The first decade of the new millennium was an odd one: frosted lip gloss, popcorn shirts, Livestrong bracelets…. But, fashion blunders aside, the decade did give the world great music. Rap and Hip-Hop had some big shoes to fill coming out of the 90s with some amazing tracks, an east vs west coast feud, and some great hip-hop groups, but this decade certainly rose to the challenge. Here are the best rap albums of the 2000s.
- Eminem, The Eminem Show
- Blu & Exile, Below The Heavens
- Madvillian, Madvilliany
- Jay Z, The Black Album
- Kanye West, The College Dropout
- Aesop Rock, Labor Days
- Lil Kim, The Notorious K.I.M.
- Little Brother, The Listening
- 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’
- OutKast, Stankonia
- T.I., Trap Muzik
- Common, Be
- Slum Village, Fantastic, Vol. 2
- The Roots, Phrenology
The Eminem Show
Release date: May 26th, 2002
Label: Aftermath Entertainment; Interscope Records; Shady Records
The Eminem Show was Eminem’s 4th album release. It was scheduled to be released a month later than it was, but due to bootleggers leaking the record, they dropped it early. Still, it was one of the decade’s most quintessential rap albums. What’s more, the bootlegging didn’t harm its impressive sales one bit.
Blu & Exile
Below The Heavens
Release date: July 17, 2007
Label: Sound in Color
Released in 2007, this was the debut album for Blu, and the second release for Exile.
Its praises weren’t instant. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of that year that sales picked up, and suddenly it was everywhere. It was a raw and vulnerable rap album that’s still timeless today.
Release date: March 23rd, 2004
Label: Stones Throw
Madvilliany was a duo of MC rappers: MF DOOM, who passed away in October of 2020, and Madlib. Their unique sound brought the album critical acclaim as soon as it was released.
The Black Album
Release date: November 14th, 2003
Label: Def Jam; Rock-A-Fella
The Black Album was intended to be Jay Z’s last album: he claimed he was stepping away and letting his protege take over, so he could focus on producing. The album had mad success, and is arguably the best album of the decade. Although that album was not his last, it definitely made history.
The College Dropout
Release date: February 10, 2004
Label: Def Jam; Rock-A-Fella
The College Dropout was West’s debut studio album. Prior to the release of this album, West had been producing and working behind the scenes. This album proved to be his big break and put him firmly on top.
Release date: September 18th, 2001
Label: Definitive Jux
Work-centered Labor Days was released a week after the fateful attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. Despite its awful timing, this album scored rave reviews. One track even made its way into the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater4.
The Notorious K.I.M.
Release date: June 27th, 2000
Label: Queen Bee Entertainment
Only her second studio release, Lil Kim’s The Notorious K.I.M. debuted at Number 4 on the Billboard charts and sold over 235k copies in its first week. It was a mega success for the female rapper, who worked hard to get where she did in a male-dominated industry.
Release date: February 25th, 2003
Label: ABB Records
This album featuring a trio from North Carolina is a masterpiece. Rappers Phonte, Big Pooh, and their DJ/producer 9th Wonder created an album that hit so many different styles in one.
The Listening hits on deeper topics than expected, perhaps because the group was trying to do more than have a hit song. They touched on real-life issues, and made the album extremely relatable to listeners.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’
Release date: February 6th, 2003
Label: Shady Records; Aftermath Entertainment; Interscope Records
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was 50 Cent’s debut studio album. He had previously worked heavily with Eminem and Dr. Dre.
The album contains many guest appearances from other big-name rappers. It quickly topped the charts and debuted at Number One on the Billboard List, selling over 872k in its first week.
Release date: October 31st, 2000
Label: LaFace Records
This album was the 4th studio release for OutKast. What made this album so special was that it was recorded in a newly purchased studio, which allowed them to be freer with time and recording.
Andre 3000 was also able to play around more with the music. He moved on from the more traditional rap fans were used to at the time, and also featured local artists on some of his tracks.
Release date: August 19th, 2003
Label: Atlantic Records; Grand Hustle Records
Trap Muzik was T.I.’s second studio album, and it didn’t come easily.
Because his first album had such low sales, the label dropped him. T.I. then decided to found his own label, Grand Hustle Records. He co-signed with Atlantic for his second album, which was met with much better reviews and sales.
Release date: May 24th, 2005
Label: Geffen Records; GOOD Music
Be is rapper Common’s 6th studio album, and included Kanye West as a producer.
It debuted at Number 2 on the Billboard Charts. Arguably, it’s one of his best albums to date.
Fantastic, Vol. 2
Release date: June 13, 2000
Label: Good Vibe Recordings
Fantastic, Vol. 2, which was released in June of 2000, was actually completed in 1998.
Originally, the group was with A&M Records; they were just completing the album when the label went under. Two years later, it was released by Good Vibe Records.
Release date: November 26th, 2002
Label: MCA Records
The Roots often bridge the gap between rap and jazz, so Phrenology does not disappoint for longtime fans of their original, distinct sound.
Great beats accompany deep, meaningful lyrics. This combo makes it one for the ages…even if it didn’t do so well on the charts.
The best rap albums of the 2000s brought the world thought-provoking lyrics, impressive genre-bending, and fresh sounds. It definitely fueled some of the latest rap freestyles and even gave us some of the best songs to smoke to. It borrowed heavily from 1990s predecessors, yet also elevated rap to new heights worthy of a new millennium.