Dark Light

On August 3, 1995, the Source Awards held their annual event at the Paramount Theater in New York to celebrate the very best in hip hop culture.

While the focus at the time were mainly on East Coast and West Coast rappers like Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Method Man, Warren G, and Eazy-E, there was one Atlanta rap duo who managed to win New Artist of the Year, beating out Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Ill Al Skratch and Smif-N-Wessun.

As OutKast made their way up the stage to claim their award, they were confronted with boos and jeers from the (mainly) elitist New York audience. Frustrated by the moment, as well as their personal struggles to break into the music industry, the 20-year old Andre 3000 took to the mic and expressed what he felt:

Andre 3000: But it’s like this though: I’m tired of folks, — them closed-minded folks. It’s like we got a demo tape and don’t nobody wanna hear it. But it’s like this, the South got somethin’ to say. That’s all I got to say.

1995 Source Awards

The 2000s was a tumultuous time for the rap game. The new decade started with the kings like DMX, Eminem and Jay-Z all staking their claim to the crown. The underground vs. commercial divide, which began in the late ’90s, began to widen even further. While the first half witnessed some of the biggest rap superstars the industry had ever seen, the second half was dominated by the internet and the challenges on how to evolve accordingly or get left in the ’90s.

More importantly, Andre 3000’s chilling prophecy at the 1995 Source Awards would ring true just a decade later. As the East Coast and West Coast began to lose their steam, the South began their takeover; slowly at first, but by the end of the decade, it was a known fact that they were running the game and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Out of this situation emerged some of the greatest rappers to ever touch a mic. From Sean Price, MF DOOM and Talib Kweli, to Eminem, Jay-Z and 50 Cent, here are the 30 best rappers of the 2000s.

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Honourable mentions

Rick Ross

Albums: Port of Miami (2006), Trilla (2008), Deeper Than Rap (2009), Custom Cars & Cycles (with Triple C’s)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 Rick Ross guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. DJ Khaled – “We Takin’ Over”
  2. Freeway – “Lights Get Low”
  3. Bun B – “You’re Everything”
  4. DJ Khaled – “I’m So Hood”
  5. Birdman – “100 Million”
  6. DJ Khaled – “Holla at Me”
  7. Daz Dillinger – “On Some Real Shit”
  8. Birdman & Lil Wayne – “Know What I’m Doin'”
  9. Ace Hood – “Cash Flow”
  10. DJ Khaled – “Out Here Grindin”

Ja Rule

Albums: Rule 3:36 (2000), Pain Is Love (2001), The Last Temptation (2002), Blood in My Eye (2003), R.U.L.E. (2004)

Mixtapes: Atkins Files Vol. 1 (2008), The Mirror (2009)

Top 10 Ja Rule guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Erick Sermon – “Get Da Money”
  2. Jennifer Lopez – “I’m Real (Murder Remix)”
  3. N.O.R.E. – “Live My Life”
  4. Lloyd – “ATL Tales / Ride Wit Me”
  5. DJ Khaled – “New York Is Back”
  6. DJ Envy – “We Fly”
  7. Mary J. Blige – “Rainy Dayz”
  8. Jennifer Lopez – “Ain’t It Funny (Murder Remix)”
  9. Irv Gotti – “Down 4 U”
  10. The Game – “One Blood (East Coast Remix)”

The Game

Albums: The Documentary (2005), Doctor’s Advocate (2006), LAX (2008)

Mixtapes: You Know What It Is, Vol. 1 (2002), Westside Story (2004), You Know What It Is, Vol. 2: Throwin’ Rocks At the Throne (2004), You Know What It Is, Vol. 3 (2005), Ghost Unit (2005), Stop Snitchin, Stop Lyin (2006), You Know What It Is, Vol. 4: Murda Game Chronicles (2007)

Top 10 The Game guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Lloyd Banks – “When the Chips Are Down”
  2. 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It (G-Unit Remix)”
  3. Nas – “Make the World Go Round”
  4. MC Eiht – “Don’t Play”
  5. Young Buck – “Stomp”
  6. The Alchemist – “Dead Bodies”
  7. Scarface – “Never Snitch”
  8. Hi-Tek – “1-800-Homicide”
  9. Fat Joe – “Breathe and Stop”
  10. Tha Dogg Pound – “Anybody Killa”

Beanie Sigel

Albums: The Truth (2000), The Reason (2001), State Property OST (with State Property) (2002), The Chain Gang Vol. 2 (with State Property) (2003), The B. Coming (2005), The Solution (2007), The Broad Street Bully (2009)

Mixtapes: Public Enemy Number 1 (2004), Still Public Enemy Number 1 (2006), The Bully Is Back (2009), The Bully Is Back 2 (2009), The Official Beanie Sigel Mixtape (2009)

Top 10 Beanie Sigel guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Jay-Z – “Where Have You Been”
  2. Raekwon – “Have Mercy”
  3. Jay-Z – “Change the Game”
  4. Ghostface Killah – “Tony Sigel A.K.A. the Barrel Brothers”
  5. Cam’ron – “The ROC (Just Fire)”
  6. Jay-Z – “This Can’t Be Life”
  7. Scarface – “Guess Who’s Back”
  8. Jay-Z – “Streets Is Talking”
  9. Sheek Louch – “So Much Trouble”
  10. Amil – “4 Da Fam”

Juelz Santana

Albums: From Me to U (2003), Diplomatic Immunity (as The Diplomats) (2003), Purple Haze (2004), Diplomatic Immunity 2 (as The Diplomats) (2004), What the Game’s Been Missing! (2005)

Mixtapes: Diplomats Volume 1 (2002), Diplomats Volume 2 (2002), Diplomats Volume 3 (2002), Diplomats Volume 4 (2003), Diplomats Volume 5 (2003), Final Destination (2003), Back Like Cooked Crack, Pt. 3: Fiend Out (2006), The Takeover (with Skull Gang) (2008)

Top 10 Juelz Santana guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Cam’ron – “Losing Weight, Pt. 2”
  2. Lil Wayne – “Welcome to the Concrete Jungle”
  3. Cam’ron – “Oh Boy”
  4. Cam’ron – “Come Home with Me”
  5. Chris Brown – “Run It!”
  6. Lil Wayne – “Black Republicans”
  7. Cam’ron – “Welcome to New York City”
  8. Cam’ron – “Hey Ma”
  9. Jim Jones – “Pin the Tail”
  10. Gucci Mane – “She Got a Friend”

Lloyd Banks

Albums: Beg for Mercy (with G-Unit) (2003), The Hunger for More (2004), Rotten Apple (2006), T·O·S (Terminate on Sight) (with G-Unit) (2008)

Mixtapes: Money In The Bank (2003), Mo’ Money In The Bank (2003), Mo’ Money In The Bank, Pt. 3: Cashing In (2004), Mo’ Money In The Bank, Pt. 4: Gang Green Season Starts Now (2006), Mo’ Money In The Bank, Pt. 5: Gang Green Season Continues (The Final Chapter) (2006), 5 And Better Series Vol. 1: Return Of The P.L.K. (2008), 5 And Better Series Vol. 2: Halloween Havoc (2008), 5 And Better Series Vol. 3: The Cold Corner (2009), 5 And Better Series Vol. 4: 4-30-09 (Happy Birthday) (2009), V.5 (2009)

Top 10 Lloyd Banks guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. 50 Cent – “Don’t Push Me”
  2. 50 Cent – “P.I.M.P. (Remix)”
  3. Obie Trice – “We All Die One Day”
  4. Busta Rhymes – “Touch It (Remix)”
  5. Young Buck – “Prices on My Head”
  6. Mobb Deep – “Stole Something”
  7. Tony Yayo – “We Don’t Give a Fuck”
  8. Avant – “Exclusive”
  9. Tony Yayo – “NYC Is Where I’m From”
  10. Young Buck – “Thuggin Til I’m Gone”

Killer Mike

Albums: Monster (2003), I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind (2006), I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II (2008)

Mixtapes: Home Alone Wit’ Dat Crack (2004), The Killer (2006), Ghetto Extraordinary (2008), Anger & Ambition: The Best of Killer Mike (2009)

Top 10 Killer Mike guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. OutKast – “Snappin’ & Trappin'”
  2. Bone Crusher – “Never Scared”
  3. OutKast – “The Whole World”
  4. Jay-Z – “Poppin’ Tags”
  5. OutKast – “Flip Flop Rock”
  6. OutKast – “Bust”
  7. Gucci Mane – “Black Tee”
  8. XV – “May the Force Be with You”
  9. Chiddy Bang – “Neighborhood”
  10. OutKast – “Land of a Million Drums”

30. Nelly

Albums: Country Grammar (2000), Nellyville (2002), Sweat (2004), Suit (2004), Brass Knuckles (2008)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 Nelly guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. DJ Drama – “5000 Ones”
  2. Rick Ross – “Here I Am”
  3. Snoop Dogg – “Girl Like U”
  4. Missy Elliott – “Pump It Up”
  5. Jagged Edge – “Where the Party At”
  6. T.I. – “Get Loose”
  7. Freeway – “On My Own”
  8. Funkmaster Flex – “Come Over”
  9. Murphy Lee – “This Goes Out”
  10. Pharrell – “Baby”

On “Excuse Me Miss,” Jay-Z rapped “Only dudes movin’ units – Em, Pimp Juice and us.” Rap fans forget, at one point in time, the only rapper who was touching Nelly’s numbers was Eminem, Hov was still a couple hundred thousand units away. While the St. Lunatics leader might not get the same respect on lyrically as a lot of the rappers on the list, the fact is that he was one of the biggest superstars hip hop had ever seen, and played a huge role in the culture’s crossover during the 2000s.

But even putting aside his crazy commercial success, Nelly was one of the main rappers responsible for pioneering that melodic, rapping-singing delivery and crafting deniable hooks. Sure, Bone Thugs may have done it first, but no-one was able to perfect combining melodies in their raps as much as Nelly. Not until 50 Cent and, later, Drake came around. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Nelly was one of the best rappers of the 2000s.

29. Talib Kweli

Albums: Train of Thought (with Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal) (2000), Quality (2002), The Beautiful Struggle (2004), Liberation (with Madlib) (2007), Eardrum (2007)

Mixtapes: The Beautiful Mix CD (2004), The Beautiful Mixtape Vol. 2: The Struggle Continues (2005), Right About Now: The Official Sucka Free Mix CD (2005), Brooklyn, Tennessee (2006), Kweli: Confidential (2006), Blacksmith: The Movement (2006), Clinton Sparks & Talib Kweli: Get Familiar (2007), Focus (2007), The MCEO Mixtape (2008), Party Robot (with Idle Warship) (2009), The Re:Union (with Reflection Eternal) (2009)

Top 10 Talib Kweli guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Mos Def – “History”
  2. Jaylib – “Raw Shit”
  3. Hi-Tek – “Get Back Pt. II”
  4. Kanye West – “Get ’em High”
  5. KRS-One & Backshot – “Oh Really”
  6. UGK – “Real Women”
  7. David Banner – “Ridin'”
  8. Da Beatminerz – “The Anti-Love Movement”
  9. Dilated Peoples – “Live On Stage” (Remix)
  10. The Roots – “Rhymes and Ammo/Thirsty!”

Talib Kweli entered the new millennium as a critical darling and figurehead of the underground rap movement. Fresh off the release of Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, which established him and Mos Def as two Brooklyn spitters championing the Rawkus Records independent era. While his partner-in-rhyme would balance a recording career with his film aspirations, Kweli stuck with a blue-collar approach to his music, dropping quality releases on a consistent basis throughout the 2000s.

28. Gucci Mane

Albums: Trap House (2005), Hard to Kill (2006), Trap-A-Thon (2007), Back to the Trap House (2007), Murder Was the Case (2009), The State vs. Radric Davis (2009)

Mixtapes: Chicken Talk (2006), Ice Attack (2007), Ice Attack 2 (2007), Bird Flu (Southern Slang) (2007), No Pad, No Pencil (2007), Guapaholics (with Shawty Lo) (2007), EA Sportscenter (2008), Mr. Perfect (2008), Gucci Sosa (2008), Definition of a G (with Yo Gotti) (2008), From Zone 6 to Duval (2008), The Movie (2008), Bird Flu: Part 2 (2009), Bird Money (2009), Writing on the Wall (2009), The Movie: Part 2 (The Sequel) (2009), The Burrprint (The Movie 3D)(2009), The Cold War: Part 1 (Guccimerica) (2009), The Cold War: Part 2 (Great Brrritain) (2009), The Cold War: Part 3 (Brrrussia) (2009)

Top 10 Gucci Mane guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. OJ da Juiceman – “Make tha Trap Say Aye”
  2. Soulja Boy – “Gucci Bandana”
  3. Wale – “Pretty Girls”
  4. E-40 – “The Recipe”
  5. MJG – “Dangerous”
  6. Gorilla Zoe – “Money”
  7. Project Pat – “Bang Smack”
  8. Juicy J – “30 Inches (Remix)”
  9. Z-Ro – “Haters Got Me Wrong”
  10. Young Money – “Steady Mobbin””

The impact of Gucci Mane on the 2000s can’t be defined using traditional methods. You couldn’t look at how many gold and platinum albums he had; you couldn’t check to see which ones of his singles charted on the Billboard Hot 100; you couldn’t turn on the radio to hear his songs playing; you couldn’t even look at his albums to measure his impact.

From his deep mixtape catalogue to relentless work ethic to his ability to spot up-and-coming talent, Gucci’s influence on the rap game was far deeper than just surface metrics. It was deeper than pure lyrical talent or punchlines or hit singles. Rappers and producers thriving today, including Future, Young Thug, Migos, Metro Boomin, Zaytoven, and Mike Will Made It can all trace some sort of lineage back to the work Guwop did in the 2000s.

27. Fabolous

Albums: Ghetto Fabolous (2001), Street Dreams (2003), Real Talk (2004), From Nothin’ to Somethin’ (2007), Loso’s Way (2009)

Mixtapes: More Street Dreams, Pt. 2: The Mixtape (2003), Loso’s Way: Rise to Power (2006), There Is No Competition (2008)

Top 10 Fabolous guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Rick Ross – “Maybach Music 2.5”
  2. Clipse – “Comedy Central”
  3. The Game – “BK to CPT”
  4. Lil Wayne – “You Ain’t Got Nuthin”
  5. DJ Clue? – “If They Want It”
  6. DJ Drama – “Sweat”
  7. Slick Pulla – “Watchin’ Me”
  8. Mariah Carey – “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”
  9. The Game – “One Blood (Remix)”
  10. Red Cafe – “Dope Boyz”

The slick talking, punchline-spitting Brooklyn MC never broke a sweat his entire run during the 2000s. After showing up with a legendary freestyle performance alongside N.O.R.E. in 1998, the 21-year old was subsequently signed to DJ Clue’s Desert Storm Records and given a chance to shine. Whether it was climbing up the Billboard charts with radios hits (“Into You”, “Make Me Better”), cementing his reputation as a mixtape legend, or holding his own alongside rap greats like Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Jadakiss and Pusha T, Fabolous made this shit look easy.

26. Styles P

Albums: We Are the Streets (with The LOX) (2000), A Gangster and a Gentleman (2002), Time is Money (2006), Super Gangster (Extraordinary Gentleman) (2007)

Mixtapes: Ghost Stories – The World According to P (2004), Ghost in the Shell (2004), The Ghost in the Machine (2005), The Ghost That Sat by the Door (2006), The Phantom (2007), The Ghost Sessions (2007), The Phantom Menace (2007), Phantom Ghost Menace (2008), Phantom Empire (2009)

Top 10 Styles P guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Jadakiss – “We Gonna Make It”
  2. The Roots – “Rising Down”
  3. Jennifer Lopez – “Jenny from the Block”
  4. Fabolous – “Keepin It Gangsta (Remix)”
  5. DMX – “Shot Down”
  6. Ghostface Killah – “Metal Lungies”
  7. Jadakiss – “Kiss of Death”
  8. Rick Ross – “Push It (Remix)”
  9. N.O.R.E. – “Sour Diesel”
  10. Akon – “Locked Up”

If there’s one thing you can definitely say about Styles P during the 2000s, that man was working! While The LOX rapper didn’t achieve the same mainstream crossover or commercial impact as a lot of his peers during the decade, he made sure he was delivering quality music to his fans on a consistent basis. With Ghost’s solo debut single, “Good Times,” yielding him his biggest hit to date, P continued the momentum with a string of hard-ass mixtapes and equally hard features. A perfect blend of lyrical, street shit and introspective bars, Styles P was definitely one of the best rappers of the 2000s.

25. Busta Rhymes

Albums: Anarchy (2000), Genesis (2001), It Ain’t Safe No More… (2002), The Big Bang (2006), Back on My B.S. (2009)

Mixtapes: Surrender (with DJ Whoo Kid) (2004), The Countdown to The Big Bang (with DJ Kay Slay) (2006), I Bullshit You Not (2009)

Top 10 Busta Rhymes guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. M.O.P. – “Ante Up (Remix)”
  2. Talib Kweli – “Get By (Remix)”
  3. Eminem – “Hail Mary”
  4. Lil Wayne – “La La”
  5. Royce da 5’9″ – “Dinner Time”
  6. Nas – “Fried Chicken”
  7. The Game – “Like Father, Like Son”
  8. Joe Budden – “Fire (Yes, Yes Y’all)”
  9. N.O.R.E. – “Holla Back Slime”
  10. Tha Alkaholiks – “Bully Foot”

Busta Rhymes had already made his presence in the rap game known during the ’90s, but it was in the 2000s where he really cemented his legacy as one of the most exciting and energetic hip hop artists of all time. Busta also proved his versatility throughout the decade, going from R&B duets with Mariah Carey (“I Know What You Want”), to collaborating with Q-Tip (“You Can’t Hold the Torch”), to making club bangers (“Pass the Courvoisier, Part II”), to rapping off against Jadakiss and Lil Wayne (“Respect My Conglomerate”), to crafting radio smashes with Swizz Beatz (“Touch It”). Busta Rhymes was everywhere, adding his trademark energy and rapid-fire flow to any rapper who needed it.

24. Bun B

Albums: Dirty Money (as UGK) (2001), Trill (2005), Underground Kingz (as UGK) (2007), II Trill (2008), UGK 4 Life (as UGK) (2009)

Mixtapes: King of the Trill (2005), Legends (with Mddl Fngz) (2005), Whut It Dew (Vol. 2) (with Rapid Ric and Killa Kyleon) (2005), Gangsta Grillz: The Legends Series (Vol. 1) (with DJ Drama and Mddl Fngz) (2006), Texas Legends (with K-Sam) (2006), Bun House (with DJ Rell) (2008)

Top 10 Bun B guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Killer Mike – “Re-Akshon”
  2. Young Jeezy – “Trap or Die”
  3. T.I. – “Bezzle”
  4. E-40 – “Rep Yo City”
  5. Birdman – “Ghetto Life”
  6. Chamillionaire – “Picture Perfect”
  7. Slim Thug – “3 Kings”
  8. Z-Ro – “Remember Me”
  9. Rick Ross – “Push It (Remix)”
  10. Drake – “Uptown”

There were few rappers who worked as hard as Bun B during the 2000s. Of course, you had the Lil Waynes, the Gucci Manes, and the Currensys grinding hard as ever. But where they differed from the UGK rapper is that, outside of a strong work ethic and the drive to be the best (artistically and/or commercially), Bun was doing it for Pimp C.

After scoring their biggest hit to date with an appearance on Jay-Z’s 2000 single “Big Pimpin’,” UGK were poised to take their careers to the next level. Unfortunately, on August 5, 2002, Pimp C was sentenced to 8 years in prison and the duo were forced to go on hiatus. It was up to Bun B to put the UGK brand on his back. Whether it was killing feature verses throughout the decade, dropping mixtapes or releasing solo albums, Bun B did everything he could to keep his partner’s name alive.

Bun B: I was in the courtroom when he was sentenced and my primary concern, for one, was for his kids. As a father and as a provider for his family, how do you take care of your family while you’re in prison? So to me, that was my main concern: how do helpless men continue to earn money? How do I make sure that his name still has weight when he comes home from prison, so that he can continue to make music and provide for his family? Initially, we didn’t know. He had recorded some songs before he went in to try and put something out during the time, but he wasn’t going to be available to actively promote the album. So I said, “OK, I am going to have to make sure I get out there and promote his name as much as I can.”

Bun B | Red Bull Music Academy

23. Sean Price

Albums: The Chosen Few (as Boot Camp Clik) (2002), Monkey Barz (2005), The Last Stand (as Boot Camp Clik) (2006), Jesus Price Supastar (2007), Casualties of War (as Boot Camp Clik (2007), D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team)(as Heltah Skeltah) (2008)

Mixtapes: Donkey Sean Jr. (2004), Master P (2007), Kimbo Price (2009)

Top 10 Sean Price guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Jedi Mind Tricks – “Blood Runs Cold”
  2. Guilty Simpson – “Run”
  3. KRS-One & Buckshot – “Amazin”
  4. Black Moon – “Lookin’ Down the Barrel”
  5. Buckshot – “U Wonderin”
  6. Smif-N-Wessun – “Get Back”
  7. Black Moon – “The Matrix”
  8. Wu-Tang Clan – “Radiant Jewels”
  9. Snow Goons – “Gunz”
  10. Jedi Mind Tricks – “Beyond the Gates of Pain”

Sean Price had always been an undeniable force in the underground hip hop community. First emerging as part of the legendary Brooklyn crew Boot Camp Clik, Price linked up with Jahmal “Rock” Bush to form Heltah Skeltah and drop their debut album, Nocturnal, via Duck Down Records in 1996. But it was really in the 2000s that the rugged Brooklyn MC came into his own, with his two solo albums, Monkey Barz and Jesus Price Supastar being the shining examples. Over slapping, soulful grooves courtesy from the likes of 9th Wonder, Illmind, Ayatollah, and Khrysis, Price verbally punched all rival rappers in their chest with his incredible rhyme schemes and gritty delivery. R.I.P. to one of the greatest to ever hold a mic.

22. Missy Elliott

Albums: Miss E… So Addictive (2001), Under Construction (2002), This Is Not a Test! (2003), The Cookbook (2005)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 Missy Elliott guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Janet Jackson – “Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)”
  2. Ghostface Killah – “Tush”
  3. Keyshia Cole – “Let It Go”
  4. Timbaland – “Bounce”
  5. Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes – “Let’s Just Do It”
  6. Tweet – “Oops (Oh My)”
  7. Ciara – “1, 2 Step”
  8. Wyclef Jean – “Party to Damascus”
  9. Timbaland & Magoo – “Cop That Shit”
  10. Busta Rhymes – “Touch It (Official Remix)”

I’ve always found it funny how Lauryn Hill has been receiving accolades these past two decades (as she rightly should), and yet someone like Missy Elliott always manages to fly under the radar, even though she’s like a flyer, wilder version of Ms. Hill. The Virginia rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer is a truly one-of-a-kind artist and one of the greatest hip hop talents we’ve ever seen.

With her partnership with Timbaland as the jumping off point with 1997’s Supa Dupa Fly, Missy Elliott had one of the most commercially successful and artistically innovative runs in the 2000s. Whether it was putting together full-length, cohesive projects, guest rapping (and producing) smash hits, dropping some of the craziest visuals of all time, Missy was the full package, and she needs her flowers now! That’s what we named her the best female rapper of all time.

21. Jadakiss

Albums: We Are the Streets (with The LOX) (2000), Kiss tha Game Goodbye (2001), Kiss of Death (2004), The Last Kiss (2009)

Mixtapes: The Champ Is Here (2004), Kiss My Ass: The Champ Is Here, Pt. 2 (2009)

Top 10 Jadakiss guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Ghostface Killah – “Run”
  2. Ja Rule – “New York”
  3. Busta Rhymes – “Respect My Conglomerate”
  4. Fabolous – “We Be Like This”
  5. N.O.R.E. – “Throw ‘Em Under the Bus”
  6. Black Rob – “Can I Live”
  7. DJ Clue? – “Back 2 Life 2001”
  8. Swizz Beatz – “Bigger Business”
  9. DMX – “It’s Personal”
  10. David Banner – “Treat Me Like”

If you weren’t around in the 2000s to witness the greatness of Jadakiss’ during that decade, do yourself a favour and watch The LOX’s Verzuz battle against Dipset (why haven’t you already?!). The night was really just a case put forward for Jadakiss’ standing on everyone’s GOAT list. From timeless LOX cuts (“Fuck You”, “Mighty D-Block (2 Guns Up)”) and legendary freestyle bars (“Who Shot Ya”), to worldwide radio smashes (“Jenny from the Block”) and his own classic solo joints (“We Gonna Make It”), Jadakiss covered everything that made him one of the greatest rappers of the 2000s.

20. Scarface

Albums: The Last of a Dying Breed (2000), The Fix (2002), My Homies Part 2 (2006), Made (2007), Emeritus (2008)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 Scarface guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Jay-Z – “This Can’t Be Life”
  2. Beanie Sigel – “Mac & Brad”
  3. Ruff Ryders – “WW III”
  4. Redman – “Real Niggaz”
  5. Erick Sermon – “Do-Re-Mi”
  6. Too Short – “I Luv”
  7. Bun B – “Pushin'”
  8. Tech N9ne – “Pillow Talkin'”
  9. Freeway – “Baby Don’t Do It”
  10. DJ Drama – “Yacht Music”

In one of the chapters of his 2010 autobiography, Decoded, Jay-Z recounts an incredible story about the making of “This Can’t Be Life” – his Kanye-produced collaboration with Scarface and Beanie Sigel.

Jay-Z: We’re sitting in the front room, talking, and his phone rings, and he’s like, ‘Nah, man,’ and you can see something’s happening on the other line. And then he gets on the phone again, and he calls his wife and checks on his children. And then he got off the phone and he told me that one of his friends’ kid was in a house fire. And I’m like, ‘Aw, man, I’m so sorry to hear that, we can do this another time.” And he says, nah, and he sat in the corner, and he wrote this song about the whole experience. He took this very sad experience and [made] this powerful art. It almost had me embarrassed about my verse.

The Five Best Stories Jay-Z Told Last Night at the New York Public Library | Vulture

That story is the ultimate summation of Scarface’s superpower: being able to take real-life tragedy and pain, and turning that into beautiful music. Over 10 years after writing “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” – one of the best rap songs of the ’90s – the Houston rapper entered the 2000s and dropped one of his best albums to date. The Fix is classic Scarface, the perfect blend of gangsta, nostalgia and sadness, with his world-weary raps and contemplative flow ageing even better in the new decade.

19. Common

Albums: Like Water for Chocolate (2000), Electric Circus (2002), Be (2005), Finding Forever (2007), Universal Mind Control (2008)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 Common guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Erykah Badu – “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)”
  2. Hi-Tek – “The Sun God”
  3. Slum Village – “Thelonius”
  4. Kanye West – “My Way Home”
  5. The Roots – “The Show”
  6. Kid Cudi – “Make Her Say”
  7. T.I. – “Goodlife”
  8. Kanye West – “Get Em High”
  9. Bilal – “Reminisce”
  10. Talib Kweli – “Ghetto Show”

While Common had already dropped a couple of classics during his 90s run (Resurrection, One Day It’ll All Make Sense) with the legendary Chicago producer, No I.D., it was in the 2000s, where he linked up with J Dilla and Kanye, that would prove to be his most fruitful decade. Common actually went through a few phases during the 2000s.

There was the Soulquarians era, when he worked with The Roots, Dilla and D’Angelo, on Like Water for Chocolate, which became his commercial breakout and earned Common his first Grammy nomination for “”The Light” (also his biggest hit to date). Then you have the GOOD Music era which yielded the fantastic Beone of the best rap albums of the decade – and the good-not-great Finding Forever.

Finally, you have the experimental phases – first in 2002 with Electric Circus and later in 2008 with Universal Mind Control, where Common pushed the boundaries of hip hop by dabbling into electro and grunge sounds for his albums. While the experimental phase didn’t go over well with his fans, the Chicago rapper showed that he was willing to take risks and push himself creatively. What more could you want from an artist?

18. Pusha T

Albums: Lord Willin’ (2002), Hell Hath No Fury (2006), Til the Casket Drops (2009)

Mixtapes: We Got It 4 Cheap, Volume 1 (2004), We Got It 4 Cheap, Volume 2 (2005), We Got It 4 Cheap, Volume 3 (2008)

Top 10 Pusha T guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Birdman – “What Happened to That Boy”
  2. Justin Timberlake – “Like I Love You”
  3. The Alchemist – “Lose Your Life”
  4. N.E.R.D – “Truth or Dare”
  5. Slim Thug – “Click Clack”
  6. Fabolous – “Joke’s On You”
  7. Pharrell – “Stay with Me”
  8. Rick Ross – “Maybach Music 2.5”
  9. Ol Dirty Bastard – “Operator”
  10. Faith Evans – “Goin’ Out”

2006 was arguably the peak year for the coke rap subgenre. You had Ghostface releasing one of his best albums ever with Fishscale, you had trap music pioneer T.I. claiming the throne with King, Rick Ross breaking down the door with Port of Miami, and Jeezy dropping the follow-up to Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. But one album stood tall amongst these giants, Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury, the best coke rap album of all time.

While label dramas would prevent them from releasing more albums during the 2000s, the Clipse’s legendary We Got It 4 Cheap mixtape series would more than make up for it. As a duo, you had Malice on one hand, balancing out his drug-dealing tales with hints of remorse. Then you had Pusha T, who was all brash and aggressive, a stone-cold coke-dealing machine who survived and lived to rap about it at the highest level possible. Push was also the flashier rapper, intent on going down as one of the greatest to ever do it, with references to Big abound in his lyrics.

17. El-P

Albums: Fantastic Damage (2002), High Water (2004), I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2007)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 El-P guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Aesop Rock – “Gun for the Whole Family”
  2. Cannibal Ox – “Ox Out the Cage”
  3. Atmosphere – “Homecoming”
  4. Mr. Lif – “Take, Hold, Fire”
  5. Del tha Funkee Homosapien – “Offspring”
  6. Murs – “The Dance”
  7. Cannibal Ox – “Ridiculoid”
  8. Aesop Rock – “We’re Famous”
  9. Cage – “Good Morning”
  10. Handsome Boy Modeling School – “Megaton B-Boy”

While El-P (and Killer Mike) would enter a whole new level of mainstream recognition and accolades in the 2010s with Run the Jewels, the Brooklyn-born MC producer was already a certified underground hero when the 2000s began. As part of the rap trio Company Flow, El-P was signed to Rawkus Records, and together with his label mates, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, helped define the underground sound of the late ’90s, early ’00s.

As a solo artist, what El-P lacked in quantity, he made up for it with quality releases. Each one of his albums – Fantastic Damage, High Water and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead – featured the claustrophobic funk and dense lyricism that would later endear him to a new audience. Side note: if you’re a Run the Jewels fan, I would highly recommend you check out El-P’s solo work and Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music which was entirely produced by the Brooklyn rapper-producer.

16. Black Thought

Albums: Phrenology (2002), The Tipping Point (2004), Game Theory (2006), Rising Down (2008)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 Black Thought guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Talib Kweli – “Guerilla Monsoon”
  2. Common – “Cold Blooded”
  3. Damian Marley – “Pimpa’s Paradise”
  4. Styles P – “Cause I’m Black”
  5. J Dilla – “Love Movin'”
  6. Common – “Hurricane”
  7. The Coup – “My Favorite Mutiny”
  8. The Pharcyde – “Network”
  9. Dilated Peoples – “Hard Hitters”
  10. Skillz – “Hold Tight”

The Roots entered the new millennium with something they’d never tasted before – commercial success. Off the back of their 1999 release, Things Fall Apart, the Philadelphia hip hop band scored the first gold album (and later platinum), their first worldwide hit (“You Got Me”), and their first Grammy win (for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group). Unfortunately, the momentum didn’t continue. Beset with label changes and member departures, the group’s follow-up, Phrenology, didn’t come out until 2002, and commercial success continued to evade them.

I’m saying all this because I’m trying to figure out what it was that’s kept Black Thought such a consistent MC all these decades. All great rappers, especially the ones who have been around for a while, go through lulls in their career where they don’t sound as like they want it anymore. It happened to Nas, it happened to Hov, it happened to Eminem. There’s no surprise really, it’s almost impossible for a rapper to continue rhyming with the same ferocity and hunger as they did on the come-up. Which is what makes Black Thought so special. And maybe one of the reasons why is because he never achieved the same commercial success as the aforementioned rappers.

The main point is: Black Thought was the most consistent rapper in the ’90s, the most consistent rapper in the ’00s, the most consistent rapper in the ’10s, and yes, he’s the most consistent rapper doing it right fucking now. There should be not doubt in any rap fans’ mind on who the best Philly rapper of all time is, the only correct answer is Thought.

15. Ludacris

Albums: Back for the First Time (2000), Word of Mouf (2001), Chicken-n-Beer (2003), The Red Light District (2004), Release Therapy (2006), Theater of the Mind (2008)

Mixtapes: DTP Takeover: It’s an Epidemic (2006), Pre-Release Therapy (2006), The Preview (2008)

Top 10 Ludacris guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Nas – “Made You Look (Remix)”
  2. Missy Elliott – “One Minute Man”
  3. Bun B – “Trill Recognize Trill”
  4. Missy Elliott – “Gossip Folks”
  5. OutKast – “Tomb of the Boom”
  6. Young Buck – “Stomp”
  7. Usher – “Yeah!”
  8. Kanye West – “Breathe In Breathe Out”
  9. Twista – “Higher”
  10. Nate Dogg – “Real Pimp”

Ludacris was one of the first rappers outside of OutKast to prove to New York that these Southern artists could really rap their asses off. While he had dropped an independent album, Incognegro, in 1999, it was really with Back for the First Time and then the double platinum Chicken-n-Beer, that the Atlanta rapper hit his stride and became a superstar.

Blessed with a chameleon flow and pinpoint delivery that never sounded out of pocket, Luda’s biggest strength was his versatility. Hard street shit, lyrical bars, club bangers, radio hits, he could do it all. One day he could be all over the radio next to Usher and Lil Jon (“Yeah!”), the next day he might be trading bars with New York’s finest – we can debate who had the best verse between Luda, Jada and Nas on “Made You Look (Remix).” Bottom line is that Ludacris doesn’t get the respect he deserves from rap fans, even though he’s proved over and over again that he was one of the best to do it during the 2000s.

14. Big Boi

Albums: Stankonia (2000), Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003), Idlewild (2006)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 Big Boi guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Killer Mike – “A.D.I.D.A.S.”
  2. Jay-Z – “Poppin’ Tags”
  3. Trick Daddy – “In da Wind”
  4. Sleepy Brown – “Margarita”
  5. Rich Boy – “And I Love You
  6. Gucci Mane – “She Got a Friend”
  7. Jagged Edge – “Car Show”
  8. Beyonce – “Hip-Hop Star”
  9. Scar – “Smilin’ (You Caught Me)”
  10. Gorilla Zoe – “Hood Nigga (Remix)”

It’s crazy to think that being one half of the most successful rap duo of all time can still make you underrated. But that’s exactly how I feel about Big Boi. It’s also something that I’ve been guilty of in the past; holding Andre 3000 in the highest of esteems, while largely ignoring Big Boi’s achievements. Am I underrating him right now by putting him at 19? Maybe.

Andre 3000: Big Boi can rap better than me—I always said that. If somebody said, “Pick who you want from OutKast to go to battle with you,” it wouldn’t be me. ’Cause like, what I’ma do? Say some mind shit? You can’t have thoughts in a battle—nobody gives a shit about that.

Earth to André 3000: The OutKast Icon Talks Life After “Hey Ya!” | GQ

While his partner-in-rhyme spent most of the 2000s trying to push against the boundaries of hip hop and seeing how far he can take the culture, Big Boi stood firmly as the duo’s rap traditionalist. But that doesn’t make him a conservative artist. Compared to anything else going on in hip hop at the time, Big Boi’s half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below sounded like the future.

Case in point: the Andre-produced “Ghetto Musick” is a dizzying spin through rock guitars and electro that Big Boi effortlessly slows over. And while “Hey Ya!” was no doubt the biggest song off Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Big Boi proved he was equally as dialled in when he dropped “The Way You Move”, which is as perfect a pop record as you can get while still managing to sound like that classic two dope boyz in a Cadillac OutKast.

13. Cam’ron

Albums: S.D.E. (2000), Come Home with Me (2002), Diplomatic Immunity (as The Diplomats) (2003), Purple Haze (2004), Diplomatic Immunity 2 (as The Diplomats) (2004), Killa Season (2006), Crime Pays (2009)

Mixtapes: Diplomats Volume 1 (2002), Diplomats Volume 2 (2002), Diplomats Volume 3 (2002), Diplomats Volume 4 (2003), Diplomats Volume 5 (2003), Public Enemy #1 (2007), Boss of All Bosses (with Vado) (2009)

Top 10 Cam’ron guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Juelz Santana – “Dipset (Santana’s Town)”
  2. Clipse – “Popular Demand (Popeyes)”
  3. Kanye West – “Gone”
  4. Jim Jones – “Certified Gangstas”
  5. Jim Jones – “Crunk Muzik”
  6. Juelz Santana – “Let’s Go”
  7. Beanie Sigel – “Wanted (On the Run)”
  8. Gucci Mane – “Stupid Wild”
  9. Young Gunz – “Look in Your Eyes”
  10. Birdman – “Ghetto Life”

Ever since he came into the rap game, Cam’ron has been spitting with the same confidence and dismissive attitude. Like he was doing all this shit for fun, like rap was just a hobby, like the whole thing was too easy for him. Just listening to the way Cam strung words together effortlessly on joints like “Down and Out” (“Observe cock and spray / Hit you from a block away / Drinking sake on a Suzuki we in Osaka Bay”) made me wish he continued his hot streak all the way through the 2000s.

Even though Cam and the Diplomats movement fizzled out in the second half of the decade, when they were on, they were on. While Dipset didn’t touch the same commercial success as G-Unit, the Harlem group were more memorable, rocked better fashion, took themselves less seriously, and, overall, made better music. Come Home with Me, Purple Haze, Diplomatic Immunity, Cam and Dipset had New York so locked down and smoking hot that even Hov was feeling the heat in the kitchen.

12. Lupe Fiasco

Albums: Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor (2006), Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool (2007)

Mixtapes: Fahrenheit 1/15 Part I: The Truth Is Among Us (2005), Fahrenheit 1/15 Part II: Revenge of the Nerds (2006), Fahrenheit 1/15 Part III: A Rhyming Ape (2006), Enemy of the State: A Love Story (2009)

Top 10 Lupe Fiasco guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Kanye West – “Touch the Sky”
  2. Bun B – “Swang On Em”
  3. Dan the Automator – “Catch Me”
  4. Styles P – “Sifer”
  5. A-Trak – “Mastered”
  6. Blake Lewis – “Know My Name”
  7. Fort Minor – “Spraypaint & Inkpens”
  8. Shayla G – “Ain’t No”
  9. Joy Denalane – “Change”
  10. Emily King – “Walk in My Shoes”

After Canibus’ recording career took a steep downhill turn, Lupe Fiasco became the new poster child for lyrical rap. Lupe’s name is often rolled out by rap nerds who can’t understand how anyone would put Jay-Z or 2Pac on their greatest rappers of all time list. We all know those types.

But unlike Canibus, Lupe Fiasco is a much more well-rounded MC. Combining a nimble flow and unparalleled vocabulary with his superb gift for storytelling and crafting conceptual songs, Lupe also boasted excellent songwriting skills with subtle pop sensibilities. As lyrically dense and complex as his rapping was, Lupe’s rhymes never felt overwhelming, which enabled him to create cohesive albums with high replay value. Label dramas aside, Food & Liquor and The Cool are two of the best rap albums of the 2000s, and Lupe was definitely one of the best rappers of that decade.

11. MF DOOM

Albums: Black Bastards (as Zev Love X with KMD) (2000), Take Me to Your Leader (as King Geedorah) (2003), Vaudeville Villain (as Viktor Vaughn) (2003), Madvillainy (with Madlib as Madvillain) (2004), VV:2 (as Viktor Vaughn) (2004), Mm..Food (2004), Special Herbs + Spices Volume 1 (with MF Grimm) (2004), The Mouse and the Mask (with Danger Mouse as Danger Doom) (2005), Born Like This (as Doom) (2009)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 MF DOOM guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. De La Soul – “RockCo.Kane Flow”
  2. Jake One – “Trap Door”
  3. J Dilla – “Fire Wood Drumstix”
  4. The Herbaliser – “It Ain’t Nuttin'”
  5. Prefuse 73 – “Black List”
  6. Gorillaz – “November Has Come”
  7. DJ Rob A – “She StillGot Dimples”
  8. Molemen – “Put Your Quarter Up”
  9. Prince Po – “Social Distortion”
  10. Talib Kweli – “Fly That Knot”

Here’s another artist that purist hip hop heads like to roll out when they’re talking about lyrical rappers. Coming into the rap game during the late ’80s, Doom previously went by the name Zev Love X, and had formed a rap group KMD with his young brother DJ Subroc and Rodan (and then later Onyx the Birdstone Kid). After releasing their debut album, Mr. Hood, in 1991, Subroc was tragically killed in a car accident. KMD was dropped by their label not long after, leaving Zev Love X to wander “the streets of Manhattan, sleeping on benches.”

It wasn’t until 1999 that Zev Love X re-emerged, this time as the masked villain. MF DOOM’s debut album, Operation: Doomsday, is pretty fucking great, but it was his collaboration with Madlib, 2004’s Madvillainy, that really started his legacy as one of the greatest underground rappers of all time.

A 2004 interview with Exclaim gave fans some insights into the mind of MF DOOM while constructing Madvillain, especially around the lack of hooks on the album.

MF DOOM: I like to do what other people are not doing, so what I do stands out a little more. I cut out all the unnecessary shit. Hooks is good, y’know, for certain motherfuckers who need ’em. To me, when I write, every lyric is as strong as the hook would be. So, why? The reason people will use a hook is to keep the people interested or give them something to do so they don’t get bored with the verse. I’m like: just don’t bore ’em with the verse. Kill ’em with the verse, and you won’t need a hook. It makes a more intense experience. You feel it. The hook thing is standardized — 16 bars and a hook. The listener is expecting it to come, so I catch them off guard: “What? No hook? This is the end? Rewind that!” But they were able to listen to the whole song.

Mask Off with MF DOOM: A 2004 Face-to-Face Interview | Exclaim

10. Ghostface Killah

Albums: Supreme Clientele (2000), The W (with Wu-Tang Clan) (2000), Iron Flag (with Wu-Tang Clan) (2001), Bulletproof Wallets (2001), The Pretty Toney Album (2004), Fishscale (2006), More Fish (2006), The Big Doe Rehab(2007), Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City (2009)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 Ghostface Killah guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Raekwon – “Gihad”
  2. Busta Rhymes – “The Heist”
  3. Raekwon – “10 Bricks”
  4. MF DOOM – “Angelz”
  5. Jadakiss – “Cartel Gathering”
  6. Raekwon – “House of Flying Daggers”
  7. Cormega – “Tony/Montana”
  8. AZ – “New York”
  9. De La Soul – “He Comes”
  10. Sheek Louch – “Movie Niggas”

During the ’90s, it seemed as though the mighty Wu-Tang Clan was unstoppable. Following a string of non-stop classic albums – from 1993’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… to Liquid Swords, it was like everything that RZA touched turned to gold. This culminated in the release of Wu-Tang Forever in 1997. With “Triumph” as the lead single (one of the greatest posse cuts in rap history), the sophomore album debuted at number one on the charts with over 600,000 units sold in the first week. Wu-Tang were right up there with Bad Boy.

But with every peak comes the decline. Subsequent Wu albums could never touch the magic of their debut, or even the depth of talent showcased on Wu-Tang Forever. Every solo album after the first round was a disappointment. Except for Ghostface Killah. As dope as Ghost was during the ’90s, especially on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and his solo debut Ironman, it was his 2000 album Supreme Clientele that quickly established Ghost as the best rapper in the Wu-Tang Clan.

Tony Stark’s abstract stream-of-consciousness rhyme style showcase on the album was a marvel to behold, and would go on to influence a certain masked villain later on. But that wasn’t it. In addition to playing a crucial role in all the Wu albums, Ghost also continued to drop great solo albums, including 2004’s The Pretty Toney Album, 2006’s Fishscale, and the very underrated Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City.

9. Young Jeezy

Albums: Thuggin’ Under the Influence (T.U.I.) (as Lil’ J) (2001), Come Shop wit Me (2003), Boyz n da Hood (with Boyz n da Hood) (2005), Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005), The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102 (2006), Cold Summer (with U.S.D.A.) (2007), The Recession (2008)

Mixtapes: Tha Streets Iz Watchin (2004), Trap or Die (2005), Can’t Ban the Snowman (2006), I Am the Street Dream!(2006), The Prime Minister (2008), Trappin’ Ain’t Dead (2009)

Top 10 Young Jeezy guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Kanye West – “Amazing”
  2. Bun B – “Get Throwed”
  3. Gucci Mane – “Icy”
  4. Ludacris – “Grew Up a Screw Up”
  5. Fabolous – “Diamonds”
  6. Usher – “Love in This Club”
  7. Birdman – “100 Million”
  8. Akon – “I’m So Paid”
  9. Drake – “I’m Goin’ In”
  10. Jay-Z – “Real as It Gets”

Freddie Gibbs – who was once signed to Young Jeezy’s CTE label, and now spends his spare time dissing his former boss – once compared the Atlanta rapper to 2Pac. Even though he was dragged on social media not long afterwards for saying that, a part of me understands the point that Gibbs was trying to make with that comparison.

During the South’s takeover in the 2000s, Jeezy was just one of many rappers from the region coming up in the game and making a name for themselves. Compared to his peers, the Snowman couldn’t flow liquid hot like Ludacris, he didn’t have T.I.’s charisma on the mic, and he certainly couldn’t touch Lil Wayne’s genius punchlines or wordplay. It was similar to how 2Pac didn’t have Biggie’s undeniable flow, Nas’ natural pen game, or Jay-Z’s cool wit.

But Pac and Jeezy both had a few things in common that helped catapult them to the top of the rap game: a one-of-a-kind voice, captivating delivery, and an absolute belief in their every word. So if you take those qualities and combine them with true-to-life trapping tales and production from Shawty Redd, Drumma Boy and Mannie Fresh, suddenly you had Atlanta’s next superstar.

8. Nas

Albums: Stillmatic (2001), The Lost Tapes (2002), God’s Son (2002), Street’s Disciple (2004), Hip Hop Is Dead (2006), Untitled (2008)

Mixtapes: The Nigger Tape (2008)

Top 10 Nas guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Scarface – “In Between Us”
  2. Damian Marley – “Road to Zion”
  3. Young Jeezy – “My President”
  4. Kanye West – “We Major”
  5. Beastie Boys – “Too Many Rappers”
  6. The Game – “Why You Hate the Game”
  7. Lloyd Banks – “I Want You (Remix)”
  8. The Game – “Letter to the King”
  9. Jay-Z – “Success”
  10. Rick Ross – “Usual Suspects”

Like his time in the ’90s, Nas’ run during the 2000s was a mix of brilliance and inconsistency. For a rapper who was crowned the King of New York upon his arrival and placed with the hefty burden of being rap’s most talented poet on the mic, there were a lot of disappointing moments throughout the decade, especially during the later half. Lack of thematic cohesiveness and overthinking led to albums like Street’s Disciple, Hip Hop Is Dead and Untitled failing to hit their intended target, while generic beat selection continued to plague all his projects, in one way or another.

Still, this is Nas we’re talking about. A disappointing decade by his standard would still be better than 90% of other rappers’ careers. This is the same man who went up against Jay-Z and the mighty Roc-A-Fella army and won. The same man who made “Made You Look.” The same man who dropped Stillmatic, The Lost Tapes and God’s Son all within a 12 month timespan. This is Nasty Nas, yo.

7. 50 Cent

Albums: Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003), Beg for Mercy (with G-Unit) (2003), The Massacre (2005), Curtis (2007), T·O·S (Terminate on Sight) (with G-Unit) (2008), Before I Self Destruct (2009)

Mixtapes: Guess Who’s Back? (2002), 50 Cent Is the Future (with G-Unit) (2002), 50 Cent Is the Future (with G-Unit) (2002), God’s Plan (with G-Unit) (2002), Bullet Proof (with DJ Whoo Kid) (2005), War Angel LP (2009), Forever King(2009)

Top 10 50 Cent guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. The Game – “Hate It or Love It”
  2. Obie Trice – “We All Die One Day”
  3. Lloyd Banks – “Warrior, Pt. 2”
  4. The Game – “How We Do”
  5. Eminem – “Never Enough”
  6. Snoop Dogg – “Oh No”
  7. Mobb Deep – “Pearly Gates”
  8. DMX – “Shot Down”
  9. Young Buck – “I’m a Soldier”
  10. Tony Yayo – “We Don’t Give a Fuck”

It’s really easy to let the incredible commercial impact of 50’s first two albums overshadow everything else he did in the 2000s. After all, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ sold 12 million units worldwide, while The Massacre sold 9 million. Not only that, but 50’s debut is without doubt one of the best rap albums of the 2000s. But take a closer look, and you’ll realise just how prolific and consistent the South Jamaica Queens rapper was with quality bars throughout the decade.

Starting with 2002, 50 and his G-Unit crew dropped a handful of classic mixtapes that would go on to influence future greats like Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne and Drake. Taking popular instrumentals from artists like Raphael Saadiq, Mobb Deep, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, Missy Elliott, LL Cool J and Puffy, 50 added his original spin to the tracks and made them his own.

Then there’s Beg for Mercy, a gangsta rap classic dropped the same year as his debut; his features for Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo and Young Buck; as well as his huge creative input on Game’s The Documentary – 50 co-wrote on the three biggest songs off the album (“Westside Story”, “Hate It or Love It”, “How We Do”).

If you take into consideration his impact on the rap game, catalogue of classic songs and domination of the music charts, there’s no way you can deny that 50 Cent was one of the best rappers of the 2000s.

6. T.I.

Albums: I’m Serious (2001), Trap Muzik (2003), Urban Legend (2004), 25 to Life (with P$C) (2005), King (2006), T.I. vs. T.I.P. (2007), Paper Trail (2008)

Mixtapes: In da Streets (with P$C) (2002), In da Streets Part 2 (with P$C) (2003), In da Streets Pt. 3 (with P$C) (2003), Gangsta Grillz Meets T.I. & P$C In da Streets (with P$C) (2003), Gangsta Grillz: Down with the King (2004), Gangsta Grillz: The Leak (2006), A Year and a Day (2009), Live From Forest City Correctional Facility (2009)

Top 10 T.I. guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. DJ Khaled – “We Takin’ Over”
  2. Young Jeezy – “I Got Money”
  3. Young Dro – “My Girl”
  4. Destiny’s Child – “Soldier”
  5. Bone Crusher – “Never Scared”
  6. Justin Timberlake – “My Love”
  7. Slim Thug – “3 Kings”
  8. UGK – “Hit the Block”
  9. DJ Quik – “Indiscretions in the Back of the Limo”
  10. Paul Wall – “So Many Diamonds”

If the ’80s was the decade of New York, and the ’90s was the decade of the West’s rise, then the ’00s were definitely all about the South. From Atlanta’s OutKast, Young Jeezy and Ludacris, to Lil Wayne representing New Orleans to the fullest, to the Houston takeover of 2005, which saw rappers like Paul Wall, Mike Jones, and Chamillionaire reach platinum stardom, the 2000s was all about the South.

So imagine the audacity it takes for a rapper to declare themselves the King of the South. Although, it wasn’t like T.I. didn’t have the rapping chops to back up his claim. Over his first three albums – I’m Serious, Trap Muzik, and Urban Legend – the Atlanta MC showcased that unique blend of East Coast flows with a Southern flavour time and time again.

But it was on King that truly cemented T.I. at the top of the Southern rap scene. Leading off with the ultimate coronation anthem, “What You Know”, and supported by a stellar line-up of producers and rappers (UGK, Jamie Foxx, B.G., Young Jeezy, Young Dro, Pharrell, Common, Just Blaze, Mannie Fresh, DJ Toomp, Swizz Beatz), T.I.’s fourth album proved that not only was he the King of the South, he was the best rapper alive.

5. Andre 3000

Albums: Stankonia (2000), Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003), Idlewild (2006)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Big Boi – “Royal Flush”
  2. UGK – “International Players Anthem (I Choose You)”
  3. DJ Drama – “The Art of Storytellin’ Part 4”
  4. Rich Boy – “Throw Some D’s (Remix)”
  5. Devin the Dude – “What a Job”
  6. Lloyd – “I Want You (Remix)”
  7. Unk – “Walk It Out (Remix)”
  8. UGK – “Tough Guy”
  9. Jay-Z – “30 Something (Remix)”
  10. Kelis – “Millionaire”

You could leave out Andre 3000’s work on OutKast albums and he’d still make this list off the strength of his incredible feature appearances alone. There’s a reason why we crowned Stacks the greatest guest rapper of all time. During his 2000s run, Andre proved that he could literally do anything he wanted to do, and it would never feel like he was reaching. Whether it was hardcore street rap (“Royal Flush”), radio smash hits (“Hey Ya!”), remixes (“Throw Some D’s”), a singing album, whatever it was, Stacks went for it.

Kanye gets a lot of credit (as he rightly deserves) for shifting hip hop away from the clichéd gangsta rap tropes that was the dominant force at the time with his debut album. But Andre 3000 was already pushing the boundaries of what hip hop could be as far back as 1998, and very much so on The Love Below. Think about some of the best rappers in the game right now, whether it’s Kendrick, Cole and Drake, or Future, Tyler, and Travis Scott, and chances are, they’ve been influenced by Mr. Stacks in one way or the other.

4. Kanye West

Albums: The College Dropout (2004), Late Registration (2005), Graduation (2007), 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

Mixtapes: Get Well Soon… (2002), I’m Good… (2003), Welcome to Kanye’s Soul Mix Show (with A-Trak) (2006), Can’t Tell Me Nothing (2007)

Top 10 Kanye West guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Lollipop – “Lollipop (Remix)”
  2. Young Jeezy – “Put On”
  3. Jay-Z – “Run This Town”
  4. Clipse – “Kinda Like a Big Deal”
  5. Dilated Peoples – “This Way”
  6. Rick Ross – “Maybach Music 2”
  7. DJ Khaled – “Go Hard”
  8. Talib Kweli – “Get By (Remix)”
  9. T.I. – “Swagga Like Us”
  10. Estelle – “American Boy”

Kanye West was the single most influential hip hop artist of the 2000s. He might have even been the most influential musician of the 2000s overall. There’s no denying that the Chicago producer-rapper dropped three straight classics back-to-back (you could even argue four) between 2000 and 2009. During those years, Kanye shifted the rap landscape, not once, not twice, but three fucking times.

Firstly, as a producer on The Dynasty: Roc La Familia and The Blueprint, where he helped bring back to the soul to hip hop music, during an era that dominated by the synthetic sounds of The Neptunes and Swizz Beatz. The second time around, on The College Dropout, Kanye was the main driving force pushing back against the overt gangsta rap and opening up the doors for more regular, every day rappers to have their say. Thirdly, with 808s & Heartbreak, he influenced Drake who would go on to become the biggest rapper in the game.

Over the past few years, it’s been easy to let Kanye’s antics and extracurricular activities distract us from his music, but make no mistake, when he was on, he was on. There hasn’t been a hip hop artist who has managed to impact the landscape as profoundly as Kanye, and there’s no doubt that he was very much one of the best rappers of the 2000s.

3. Eminem

Albums: The Marshall Mathers LP (2000), Devil’s Night (with D12) (2001), The Eminem Show (2002), D12 World (with D12) (2004), Encore (2004), Relapse (2009)

Mixtapes: N/A

Top 10 Eminem guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Jay-Z – “Renegade”
  2. 50 Cent – “Patiently Waiting”
  3. Drake – “Forever”
  4. Lil Wayne – “Drop the World”
  5. 50 Cent – “Don’t Push Me”
  6. Obie Trice – “We All Die One Day”
  7. Lloyd Banks – “Warrior, Pt. 2”
  8. The Alchemist – “Chemical Warfare”
  9. The Game – “We Ain’t”
  10. DMX – “Go to Sleep”

While Eminem’s run during the 2000s didn’t last as long as he probably intended, I’d argue that his peak was higher than rapper any before him, and any rapper after him. It doesn’t matter if you want to talk about Snoop Dogg in ’93, Pac in ’96, 50 in ’03, or Drake in ’16/’18, no other rapper in history has managed to reach the heights like Em did between ’00 and ’03. Let’s check it off.

You want to talk raw lyrical skills on the mic? That’s an easy one. Eminem was, and still is one of the most talented rappers to ever live, and songs like “The Way I Am”, “Remember Me?”, “‘Till I Collapse” and “Bad Meets Evil” are just a few examples of his incredible flow, breath control and perfect delivery.

You want to talk commercial success? Let’s not even go there. The Marshall Mathers LP sold 1.78 million copies in the first week (the biggest first week numbers of all time), and The Eminem Show sold 1.3 million. Both those albums would end up selling over 20 million copies worldwide.

You want to talk recognition? “Lose Yourself” won an Oscar for Best Original Song, making Eminem the first rapper to receive the award.

You want to talk about the ability to craft records? Em wasn’t just an incredible rapper, he was an amazing songwriter. Tracks like “Stan” and “Sing for the Moment” are just a couple of examples from his deep catalogue.

You want to talk features? Stop it. We’re talking about the same rapper who dropped legendary guest verses on “Renegade” and “Patiently Waiting”, then later on “Forever” and “Drop the World.”

The best thing about Em’s 2000’s narrative is that he managed to shake off his substance abuse problem and make a comeback by the end of the decade. Say what you want about Relapse, but that album features some of the sharpest rhymes and off-the-wall flows of Em’s career; proof that he still had it.

2. Lil Wayne

Albums: Lights Out (2000), 500 Degreez (2002), Tha Carter (2004), Tha Carter II (2005), Tha Carter III (2008), We Are Young Money (with Young Money) (2009)

Mixtapes: Da Drought (2003), Da Drought 2 (2004), The Prefix (2004), Young Money: The Mixtape Vol. 1 (with Young Money) (2005), The Suffix (2005), The Dedication (2005), Dedication 2 (2006), Da Drought 3 (2007), Dedication 3 (2008), No Ceilings (2009)

Top 10 Lil Wayne guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. DJ Khaled – “We Takin’ Over”
  2. OutKast – “Hollywood Divorce”
  3. Fat Joe – “Make It Rain”
  4. T.I. – “Swagga like Us”
  5. Playaz Circle – “Duffle Bag Boy”
  6. Destiny’s Child – “Soldier”
  7. Akon – “I’m So Paid”
  8. Rick Ross – “Maybach Music 2”
  9. Drake – “Forever”
  10. Kanye West – “See You in My Nightmares”

If there was any rapper who could make a strong contention against Tip’s claim of being King of the South, it was certainly Lil Wayne. But the truth was, Weezy wasn’t too concerned about claiming King over anything, he was too goddamn busy making the case that he was the best rapper alive.

During a now-legendary 2006 interview with Complex’s Toshitaka Kondo, when goaded with a question about Jay-Z (who had retired in 2003 and made his comeback that year), Lil Wayne unloaded the clip.

Lil Wayne: Am I better? He ain’t gotta do that. You can look out that window and ask that question. He ain’t have to do that—you can stick your head out that window and answer that question.

Interview: Lil Wayne’s 2006 Cover Story Uncut | Complex

Lil Wayne’s confidence was certainly warranted. Just on the purely rapping tip – we’re not talking money or catalogues or business or classic albums – just on a bar-for-bar basis, there was nobody touching Lil Wayne during the 2000s. He had the mixtapes to prove it, he had the albums to prove it, he had the features to prove it, and most importantly, he had the confidence to prove it. Was Lil Wayne better than Jay-Z? At that moment, yes he absolutely was.

1. Jay-Z

Albums: The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000), The Blueprint (2001), The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse (2002), The Best of Both Worlds with R. Kelly (2002), The Black Album (2003), Unfinished Business with R. Kelly (2004), Collision Course (with Linkin Park) (2004), Kingdom Come (2006), American Gangster (2007), The Blueprint 3 (2009)

Mixtapes: S. Carter Collection (2003)

Top 10 Jay-Z guest verses of the 2000s:

  1. Kanye West – “Never Let Me Down”
  2. Young Jeezy – “Go Crazy”
  3. Scarface – “Guess Who’s Back”
  4. Freeway – “What We Do”
  5. Memphis Bleek – “Dear Summer”
  6. Kanye West – “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)”
  7. Lil Wayne – “Mr. Carter”
  8. Rick Ross – “Maybach Music”
  9. OutKast – “Flip Flop Rock”
  10. Cam’ron – “Welcome to New York City”

Sure, Lil Wayne was better than Jay-Z, at that precise moment in time. but the greatness of Jay-Z lies in his ability to stay at the top for a sustained amount of time. All of Jay-Z’s competitors throughout the years – whether it’s Nas, DMX, or Lil Wayne – were bigger and hotter than him at one point in time. But none of them were able to maintain the same level of success, commercially and artistically, as long as he did.

Towards the end of the ’90s, Hov was already making a strong case of being one of the best rappers alive. Reasonable Doubt established him a critical darling, an authentic mafioso MC who was living what many rappers were dreaming about in their rhymes. Then In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life and Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter happened in quick succession, and suddenly, the underground rapper was the biggest (and best) rapper in the world. He might have been one of the best rappers of the 1990s, but he absolutely crushed it in the 2000s.

There’s no way I’ll be able to articulate it better than Hov did himself on “What More Can I Say”:

Pound for pound, I'm the best to ever come around here
Excludin' nobody, look what I embody:
The soul of a hustler, I really ran the street
A CEO's mind, that marketin' plan was me
And no I ain't get shot up a whole bunch of times
Or make up shit in a whole bunch of lines
And I ain't animated like, say, a Busta Rhymes
But the real shit you get when you bust down my lines
Add that to the fact I went plat' a bunch of times
Times that by my influence on pop culture
I'm supposed to be number one on everybody list
We'll see what happens when I no longer exist

Jay-Z - "What More Can I Say" // November 4, 2003

Those lines ran true when he rapped them on The Black Album, as they do for the rest of the 2000s. Plenty of rappers came in that decade – Eminem, Wayne, Kanye, Cam’ron, 50 Cent, but the fact is: Jay-Z was the best rapper of the 2000s, period.

19 comments
  1. Who made up this 🐂💩? Nas last 3 albums alone is a better catalog than MOST ranked in front of him without counting Stillmatic, Lost Tapes, God’s Son, nor any others before then. & If you not counting anything past 2000 those 3 mentioned are better than MOST of the ones ranked in front of him catalog. I want to know what Eminem album is good since his 3rd album? Sells don’t mean 💩. He’s gonna sell having whites by his💩 that’s never bought any other rap album or black artist cause some may have The Beastie Boys as well. Plus you add all of us REAL supporters of hip hop regardless of color or gender we support. FOH! & then having Scarface & Jada at 20 & 21 especially compared to a lot that’s ranked ahead of them is just blasphemy. Narrator should let go from his job for writing such garbage. REAL TALK!

  2. So only 1 female is on the list?!?!?
    Kim dropped Notorious K.I.M in 2000
    La Bella Mafia in 2003 and
    The Naked Truth in 2005 and can’t forget her BEST mixtape
    Ms G.O.A.T. in 2007. This list is so sexist 👎🏾👎🏾

  3. List is a complete joke when you got nelly at 30 behind some of these other rappers on this list and tech n9ne is no where on here is crazy.

  4. Ok how do you make a 2000s list of rappers and have Ja Rule as an honorable mention. Thr hate for this man is real

  5. Nelly at 30?!

    “Only dudes movin units em, pimp juice & us”
    -jayz
    And ja rule an honorable mention 🤣🤣🤣
    This list should title personal favorites because ain’t no way in hell talib kweli, lupe & black thought over nelly

  6. What is this list based off. Because if we talking catalog Ross being a honorable mention is hilarious. He was right there with Ti, Jeezy, Gucci when it came to the coke, drug dealing era. Every Ross album was a hit. I’d definitely put him over Gucci and Ja Rule was an undeniable force until 50 started hating. This list is hilarious.

  7. What happened to the rapper Dmx and Lil kim. These rapper’s come out in late 90s. They was best rapper’s and should be on the list with orther rapper’s.

  8. This is an amazing list of the best rappers of the 2000s. I love how you included a mix of mainstream and underground artists. It’s great to see that you appreciate all types of hip hop.

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