Ranking the 30 Best Rap Albums of the 2000s

A few weeks ago, we looked at the best R&B had to offer in the 2000s, so it’s only right to give rap the stage.

And just like R&B in 2000, sometimes we didn’t give rap the credit it deserved in the moment. Yes, by no means could that era compare to the ’90s golden days but it was far from a failure. The decade introduced new stars, flourished with new sounds and gave us albums that are still considered modern classics.

Take a look back at the 30 best hip-hop albums to grace our ears from the years 2000-2009. As a reminder, albums were ranked based on quality, consistency and influence on the genre. At just 30 albums I had to make some regretful cuts – no Lost Tapes or Graduation or Lord Willin’, my bad – but it just proves how stiff the competition really was.

The 2000s was the era where the phrase “hip-hop is dead” was first uttered. Well, here are the albums that proved the news of its death was greatly exaggerated.

Albums we love that just missed the cut: Bubba Sparxxx, Deliverance (2003); Missy Elliott, Under Construction (2002); Clipse, Lord Willin’ (2002); Cam’ron, Purple Haze (2004); Nas, The Lost Tapes (2002); Kanye West, Graduation (2007); Talib Kweli, Quality (2002)

the-cold-vein30. Cannibal Ox, The Cold Vein (2001)

Whenever you hear endless debates about the greatest rap albums of all time, this one always seems to be forgotten. Stop sleeping on it. Can Ox’s vivid depiction of life in NY was powerful but it was El-P’s production that catapulted this collection to legendary status. Albums like The Cold Vein only come around once in a generation.


cubanlinx229. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Pt. II (2009)

It’s a scientific fact: Sequel albums almost always suck. So you can understand why my hopes weren’t very high for Raekwon’s addendum to his classic debut. Also, let’s face it, outside his debut (and this year’s fantastic release), Rae’s solo material has often been met with mixed reviews. But not this time. Rae effortlessly recaptured the magic of the original Cuban Linx, and quickly reminded us why he’s one of rap’s most revered voices. I’ll never doubt the Chef again.


the documentary28. The Game, The Documentary (2005)

Turn back the clock a little more than 10 years prior to the release of The Game’s debut album and you’ll see a time when the West Coast was hip-hop’s most dominant force. Those days were long gone by 2005 but The Documentary helped change the conversation. Game’s ferocious rhymes and authentic West Coast production revitalized the coast and instantly made him a major player for years to come.


phrenology27. The Roots, Phrenology (2002)

While some consider 1999’s Things Fall Apart as The Root’s pinnacle, Phrenology isn’t far from those heights. It features the same funk elements of the former release with a much harder edge. Black Thought took no prisoners here either, delivering the dense, intelligent rhymes that have become the band’s hallmark.


king26. T.I., King (2006)

Most of you know I’ve been hot and cold on Tip over the years — mainly because his work can be so wildly inconsistent. But the one time I truly bought the hype was his 2006 album, which made him a mainstream star without compromising his gritty roots. Thanks to standout singles and impressive production King is worthy of its royal reputation.



the minstrel show25. Little Brother, The Minstrel Show (2003)

When hip-hop pundits discuss The Minstrel Show, it’s less about the music and more about the controversy – how BET allegedly banned their music video for being “too intelligent,” how The Source magazine intentionally lowered the an album reviewer’s score, etc. Don’t get caught in the drama – The Minstrel Show is a fantastic concept album that skewered hip-hop for embracing commercialism over creativity. It was way ahead of its time.


eminem show24. Eminem, The Eminem Show (2002)

It might be hard for newer rap fans to recognize this but back in the early 00s, Eminem absolutely dominated the scene. That oversaturation caused his fourth album, The Eminem Show, to be met with mixed reviews but make no mistake – this album is worthy of accolades. Showing a bit more maturity but retaining his trademark wit, Em showcased impressive growth both lyrically and emotionally. Though he’d go on to have a couple more very strong albums, none of them surpassed this one.


getrich23. 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003)

If you weren’t around in 2003, I can’t properly convey how DEAFENING the hype was for this album. And honestly, I figured there was no way 50 could meet expectations. I was wrong. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was the perfect album for the perfect time – grabbing hip-hop culture by the throat and dragging it toward a more gritty sound when many hitmakers were frolicking in pop pastures. This album alone made 50 a megastar and had all of hip-hop stuttering the name G-Unit.


the fix22. Scarface, The Fix (2002)

Scarface has long been considered a rap legend, thanks to his solo efforts and his work with the groundbreaking Geto Boys collective, but by 2002 it seemed it seemed Face’s best days were behind him. The Fix quickly proved me wrong. Boasting iconic guess verses, stellar production and Face’s trademark insight, The Fix wasn’t just a comeback album – it was affirmation of his legacy.


madvillian21. Madvillain, Madvillainy (2004)

A friend of mine once called this album “the gateway to art rap,” and it’s a great description. Producer Madlib crafted bizarre, quirky soundscapes while the enigmatic MF DOOM’s rhymes swing from humorous to haunting at a moment’s notice. In an industry that loves to celebrate the status quo, Madvillain dared to be different – and in the process made an album that has stood the test of time.


carter 220. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter II (2005)

Twelve years later and we’re STILL talking about this album. For good reason. Lil Wayne’s metamorphosis from “wobbldey-wobbldey” third-string Cash Money member to punchline machine reached its apex here, helping Wayne to become one of the biggest mainstream stars of the ‘00s. Sure he had more celebrated albums (Tha Carter III specifically) but none were better than this.


stankonia19. Outkast, Stankonia (2000)

Stankonia is the album that transformed Kast from Southern rap stalwarts to mainstream superstars. Since this was many fans’ first brush with Outkast’s greatness, they consider this album to be the pinnacle of their careers. Longtime fans know better. Don’t mistake me, though, Stankonia’s chaotic combination of funk, gospel, soul and hip-hop has become a hallmark of their legacy.


blackalbum18. Jay Z, The Black Album (2003)

I know my inbox is gonna be on fire after the “low” placement of this one. And while it’s been a bit overrated since it’s release (likely because of its distinction as Jay’s “last” album) it’s still an air-tight release – you need the Hubble telescope to spot the flaws in this collection. The foreboding production allows Jay to give us a rare dose of introspection, and yeah, there are plenty of block bangers here too. I wouldn’t call it a classic but it’s pretty amazing.


untitled17. Nas, Untitled (2008)

Nas turned the industry upside down when he announced that he’d name his 2008 album after the dreaded N-word. Eventually, he relented, going Untitled instead. But I don’t care about controversy, I care about content, and this album was an outstanding examination of black culture. From what we eat to who we are, and most importantly, WHY we are who we are, Nas shed light on the pain and beauty of black life. Untitled proved to be eerily prophetic in today’s cultural climate.


god-2527s-son16. Nas, God’s Son (2002)

Nas Esco enjoyed quite the career revival in the early ’00s and God’s Son was the final segment of his comeback trilogy. Nas has never been shy about opening his heart to his fans and he does so expertly here. Nas balances the pain of losing his mother with the anger of the rap beefs that revitalized his career. Sometimes he furious, sometimes he’s heartbroken. And sometimes, he’s even jealous of his own baby girl. Nas bares his soul like never before.


americangangster15. Jay Z, American Gangster (2007)

By far Jigga’s most underrated work. While not an official soundtrack to the titular film, Jay basically retells the story using his own life experiences, and what results is worthy of the big screen. No it’s not just an album about drugs, it’s about the pressures of fame and the plight of excess. It outlines a rise and fall from grace, a story told almost as well as the movie. Add some of the most lush production Jay has ever spit over and you have a near-classic album.


speakerboxxx14. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)

I remember Outkast fans being a little nervous about this one back in ’03. Wouldn’t two solo albums divide the chemistry and creativity that Dre and Big Boi spent a decade building? How dare we question the Mighty O. Speakerboxxx and The Love Below were two vastly different albums, but both were spectacular in their own right. 3 Stacks took on the role of a 21st century Jimi Hendrix while Big Boi proved that outside of Andre’s shadow he’s one of the greatest MCs of all time. The level of creativity here couldn’t be contained to just one disc. If you take it as one piece of work it can be a bit bloated, but look at it as two solo albums and it’s a double dose of genius.


the-cool13. Lupe Fiasco, Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool (2007)

I always love a good concept album, and Lupe’s sophomore release proves that when done well, they truly shine. Building upon a track of the same name from his previous album, The Cool features tracks that build to larger narrative. From fighting against mediocrity (“Dumb It Down”) to finding solace in music (“Hip-Hop Saved My Life”) and eventual fame (“Superstar”), The Cool forced listeners to think, relate and apply its themes to their own lives. That’s why it resonates so strongly.


fishscale12. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (2006)

Sometimes buzz is a bad thing. When hype for an upcoming album looms too large, the finished product often can’t measure up to the sky-high expectations. But in this case, Fishscale was even better than what we hoped for. Stellar production from J Dilla, MF DOOM and Pete Rock have helped this album stand the test of time. It’s still one of the best rap releases in the past decade. Believe the hype.


be11. Common, Be (2005)

More than a decade after its release, Be is arguably Common’s most well-known and beloved album. Be is the personification of Chicago itself – from the grittiness of “The Corner” to the soaring optimism of closer “It’s Your World,” the city is encapsulated in those 11 unforgettable tracks. The album’s production steals the show here – Kanye West is at his peak behind the boards. Be isn’t flawless (the second half wavers just a bit) but it’s deserving of its endless praise.


donuts10. J Dilla, Donuts (2006)

Before iconic producer J. Dilla left us much too soon in 2006, he delivered one last gift – his album Donuts. And this one is all about the instrumentals. True to Dilla’s legacy, this album speaks loudly without uttering one word. This collection of soundscapes is the greatest in hip-hop history, and has been constantly co-opted by MCs for a decade. Consider it one of the most important albums of rap’s 40-year history.


like-water-for-chocolate9. Common, Like Water for Chocolate (2000)

It’s nearly impossible to decide which of Common’s top two albums is the better work. Be is better produced; Like Water for Chocolate boasts tighter lyrics and concepts. But I think Like Water for Chocolate gets the edge for this slight reason – Be is celebrated as the ultimate partnership between Kanye West and Common, but Like Water for Chocolate is ALL Common. Don’t get me wrong, much of this album’s success is due to an all-star array of producers (J Dilla specifically knocks it out the park) but Common and his hard-hitting yet heartfelt wordplay are always the showcase.  Like Water for Chocolate is the quintessential Common album, and one of hip-hop’s greatest treasures.


late registration8. Kanye West, Late Registration (2005)

Coming off of a landmark debut, Kanye prepared for a showdown with the dreaded sophomore jinx. And as history has proved, he walked away victorious. Late Registration took all the elements of Kanye’s debut and made everything grander. It was like a Sundance film getting a summer blockbuster budget. Best of all, the impassioned soulfulness of its predecessor was just as strong here. The album was a bit too bloated (the usual Kanye weakness) but otherwise it was a rousing success.


marshall mathers lp7. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)

In 2000, Eminem was truly the man America loved to hate. Mainstream America saw him as loud-mouthed anarchist, mainstream hip-hop saw him as a culture vulture looking for a cash-in. The Marshall Mathers LP was birthed from that frustration, a gripping portrait of a troubled young man grappling with fame. But it wasn’t a pity party – Em fought back with fiery fans that inspired a new generation of rap fans and fueled an album that would become a modern classic.


supreme clientele6. Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele (2000)

Remember the year 2000, where rappers were obsessed with bling and other shiny objects like kittens with ADHD? Well, instead of focusing all his energy on cash and cars, Ghost used that era’s grandiose beats to transform himself into a true ghetto superstar. “Apollo Kids” (the single, not the 2010 album) sounded like the theme for a new millennium blaxploitation character. And I’ll put “Mighty Healthy” up against any rap record ever recorded. The album is loud, pompous, yet undeniably soulful. Not only is it one of the best Wu-Tang albums ever produced, it’s one of hip hop’s true gems.


stillmatic5. Nas, Stillmatic (2001)

By the year 2000, after some questionable releases and a changing landscape, Nas’ career seemed in jeopardy. But by the end of 2001, every doubter was proved dead wrong. Nas’ comeback album roared with a ferocity we hadn’t heard in years. Nas wasn’t just hungry, he was angry, and that fury fueled some of the best songs of his career. When hip hop was wallowing in cash and bling, Nas grabbed the industry by its throat and dragged it back to the dark project hallways of its inception. Esco wasn’t done, he was just starting. Don’t call it a comeback, call it a classic.


hell hath no fury4. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury (2006)

Hell Hath No Fury was born from frustration. After Clipse’s head-turning debut, constant shakeups at their record label Jive put their sophomore project on the back burner. Their frustration – and anger – eventually created Hell Hath No Fury, the greatest “coke rap” album ever recorded. The album also coincided with the peak of The Neptunes’ production, making HHNF a sonic masterpiece just from the beats alone. But it’s the album’s realistic depiction of street life – the quest for wealth and the regret and paranoia that follows ­– that makes this one an all-time great.


foodandliquor3. Lupe Fiasco, Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor (2006)

Food & Liquor should have been Lupe Fiasco’s Reasonable Doubt – a critically-acclaimed bedrock that would vault its maestro to mainstream success. Things didn’t quite work out that way for Lupe, but in ’06, he seemed on the verge of hip-hop domination. Much in the vein of albums before it (Kanye West’s College Dropout comes to mind) and many albums after it (Kendrick Lamar’s Section 80, among others), Lupe doesn’t pretend to be who he’s not. Instead of thug posturing, he simply observes his hood and relays his findings in the form of biting social commentary. Immigration, single parenthood and hip-hop’s own hypocrites are analyzed in compelling fashion.


the blueprint2. Jay Z, The Blueprint (2001)

Around the time this album dropped, rumor around the Internetz was that Jay recorded this set in seven days. I don’t know if I buy that – it’s probably just Jay caught up in his weird god complex thing. No matter how long it took, The Blueprint wound up being a bonafide classic. Lyrically, Jay may have been at his peak here, effortlessly dropping lines that are STILL quoted today and ushering in a soul sound that would go on to define hip-hop for the next decade. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what a true classic album sounds like.


the college dropout1. Kanye West, The College Dropout (2004)

People always ask me what makes an album a classic. I’m sorry Twitter, a classic album isn’t “an album that came out last week that I like a whooooole lot,’ it’s a piece of work that is not only strong on its own but influences future works. The College Dropout changed the game. In a genre that had become cold and processed, Kanye injected soul back into the art form, something that had been missing since the heyday of A Tribe Called Quest. From bottom to top, the album was flawless and inspired producers to dig in the crates for their own soul samples. Remember all those “chipmunk” soul samples circa 2005? Yeezy taught ’em. And that shouldn’t overshadow Ye’s lyrical themes – he introduced a self-depreciating honesty that was a rarely in hip-hop at the time and resonated across audiences. Kanye is a trendsetter, which is why this album is a true classic – the best of the 2000s.

Which albums missed the cut? You Trap Muzik, Carter III and Young Jeezy fans can yell at me in the comments below.


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