 artists who led the way.
But before we begin, check out our earlier countdowns, right here:
And, as always, before you start griping because I didn’t include your favorite artist, check out the disclaimer (Cuz if you complain about the list before reading the disclaimer, I’ll likely embarrass you in the comments, and we don’t want that now, do we?):
This isn’t just a list of “best lyricists” or “richest rappers.” These are the factors that determined the rankings:
- Activity between the years 2000-2009
- Sales figures
- Overall influence on the genre
- Lyrical skill and creativity
By the way, this list mainly covers artists who dropped solo albums during the grading period. So no Andre 3000 or Pusha T.
Got it? Good.
Now let’s highlight the names that led rap in the early stages of the 21st century.
Honorable mentions: Ja Rule, Common, Ghostface Killah
Albums: Thuggin’ Under the Influence (2001); Come Shop With Me (2003); Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005, platinum); The Inspiration (2006, platinum); The Recession (2008, gold)
No. 1 singles: “Soul Survivor” (2005, rap and R&B); “I Put On” (rap)
Edd said: Hip hop’s infatuation with “trap rap” in the 2000s put the Snowman firmly in the spotlight. After grinding independently for a few years, he broke out with Thug Motivation 101, solidifying himself as one of the decade’s most recognizable voices.
Albums: Country Grammar (2000, 9x platinum); Nellyville (2002, 6x platinum); Sweat (2004, platinum); Suit (2004, 3x platinum); Brass Knuckles (2008, gold)
No. 1 singles: “Hot In Herre” (2002, rap, pop and R&B); “Dilemma” (2002, pop and R&B); “Shake Ya Tailfeather” (2003, rap and pop); “Grillz” (2005, rap and pop)
Edd said: Unless you’re new here, you know Nelly is far from one of my favorites. But even I can’t hate on his phenomenal success in the 2000s, establishing the “hip-pop” genre that dominates airwaves today.
Albums: Stillmatic (2001, platinum); God’s Son (2002, platinum); Street’s Disciple (2004, platinum); Hip Hop Is Dead (2006, gold); Untitled (2008, gold)
Edd said: While the homie Esco wasn’t nearly as successful in the 2000s as he was the prior decade, he still remained one of the game’s most influential MCs. He gave us quite a few strong albums during the time period as well.
Albums: I’m Serious (2001); Trap Muzik (2003, platinum); Urban Legend (2004, platinum); King (2006, platinum); TI vs TIP (2007, platinum); Paper Trail (2008, 2x platinum)
No. 1 singles: “What You Know” (2006, rap and R&B); “Whatever You Like” (2008, rap, pop and R&B); “Live Your Life” (2008, pop and rap); “Dead and Gone” (2009, rap)
Edd said: TI basically crowned himself King of the South in the early 2000s, and few challenged him for that throne. Southern sounds heavily influenced hip-hop at the beginning of the 21st century, and Tip led the charge.
Albums: Back for the First Time (2000, 3x platinum); Word of Mouf (2001, 3x platinum); Chicken-N-Beer (2003, 2x platinum); The Red Light District (2004, 2x platinum); Release Therapy (2006, platinum); Theater of the Mind (2008, gold)
No. 1 singles: “Stand Up” (2003, pop, rap and R&B); “Money Maker” (2006, pop, rap and R&B); “Runaway Love” (2007, rap)
Edd said: Luda may well be the MVP of 2000s. It’s easy to write him off as a novelty act, but he was more than just a commercial cash cow. Ludacris sprinkled the decade with some of the era’s memorable guest verses. Don’t sleep on Luda, when he was at the top of his game, he was a force.
Albums: Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003, 6x platinum); The Massacre (2005, 5x platinum); Curtis (2007, platinum); Before I Self Destruct (2009, gold)
No. 1 singles: “In Da Club” (2003, pop, rap and R&B); “21 Questions” (2003, pop, rap and R&B); “Candy Shop” (2005, pop, rap and R&B)
Edd said: From underdog to media mogul, 50 spent the first half of the decade dominating the boards and the boardroom. At their peak, 50 and his G Unit brethren were untouchable. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was one of the few albums to live up to its massive hype. By the end of the decade, 50 ran out of steam but you can’t overlook his early success.
Albums: Lights Out (2000, gold); 500 Degrees (2002, gold); Tha Carter (2004, gold); Tha Carter II (2005, platinum); Tha Carter III (2008. 3x platinum)
No. 1 singles: “Lollipop” (2008, rap, pop and R&B); “A Milli” (2008, rap and R&B)
Edd said: Weezy is an artist who matured right before our eyes. From “wobbledy-wobbledy” Cash Money hypeman to full-fledged superstar in the late 00s, Wayne honed his game until he reached rap’s pinnacle. High-profile guest spots and a deluge of mixtapes made him a household name.
Albums: The College Dropout (2004, 3x platinum); Late Registration (2005, 3x platinum); Graduation (2007, 2x platinum); 808s & Heartbreak (2008, platinum)
No. 1 singles: “Slow Jamz” (2004, rap, pop and R&B); “Gold Digger” (2005, rap, pop and R&B); “Stronger” (2007, pop); “Good Life” (2007, rap); “Heartless” (2008, rap)
Edd said: Love him, hate him, but lord knows no one had an impact on the game like Kanye West. His production skills launched some of rap’s best records and inspired countless “soul beat” knockoffs. And his everyman rap style — and evolution into crazed rock star — made him rap’s most polarizing figure. And, of course, he’s blessed us with a mountain of classic tracks. That’s all that counts.
Albums: The Marshall Mathers LP (2000, diamond); The Eminem Show (2002, diamond); Encore (2004, 4x platinum); Relapse (2009, 2x platinum)
No. 1 singles: “Lose Yourself” (2002, pop); “Crack A Bottle” (2008, pop)
Edd said: A lot of critics give Eminem much too hard of a time, crediting his success to his skin color. Anyone who says that hasn’t listened to his discography. Just a few years after his debut, Em was mentioned in the same breath as rap’s most legendary lyricists. The ’00s became Shady’s decade, dominating the charts, smashing sales records and delivering mind-bending bars that few of his peers could match.
Albums: The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2002, 2x platinum); The Blueprint (2001, 2x platinum); The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse (2003, 3x platinum); The Black Album (2003, 3x platinum); Kingdom Come (2006, 2x platinum); American Gangster (2007, platinum); The Blueprint 3 (2009, platinum)
No. 1 singles: “I Just Wanna Love You (Give It To Me)” (2000, R&B); “Excuse Me Miss” (2003, R&B); “Run This Town” (2009, rap); “Empire State of Mind” (2009, rap, pop and R&B)
Edd said: Jay is hip-hop’s juggernaut, and the 2000s defined his legacy. From rap wars with legends to stints in the boardroom before heading back to the booth, Jay became the posterchild for rap success. And sure, he’s clearly lost a step creatively in recent years, but he provided more than his share of classics throughout the decade. Jay really was the blueprint.
Now it’s your turn. Who are your picks for the best of the 2000s?