What’s the haps my good people?! You’ve seen my lists of best southern albums, west coast albums, mid-west albums, disappointing albums, and even greatest of all-time lists. This one will be consisting of the best albums to emerge since the start of the new millennium.
While many criticize this era in music for its wretchedness and at times wack-ass artists and albums, there are many, many albums that serve as reminders that there are far more quality acts and music than we realize or that we care to acknowledge. We’ve had landmark, historic albums, as well as breakout albums and iconic releases that have merit and worth similar to eighties masterpieces like It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, Paid In Full, Strictly Business, and Run-DMC’s Raising Hell. Likewise, in the nineties with defining albums such as Illmatic, The Chronic, The Low End Theory, The Diary, and Ready To Die.
The thousands’ decade had many outstanding albums, as did the teens. To make it a point to highlight the quality music that has been released, this list was made. Keep in mind, this was HARD, I mean headache-inducing to see what would make the top one hundred and even the honorable mentions. Please, don’t bitch me out for not including your favorite album (s) on this list. Chances are, they’re on it somewhere, but even if not, this is MY list. Deal with it. With that being said, let’s begin.
100. The Underachievers - Indigoism (2013)
These cats of Izza Gold and AK burst upon the scene in 2014 with their debut mixtape called Indigoism, and this was a great debut. Mixing elements of spirituality and ethereal theologies, these cats have since put out their albums of The Cellar Door and Evermore: The Art Of Duality and have continued to expand their fan base.
99. Apathy - Eastern Philosophy (2006)
This DemiGodz member dropped a SICK album in 2006, that was as hard-hitting of a debut as you would find during this time period. With an album filled with vicious, in-your-face lyrics, the Connecticut-native showed the underground that he got next and you better pay attention.
While later albums like Honkey Kong, Wanna Snuggle, and Connecticut Casual were all dope and held their own, this debut served as his meat and potatoes, and we saw that this young cat was a threat.
98. Pusha T - My Name Is My Name (2013)
The former Clipse member finally dropped his long-awaited solo debut on G.O.O.D. Music, and it was worth the wait. Still flipping coke rhymes and hustla living, Pusha was secured with excellent production from Kanye, Swizz Beats, Pharrell, and Nottz among others, as well as plenty of guest spots from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Chris Brown, Rick Ross, and others.
While we still wait on King Push (although his pre-album King Push: Darkest Before Dawn was a monster), this was a big time album from somebody who was ready for that solo stardom.
97. ScHoolboy Q - Oxymoron (2014)
When it was announced that TDE had signed been touted by Interscope, the two that got on board were Kendrick and ScHoolboy. The artist, born Quincy Hanley, had made noise in the underground with his decent Habits & Contradictions album, but officially knocked it out with his major label debut, Oxymoron.
Achieving large amounts of radio play with cuts like “Man Of The Year”, “Studio”, and “Collard Greens” and it was enough for him to be nominated for a Grammy. Don’t get it confused: it deserved to be because the album was simply DOPE. He’ll be dropping his new album this year and it’ll be intriguing to see if he can follow up that success.
96. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris (2013)
We were all either enamored or in sickening disbelief over the shocking brazenness of OFWGKTA, or Odd Future for short. Led by Tyler The Creator, this collective had some bits of talent, albeit their shock value was more noted than anything else.
There was one true standout, however, in the youngest cat in the crew named Earl Sweatshirt. He became the most anticipated member out the click that people wanted to see drop an album, and he definitely didn’t disappoint.
His debut, Doris, was filled with density and poignancy, as we already knew it would be. Doris was uncompromising and honest, that’s what we tend to get from him. This was even more apparent on his follow-up from last year, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. With this album, this is where the seed of acclaim started to get reaped.
95. Ludacris - Chicken & Beer (2003)
On his fourth album, Luda presented one of his most overall excellent albums in ’03. Supported by the anthems “P-Poppin”, “Stand Up”, and the bangin’ “Blow It Out”, this album went three times platinum and continued to elevate the worldwide stardom of Cris Bridges. Not to mention, this album had the hardest album intro in years until last year’s intro to his album Ludaversal.
94. J. Cole - Born Sinner (2013)
Following up his very promising debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story (see later), Fayetteville’s Coley Cole delivered a formidable sophomore album, and eliminating any possible talk of sophomore jinx.
The Grammy nominated emcee went hard in the paint with cuts like the TLC-assisted “Crooked Smile”, the wicked Kendrick collaborated “Forbidden Fruit” and his first single “Power Trip”. Recently certified platinum, Cole showed elevation and more insightful lyrics. Just short of the amazing route of 2014 Forest Hills Drive (again see later), this was a great album that has several reasons to wear out the repeat button.
93. T.I. - Trap Muzik (2003)
In 2001, Tip Harris presented us with his debut, I’m Serious, which showed potential and enough talent to make people pay attention. Not pleased with how his label handled the album, he came back a couple years later with his sophomore album, Trap Muzik, and man was it an improvement.
Many see this album as his true debut. The album that put T.I. on the map with cuts like “Rubberband Man”, “24’s”, and the cautionary “No More Talk”. With the multiple Grammy nods and platinum plaques he’s earned since, it’s not hard to see why many consider this his “real” debut.
92. Drake - Take Care (2011)
Say what you will, but Drake has emerged into one of the single biggest stars in all of Hip Hop and in music for that matter. Yeah, he’s an emotional guy that’s caught between wanting to settle down and wanting to sew those 6 god oats. His debut, Thank Me Later, was a rather fly major label introduction to a brand new star in the making. His sophomore album, Take Care, explores all the topics he covered in his debut and magnifies them. Narcissistic at times, introspective at other times, Drake’s expansion reached high levels and earned him a Grammy.
91. Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter III (2008)
Practically as polarizing an emcee as Drake, DeWayne Michael Carter was openly calling himself “the greatest rapper alive”.When this juggernaut dropped, many couldn’t blame him for asserting himself as such. Far and away his greatest project in his over twenty-year career, this album was LOADED with hits, and saw Wayne hit a high he hasn’t regained since. Lyrically, few were even touching him, and his star appeal was enough to hit platinum in a week.
90. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son Of Chico Dusty (2010)
Antwan “Big Boi” Patton had a lot to live up to musically once Outkast broke up. While he was a very formidable emcee, most perceived Andre as the crossover star. Guess what folks? Dre has yet to drop an album as of this writing. However, Big Boi dropped his debut, Sir Lucious Leftfoot, and MAN did it deliver.
This was an album that had that old Outkast funk and soul with a new millennium flair with it. There were consistent pieces of greatness, including “General Patton”, “Tangerine”, and especially the fantastic lead single “Shutterbug”, which resulted in one of the game’s most prized possessions out the south to this day.
89. Viktor Vaughn - Vaudeville Villain (2003)
The wonderful, complex, and unorthodox world of Daniel Dumille, otherwise known as MF DOOM, is filled with tons of intrigue. In ’99, after years of seclusion after the tragic death of his brother, he resurfaced with an entire new image, complete with a gladiator mask and an obsession with comic villains.
His debut, Operation Doomsday, was one of the most perplexing, yet fascinating, albums to appear in the entire late nineties. He then went on the adapt two other aliases: King Geedorah and Viktor Vaughn.
Under his Vaughn persona, he presented a very lyrically sharp and musically intrinsic project. This featured none of his own production, but did include tracks from RJD2, King Honey, and others. His stardom to becoming the god of the underground was coming.
88. Georgia Anne Maldrow - A Thoughtiverse Unmarred (2015)
Not since the likes of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu have we seen a sister so important for Hip Hop culture and Blacks as a whole. She may honestly be the best thing you’ve never fully heard, in spite of the fact that she’s been in this game for over a decade.
Singer and poet-turned-emcee delivered her first rap album and blessed it tremendously. Considered a Hip Hop version of greats like Ella or Billie, this debut was a treasure to those who gave it a chance, and based upon her prior albums, we’re just now catching up to her extraordinary talent.
87. T.I. - Urban Legend (2004)
This follow-up to his prior album, Trap Muzik, improved even more than expected. There was hit after hit after hit on this album. Many have put this album among his best three albums ever, and with good reason. Cuts like “U Don’t Know Me”, “ASAP” and “Bring Em Out” became anthems that were inescapable in the streets or the club. With Urban Legend, if you didn’t believe it before, you knew he had officially arrived.
86. Jay-Z - The Black Album (2003)
This was originally supposed to be his “final” album. The build was something to be warranted, and we legitimately thought it to be so. Although it became false as he recorded five more albums to this day, this album was strong, like very strong.
While most maintain The Blueprint was his magnum opus along with Reasonable Doubt, this is easily considered among his top five albums. Cohesive and complete, this was Hov circa early millennium with cuts like the 9th Wonder-blessed “Threat” and “Lucifer”. When mentioning great albums that got released in the early part of the millennium, this needs to be an album on everyone’s mouth.
85. De La Soul - The Grind Date (2004)
When it comes to longevity, look no further than the revered legends of De La Soul.
Approaching their thirtieth year in the game, they dropped The Grind Date in ’04 to much acclaim. This was a very lean album from them, bringing a back to basics approach to the album: cold lyrics, stinging beats.
Hip Hop’s elder statesmen dropped tremendous cuts like the INCREDIBLE MF Doom-assisted “Rock Co.Kane Flow” and the Dilla-blessed “Much More” to show the younger cats, they haven’t lost anything, in fact they got more of than most of y’all.
84. Oddisee - The Good Fight (2015)
Diamond District emcee/producer Oddisee has been grinding for the better part of a decade now, but last year’s The Good Fight was among the single best albums to drop all year. Regarded as the Kanye of the underground (beat-wise), Odd made an album that defined the
Regarded as the Kanye of the underground (beat-wise), Odd made an album that defined the hustlers work towards being the best as what he does in such a relatable fashion. Crafting some of the best production he has ever done, this cat won’t be slept on too much longer.
83. Ludacris - Theater Of The Mind (2008)
With all the excellent work Luda has done, Theater Of The Mind was by far his most complete body of work to date. Lyrically, he was in superb form, and was ripping on unquestionably the best production he has ever rhymed over. This was subsequently a combination of every album he has done. We saw him party, get drunk, get high, get angry, and get introspective. Through it all, Luda showed his ass on what has to be known and regarded as his best overall album.
82. Cage - Hell's Winter (2005)
Fresh from Orange County, NY came a very talented, albeit mentally problematic and addicted, emcee. The former Smut Peddler member delivered his prodigious debut album, the very visual Movies For The Blind, to great reviews.
The drug-laced, depression-induced album was cause for people to be slightly concerned, yet at the same time intrigued about how talented this kid was. He followed this up with Hell’s Winter, which was less about drugs and mysogany and more about anger issues and inner turmoil. This stands as his best piece of work to this very day.
81. Murs - 3:16...The 9th Edition (2004)
Cali veteran, and Living Legends member, Murs experienced his first taste of overall critical acclaim with this album collab with producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder. This was nothing short of an incredible album that demonstrating his honest and occasionally vivid rhymes. Who can deny the epic “Walk Like A Man”, as well as “The Rain”, “And This Is For” and “The Animal”?
This album became known as a classic, as it got even more appreciated through time, as Murs & 9th became the next best thing to Pete Rock & CL Smooth.
80. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
After going lots of heartbreak with the loss of his mother and facing lawsuits and mounting beefs due to his irrational antics, Kanye retreated away for a while to get himself together, and while doing so, he crafted what would be a whole new musical direction with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
This musical soundscape contained big budget production that sounded as dramatic as the album title. Make no mistake about it, this became a turning point for Mr. West, as this album went away fro lush arrangements mixed with boom-bap and went towards heavy musical experiences that only Kanye could create.
With over three million units sold, and cuts like “Runaway”, “Lost In The World”, and the crazy posse track “So Appalled” with Swizz Beats, RZA, Cyhi The Prince, Jay-Z, and Pusha T, this was the best album he had done since Graduation.
79. Young Jeezy - Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005)
The hustla’s classic. One of the most definitive trap albums ever recorded. This album made the “snowman” a household name off this flames debut. Anthems like “Trap Or Die” and “Go Crazy” resounded from CD decks not just in the south but from every hood and ghetto there was.
In the words of Nas, Jeezy became a “ghetto celebrity, hood movie star”. While he’s put out fairly strong releases since such as The Recession and Seen It All: The Autobiography, this album was his pinnacle point, and became Def Jam’s newest platinum sensation.
78. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music (2012)
While Killer Mike has always been a verbal beast since his emergence onto the scene in the early millennium, he’s also been among the most underrated. Albums like I Pledge Allegiance 2 The Grind and Pl3dge were highly acclaimed but he was still fairly much a bubbler. We started to see a transition from underdog to mainstream threat with this vicious album with eventual partner-in-crime El-P all over the boards.
We saw the precursor of Run The Jewels with this album, and R.A.P. Music was FAR and away his best project ever in his solo career. In the same rebellious attitude that made classics like AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Fear Of A Black Planet so landmark, this is Mike’s solo magnum opus.
77. T.I. - Paper Trail (2008)
We’ve established that Tip Harris was becoming a major star for the south and was burgeoning on being a crossover star. The notion became a reality with Paper Trail a big step in the direction of stardom. Selling gold units in one week, he had major hits like “Whatever You Like” and the Rihanna-assisted “Live Your Life”. Plus who could forget the monstrous collab with Jay, Kanye, and Wayne “Swagga Like Us”? This became his highest selling album to date, pushing quadruple platinum units.
76. Royce Da 5'9" - Death Is Certain (2004)
It’s said that out of pain comes the best honest music. It can be hit and miss at times. For every seminal album like 2Pac’s Me Against The World, there’s N.O.R.E.’s Melvyn Flynt: Da Hustler.
This album from one of the most complete emcees in the game, Royce Da 5’9″, serves as one of the moments that served well. Recorded during a very dark and depressing period in his life, being heavy into alcoholism and occasional suicidal thoughts, this album, saw Royce at his his most angry and bleak.
While other albums like Rock City, Success Is Certain, and his most recent Layers are all excellent album that show off his second to none lyrical abilities, this album is one that has to be placed as his best effort, even if recorded with morbid feelings.
75. MF DOOM - Born Like This (2009)
The almighty MF DOOM resurfaced after his collab album with producer/DJ extraordinaire Danger Mouse (see later), The Mouse & The Mask, four years earlier. Known for his efforts of Operation Doomsday, his highly regard MM…Food?! album, and especially his iconic underground classic with Madlib, Madvillainy (again see later), this may have been his most complete solo effort to date.
Definitely more accessible than albums in the past, it was still trademark DOOM. Using outside production from Jake One, Madlib, and Dilla, this was a HOT album.
74. Outkast - Speakerboxx/The Love Below (2003)
One of Hip Hop’s biggest crowning achievements happened with Outkast‘s legendary double album.
Its layout was something that had never been done before. Big Boi had Speakerboxx, which was filled with funked-out, soulful toe tappers, while Andre 3000 had a very eclectic mixture of cuts and styles with The Love Below.
This album sold over eleven million units and officially put Outkast as the most successful Hip Hop duo in history. Multiple Grammy awards and monster singles like “Hey Ya”, “The Way You Move” and “Bowtie” gave the duo its biggest success ever.
73. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
One of the hottest coke rap albums of that era, the Thornton brothers definitely provided a suitable follow-up to their beyond dope debut, Lord Willin’.
This one had less radio hits, as this was even more street than their debut, and The Neptunes provided some of their most knocking production to be heard at that time. Yeah we know how hard “Mr. Me Too” went, but other cuts like “Momma I’m So Sorry” and “Trill” went just as heavy.
Unfortunately this would be their last album, as Pusha continued to be a solo artist and (No) Malice became a born again Christian and starting going into Christian rap.
72. Big K.R.I.T. - Cadillactica (2014)
One of the brightest starts to emerge out the south this generation is Mississippi native Big K.R.I.T. Known for outstanding mixtape like K.R.I.T. Was Here and Return Of 4eva, he signed with Def Jam and released Live From The Underground, a very promising, soulful debut that gave an alternative to the trap rap and ratchet rap that was plaguing the south.
However, he went two levels up with his follow-up, Cadillactica. Using other producers such as Jim Jonsin and Rico Love, he expanded his sound more and the result was one of the finest southern albums to emerge in years. It’s only a matter of time before people as a whole stop snoozing on this cat.
71. Joe Budden - All Love Lost (2015)
Jersey Joey has always been polarized, more so for the man that he is more so than his emceeing abilities. One quarter of the mighty Slaughterhouse gang dropped his undisputed best effort ever with All Love Lost. Deeply personal, angry, and introspective, this fits in the same mold as Me Against The World or House Gang brother Royce Da 5’9″‘s aforementioned Death Is Certain.
Every song is highly gripping as he deals with his demons and failed relationships. This was the album we had been waiting on from him in terms of quality, we just wished it wasn’t worthy of a therapist chair.
70. Ghostface Killah - Adrien Younge Presents Twelve Reasons To Die (2013)
If there’s one thing GFK is known for, and that’s for being a vivid emcee. The most prolific to come out the Wu camp, Ghost dropped an aural cinematic classic.
Networking with composer extraordinaire Adrien Younge, the result was an amazing album that showed the awesome chemistry between the two geniuses. This album stands among Ghost’s most outstanding albums, bar none.
69. Common - Finding Forever (2007)
Lonnie Rashid Lynn is a legend. He’s among the most revered emcees of our time. He had made very good Hip Hop by dropping albums like Resurrection, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, and especially Like Water For Chocolate.
After the mixed reviews of the very eclectic Electric Circus, his career was coming towards a crossroads. Enter Kanye West, who signed him to G.O.O.D. Music and he dropped the album of his career, BE (see later). After the almost Illmatic-esque praise of that album, he wanted to do it again with Finding Forever.
Although just short of the legendary acclaim of his prior album, this album was nothing at all to sneeze at. In fact, this was almost every bit as lyrical and very bit as musically and conceptually strong as BE. Clearly, West and Common need to do more together.
68. Rhapsody - Beauty & Da Beast (2014)
Snow Hill, NC’s Marlena Evans has been penned as the next big woman emcee, and among the best newcomers in Hip Hop on an overall scale. Aside from her acclaimed mixtape like She’s Got Game and The Black Mamba, she dropped a full-length album called The Idea Of Beautiful, which was simply among the best debuts to enter the game in quite some time.
In 2014, she dropped Beauty & Da Beast, and it continued the steady momentum that she had been building. Compared to greats like MC Lyte and Rah Digga, and being the only one who could hang with King Kendrick on his genre-changing album, To Pimp A Butterfly, her star appeal is growing and growing and growing.
67. UGK - Underground Kingz (2007)
The legendary UGK dropped their final album together with Pimp C being alive. This double album was a great introduction to new fans of Texas’ finest.
Known for being one of the pioneering acts to emerge from Texas and defining a southern sound aside from The Geto Boys, UGK saw their biggest commercial success with this album.
While not quite the classic Ridin’ Dirty was, this is almost right there with it, and it was a major final chapter to the much respected story of one of the greatest duos to ever do it. As evidenced by their official crossover smash, the Grammy-nominated duet with Outkast, “International Playas Anthem”, they didn’t stay in the underground for long.
66. J. Cole - Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011)
There was heavy buzz about some cat named J. Cole outta Fayetteville, NC. His mixtape of Friday Night Lights and Villematic caught lots of rotation and garnered enough attention to where Jay-Z decided to put him with Roc Nation.
With Jay’s backing, and a blistering guest verse on Reflection Eternal’s highly slept-on R.P.M. album, his debut finally dropped. It definitely met expectations and was a highly touted debut.
With guest spots from heavyweights like Trey Songz, Drake and Missy Elliot, this album was introspective, personal, and definitely lyrical. Not to mention, it became a platinum album. We saw a new star on the rise from the Carolinas.
65. M.O.P. - Warriorz (2000)
The notorious Mashed Out Posse folks. These Browsvillains have been making cats bang their heads against the wall since ’94 when they dropped To The Death.
Never decreasing their musical integrity, they trademarked this head-banging, gun-clapping, riotous style that made them champions in the underground, in spite of them being on a major label for years. They hit pay dirt with Warriorz, which became their highest-selling album thanks to their breakout hit “Ante Up” and their follow-up smash “Cold As Ice”.
While other albums like Firing Squad and First Family 4 Life were very hard-hitting, this became their biggest opportunity to mainstream success.
64. Ghostface Killah - Bulletproof Wallets (2001)
How do you follow-up a classic like Supreme Clientele (see later)? Ghostface came with an answer in the form of Bulletproof Wallets. While not as musically astonishing as the prior, this still holds its own.
The original pressing of this album was even better than the final retail version, complete with tracks like “Sun” and the INCREDIBLE “Good Times” couldn’t get cleared samples. Nevertheless, cuts like “Street Chemistry”, “The Forest”, and “Strawberry” make this album a sincere part of Ghost’s fantastic legacy.
63. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (2009)
In ’95, Wu-Tang’s residential chef, Raekwon, delivered what became one of Hip Hop’s greatest achievements in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, which has widely been considered the greatest Wu solo album (besides Supreme Clientele) to emerge from the Wu.
With pressures from fans to deliver a sequel, he finally did so in ’09, and the results were amazing. It’s damn near impossible to recover the magic of an exceptional classic debut. Raekwon did it with this one. Everything from the cover to the feel of the album was reminiscent of the original and we loved it. While not hitting too much on Italian mafia-like themes the whole album, it’s actually welcomed with cuts like the dedication to deceased Wu brother “Ason Jones” but then goes right back into tales of hustling and revenge.
Truly, with several sub-par efforts, if the first one was The Godfather, this one was The Godfather Pt. II.
62. Bun B - Trill O.G. (2010)
When the Hip Hop world lost one half of UGK, Pimp C, the question was if Bun could hold it down without his partner-in-rhyme?
The answer was a resounding yes with his DOPE solo debut, Trill. He then followed with II Trill, but it was third and final album in the Trill series that made the most noise. This particular album stands as his most complete album to date.
With very strong tracks like the Drake-assisted “It’s Been A Pleasure”, “Lights, Camera, Action” and the Premo-powered “Let ‘Em Know”, this was Bun’s most versatile album, and it worked like a charm. Pimp would be more than proud.
61. Masta Ace - A Long Hot Summer (2004)
Hip Hop veteran and former Juice Crew member Masta Ace has had a very underrated career. While he has put out some decent albums, he had a career resurgence with the HIGHLY acclaimed underground classic, Disposable Arts (see later). This concept album not only showed that Ace lyrically still had it, it also showed that he knew how important it was to reinvent yourself and make it important and relevant to people with mature ears.
He wanted to follow that up with A Long Hot Summer, which serves as a sequel and it served well. You can visualize a trip through Brooklyn streets in the hot summer day of a young up-and-coming emcee (this is the character he plays). The production was every bit as fire as the first, and every bit as lyrical. That’s how you show these trend-following young bucks out here. Be an artist with some thinking abilities.
60. Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo & Youth (2015)
After struggling with sub-par albums for a couple years, Lupe Fiasco decided that his last major label album needed to be a big one.
He decided to go back to was brought him his acclaim as one of the game’s premier lyricists and most intelligent emcees, as he showed on his phenomenal debut, Food & Liquor and his equally exceptional follow-up, The Cool. This album was a refreshing reminder of how incredible of a cat he can be when he doesn’t adhere to what the label wants and goes for what’s in his heart and mind.
Mr. Fiasco delivered perhaps the most overall lyrical exercise of 2015 with the eight minute, no hooks just lyrics, prize “Mural”, but this wasn’t it. Cuts like “Madonna” and “Adoration of the Magi” are among the best songs within his entire discography. While we don’t want him to retire like boldly proclaims that he will after he releases his final three albums this year, he can leave with no regrets and legacy as one of the game’s most unique, yet respected emcees of our generation.
59. Brother Ali - US (2009)
What hasn’t been said about Minneapolis’ Brother Ali positively? He has presented some of the breathtaking albums of any artist ever in Hip Hop, whether mainstream or underground.
His debut, Shadows On The Sun, is one of the most landmark albums in all of the underground to this day. He followed up with Champion EP and The Undisputed Truth, which were both equally as exceptional (see all three later).
In ’09, he returned with longtime producer Ant (from Atmosphere fame) to present US. Easily comparable to his prior insane releases, this album delivers unabashed lyricism mixed with social commentary on race, struggle and community issues. With this album, his philosophy was simple, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
58. Lupe Fiasco - The Cool (2007)
It’s no secret that Lupe Fiasco’s debut, Food & Liquor, was among the most revered debuts in any era of Hip Hop. Could he redo that acclaim with his sophomore album, The Cool?
Damn sure. This album practically served as an unofficial sequel to it (his official sequel to it, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, didn’t quite meet those expectations).
Powerful cuts like “The Coolest”, “Gold Watch” and “Hip Hop Saved My Life” are exhibit how intelligent and well read this emcee is to this day. Easily as comparable to his classic debut, this album was near the top of albums in any genre in ’07.
57. Elzhi - The Preface (2008)
One of the strongest lyrical emcees to emerge from the D is Elzhi. While we got a mainstream taste of his excellent abilities being a part of Slum Village after Dilla left, he had really gotten a buzz from his strong mixtape, Witness My Growth, before he joined the group. When he left SV, he got up with production maestro Black Milk (another Detroit weapon) to give us The Preface.
Arguably the best-produced album in all of ’08, this album also demonstrated how conceptual this young emcee can be as well. There wasn’t one single flaw on here except that you wished there were more tracks to vibe to.
While other albums like his Illmatic-tribute album Elmatic and his most recent Lead Poison show his lyrical gifts as well, this remains his flag bearing album.
56. The Roots - Rising Down (2008)
The Roots are among the most consistently revered groups, not just in Hip Hop but in all of music. Never following any trends except their own, you can always rely on them to provide fantastic music. They became stars within the millennium. This was one album that put them in a wonderful conscious space. One of their darkest and most bleak efforts, this is very cautionary and further showed that The Roots weren’t just entertaining, they were very important as well for the culture. While other efforts like How I Got Over, Game Theory, and The Tipping Point showed their musical exquisiteness with social commentary, Rising Down was arguably their most grim.
55. J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)
Jermaine Cole, has been on a roll since his great debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, and his equally dope follow-up, Born Sinner. However, he reached a whole new level of stardom and acclaim with his most poignant and ambitious effort yet in 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
Without a ton of promotion except a video of him going back to Fayetteville to let us in his world, the album dropped with no radio single at the time, but managed to go gold within a week and platinum in under a month. Even more astonishing, there were no substantial features. This album put him as an official leader of the new school of honest, personal, and intelligent emcees in the game.
54. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale (2006)
The almighty GFK. Since Supreme Clientele, he has delivered great album after great album. However, the question was could he ever redo the magic of Supreme Clientele? While we still wait on Supreme Clientele 2: The Blue & Cream Era, the closest thing we had on a major label was his superb effort, Fishscale.
With no RZA influence on this album whatsoever, the production was on the hands of Dilla, MF Doom, Pete Rock, and Just Blaze among others. Ghost sounded as fresh as ever, and his vivid storytelling was that of legend on this album up until Twelve Reasons To Die. This remains Ghost’s second best album ever and is among Wu-Tang’s standards of excellence. How NUTS was the Wu-reunion “9 Milli Brothers?”
This remains Ghost’s second best album ever and is among Wu-Tang’s standards of excellence. How NUTS was the Wu-reunion “9 Milli Brothers?”
53. Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons... (2008)
Minneapolis’ emo-rap kings are among the most celebrated and revered in the underground. They have been since the late nineties, but especially ever since God Loves Ugly. From that point on, it has been highly acclaimed project after highly acclaimed project.
Their sixth album, When Life Hands You Lemons…, became their ultimate triumph, artistically and commercially, as the album debuted in the top five on Billboard Top 200, a feat rarely spoken of within the underground and indie world.
Always poignant, Slug’s heart-on-his-sleeves rhymes over Ant’s progressive production makes for one of the most decorated duos in all of Hip Hop.
52. Q-Tip - The Renaissance (2008)
Every now and then, I question if I rated an album too low on the list due to how truly exceptional an album is. This is one of those times.
Q-Tip had been getting mixed praise with his solo debut album Amplified. True, there were decent, upbeat tracks that he and Dilla put together and made for a good time. However, there were those people that needed that old Tribe feel. The appetite was more than filled this time around. In short, this was a legitimate classic.
Tip showed that he still had that abstract flow that made him one of Hip Hop’s most cherished artists. Not to mention, he’s one of Hip Hop’s most innovative products. Both talents were exquisitely shown on this flawless album that deserved all the praise it got and deserves even more.
Easily in the same arena acclaim-wise as BE, The College Dropout, or Black On Both Sides, this may get looked back at, and stated this should’ve been in the top twenty at the least.
51. The Roots - Game Theory (2006)
This album marked a turn for The Roots conceptually. While prior albums like Phrenology and Things Fall Apart dabbled with experimentation and jazz underlings, Game Theory was the beginning of going into far more socially conscious and darker themes.
Tracks like “Livin In The New World”, “False Media”, and the astonishing “Clock With No Hands” showed that their focus was opening the ears of their fans on a conscious matter more so than in times not since Illadelph Halflife. Plus the Dilla tribute “Can’t Stop This” is just beyond words. Definitely in their top five ever.
50. Jaylib - Champion Sound (2003)
Champion Sound saw them tag teaming a lot. While Madliberator would be behind the boards, Dilla would be rhyming, and vice versa. The result was one of the underground’s all-time revered albums, and one can only imagine what a sequel would’ve sounded like today?
49. Nas - Life Is Good (2012)
All hail the legendary Nasir Jones. Giver of the greatest rap album to ever grace our ears besides PE’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, Nas is one of the most prolific poets ever heard. He’s had decent to very good albums along the road since Illmatic. Albums like God’s Son, It Was Written, Untitled, and especially Stillmatic have shown him as head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries.
On his tenth album, Life Is Good, he continues to prove his worth over nice tracks like “You Wouldn’t Understand”, “The Don”, and “Roses”. Overcoming saddening events such as the passing of his mother to his divorce from Kelis, this album was an affirmation of him being the true don of Hip Hop.
48. The Roots - Phrenology (2002)
Once they achieved their much overdue worldwide acclaim with their crossover smash album, Things Fall Apart, the world was anticipating their every move. They started to experiment with different styles, themes, and sounds.
Thus comes, Phrenology. This outstanding album mixes Hip Hop with not just jazz like prior albums like Do You Want More?!?! and their magnum opus Illadelph Halflife, but they also bring forth elements like folk, soul, and rock, especially on their debut single “The Seed 2.0” featuring folk artist Cody ChestnuTT.
This was a very ambitious album and further showed the exceptional talent of Black Thought behind the mic.
47. Apollo Brown & O.C. - Trophies (2012)
This album is wat Hip Hop is truly about: beats and lyrics. Plain and simple. Longtime Brooklynite and D.I.T.C. member O.C. collaborated with hot Detroit beat smith Apollo Brown to present his most cohesive effort since his sophomore album, Jewelz, which dropped in ’97.
Sounding as hungry as he did when he first dropped his wonderful debut album of ’94, Word…Life, his confidence is poured over practically flawless production from A. Brown. This was as close to perfection as one could get and perhaps O.C.’s most defining album ever, and that’s saying a lot.
46. Dr. Dre - Compton: A Soundtrack (2015)
While we were all waiting for over thirteen years for the lost album, Detox, it turned out the good doctor shelved it due to the fact he felt it was subpar. Ever the perfectionist, he started from scratch and we’re actually glad he did. This album was perhaps what Detox should’ve been.
In a historic year for him with the Straight Outta Compton movie, he resurfaced with a very triumphant album. Known for establishing new stars, he brought Anderson.Paak, King Mez and Justus to the masses, while getting up with vets like Kendrick, Eminem, and former N.W.A. brother Ice Cube.
Hits were EVERYWHERE on this album, but we didn’t expect anything less.
45. Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor (2006)
In an age of simplistic rhymes and lack of meaningful concepts, Lupe Fiasco came out the gate with a swift kick in the ass for Hip Hop and brought an intelligence to Hip Hop that had been more than missed on a mainstream level.
His debut, Food & Liquor, still remains as his prized jewel of an album due to his knack for storytelling rhymes and socio-political style. We wouldn’t see an album like this from him (with the exception of his follow-up The Cool) for another nine years.
44. The Roots - How I Got Over (2010)
We’ve seen the legendary Roots crew be angry, experimental, and anti-commercial, but with How I Got Over, they become melancholy and quite somber. This was an album that identified with the common man and woman, just trying to live in these trying days. This album was very honest and as intimate as any album you’ll come across from them to this day. Arguably the best album they’ve produced as a whole since Illadelph Halflife. Musical bliss.
43. Scarface - Deeply Rooted (2015)
H-Town Hip Hop icon Scarface is widely known for dropping classic after classic throughout the nineties. After The Fix (see later), he wasn’t in a good space musically nor with J Prince and Rap-A-Lot. He dropped decent yet not potent albums and he just needed to get himself right mentally as well as physically.
He returned in 2015, he delivered his best album since The Fix, and showed a Face we truthfully haven’t seen since the nineties. Needless to say, Deeply Rooted was his reintroduction album, yet also reported to be his swan song. If it is, he went out the only way he knows how, like a true G.
42. The Game - The Documentary 2/2.5 (2015)
The savior of the west coast after a fairly dormant few years throughout the late nineties was The Game. He dropped his exceptional debut, The Documentary, and the “game” was never the same.
The newest star from the C-P-T had delivered an overall dope discography showing his talent and penchant for gangsta narratives, yet occasional honest vulnerabilities. At long last, he dropped the sequel to his classic debut and in a rare case, the sequel was every bit as good as the debut. This was so good, even breaking it into a double album didn’t stop its momentum. In fact, it’s possible this may be the most complete double album in over a decade in Hip Hop.
Top to bottom, this was just short of album of the year status in 2015. The winner…you’ll see later.
41. Nas - Untitled (2008)
Many of Nas’ fans would say his discography is that of legend, with even his weakest album, Nastradamus, better than most albums released that year. However, as much as we love Nasty Nas, we also need the socio-commentator of the hood and Black culture as a whole.
This was celebrated on his album Untitled. The original name for it, Nigger, was obviously so controversial, nobody would sell it in stores unless the title was changed. Regardless of what the title was, this album explored the plight, yet celebrated the empowerment of Blacks, even with using the most venomous word in the English language.
Phenomenal cuts like “Y’all My Niggas”, “America” and “Testify” make you feel many emotions, but none more so than real.
40. Rhapsody - The Idea Of Beautiful (2012)
North Carolina’s Rhapsody has been seen and regarded as this generation’s MC Lyte and Queen Latifah in one woman.
Highly acclaimed for her insightful and fluid rhymes, she delivered a stellar debut that was empowering for not just women and men but Blacks as a whole and showed the many elements of what’s perceived as beautiful in our society.
With several mixtape and EPs to her credit, this full-length album is one to grow with for years to come.
39. Nas - God's Son (2002)
How do you follow up a breathtaking album like Stillmatic? Nas attempted this feat with God’s Son. Considering the pressures put on him to do an equally exceptional job, not to mention the unfortunate loss of his mother, he did a fantastic job.
Seen as one of his best, there are jewel after jewel on this one. He reminisces (while sliding in a Ras Kass dis) on the incredible “Book Of Rhymes”, gets his street hop on with “Made You Look” and hits your heart deeply with the somber dedication to his mother “Dance. Yet another triumph for the maker of Illmatic.
38. 50 Cent - Get Rich Or Die Tryin' (2003)
Getting signed by Eminem to Shady after a failed stint with Columbia for his shelved album, Power Of The Dollar, the Ja-Rule dis “Wanksta” was enough o make him a worldwide star alone, but once he dropped “In Da Club”, it was a wrap.
The result was his magnum opus. Many consider this among the strongest debuts of all-time, and for great reason. This is not only his best album to date, it also became his highest-selling to date as well, selling nearly diamond units. While we’ve seen him come close to this with albums like The Massacre and his most recent Animal Ambition, nothing he has done, or perhaps will ever do, will touch this firestarter.
37. El-P - Fantastic Damage (2002)
New York’s El-Producto of Company Flow fame broke out on his own and dropped what has been widely considered one of the underground’s most landmark albums of all-time.
Filled with social commentary and even more angst, highlighting the corruption of a commercial and government ran system, El-P set a new standard of production and pushed boundaries of being confrontational and unapologetic.
We later saw his knack for middle-finger fused rhymes and his lo-fi, electro-fused production with Killer Mike for Run The Jewels and KM’s R.A.P. Music, thus finally bringing his art to the world on a grand scale. This is where his madness was polished beyond Company Flow. Listen to his rage.
36. Brother Ali - Champion EP (2004)
What you thought US was gonna be it on the list for Brother Ali? What you smoking on? This is a champion of the underground, thus the name of this hard-hitting EP.
It wasn’t going to be an easy effort to follow-up the masterpiece that was Shadows On The Sun, but damn it he did and did with authority. Getting back up with Ant for the production of the album, this further showed the sensational talent that Ali possesses and the passion with which he unloads it all.
There were virtually no misses with this, and it continued to show why he was silently becoming your favorite emcee whether you knew it or not.
35. Kendrick Lamar - Section.80 (2011)
Before we all fully experienced the genius of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth on a worldwide level and before his Aftermath signing, he was one of the most talked about emcees on the rise in the underground.
His debut EP put people on and his follow-up the impressive Overly Dedicated were creating buzz about this young Compton native, but it was Section.80 that people really started to get on their job with this cat. Filled with innovative concepts and highly intelligent lyrics, this album showed Kendrick’s ability to tell a compelling story that grips you with its relevancy. Cuts like “ADHD”, the incredible “Kush & Corinthians”, and “No Make Up” show the mind of Kendrick way before Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and To Pimp A Butterfly.
34. DangerDoom - The Mouse & The Mask (2005)
Leave it to two somewhat quirky talents like Doom and DJ/producer Danger Mouse to come up with an equally quirky album. Based off Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programs, primarily Space Ghost, this was an oddball album that regardless sounded very fresh and innovative. This was the closest Doom would come to even coming close to the brilliance Madvilliany was, but this was a strong effort
This was the closest Doom would come to even coming close to the brilliance Madvilliany was, but this was a strong effort of its own. Soundbites from the show and guests like Talib Kweli and Ghostface make this is an enjoyable psychedelic experience.
33. PRhyme - PRhyme (2014)
Yes Gawd!! We mourned greatly when we lost Guru, the voice of Gangstarr. While we’re perfectly aware there’s no replacing the legacy of Gangstarr, Premo and Royce Da 5’9′ could very well establish a legacy that’s very similar.
Doing cuts before with each other like “Hip Hop” and “Boom”, Royce and Premier are a great match, and along with producer/composer extraordinaire Adrien Younge, delivered one of the coldest Hip Hop albums heard within this entire millennium. The only disappointment was that it was an EP. This should’ve been an endless array of fire-power lyrics and equally fire-powered production from two of the greats in their respective fields.
32. The Game - The Documentary (2005)
When G-Unit was the hottest crew in the land, they introduced a young Compton native that had already been known in the Cali underground scene, but was officially picked up by 50 and the good doctor.
When it was time for his anticipated debut album, The Documentary, we were already open off hits like “Westside Story”, “Hate It Or Love It”, and “How We Do”. The result was one of the most banging’ debuts of the new millennium. This was the type of debut that made new stars for the world to pay attention to. From beginning to end, this was a very complete album, and with production work from Dre, Hi-Tek, Kanye, Red Spyda, and others, this was a damn strongly produced album as well.
While many criticized his penchant for constant name dropping, this was still a hell of a debut and a sign of great things to come for Jayceon Taylor.
31. Little Brother - The Listening (2003)
In the early 00’s, there was a trio out of the Raleigh/Durham area that had the underground completely open. The crew of Phonte, Rapper Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder presented a throwback to the early to mid-nineties Hip Hop that was equivalent to De La Soul and Tribe in every sense.
This was fresh, feel good Hip Hop. No gimmicks, no dramatics needed. These were just cats that loved Hip Hop and wanted to recapture the magical feeling the culture once exuded. A very prodigious debut, this was checked for all over the place bye even the likes of DJ Jazzy Jeff and Quest-Love.
30. dead prez - let's get free (2000)
When the millennium arrived, there was a duo from Brooklyn by way of Florida that was making a lot of noise with cuts like “Score” and “Selling’ D.O.P.E.”.
Seen as a cross-breed of Public Enemy and N.W.A., they dropped let’s get free, and this became one of the most important debuts of our time in Hip Hop. Revolutionaries from the ghetto, M-1 and stic.man dropped jewels a plenty on this phenomenal debut that bleeds social commentary and Black empowerment. The cover alone was enough to make you be intrigued over this album. Albums like this are even more important in today’s generation.
29. Brother Ali - The Undisputed Truth (2007)
With heads still trying to get themselves together from the astonishment that was Shadows On The Sun, and its very decent EP follow-up, Champion, Ali dropped his second full-length album, The Undisputed Truth to damn near as much acclaim as Shadows.
More controversial due to its scathing rants about the government all over the album, Brother Ali was fearless and unrelenting in his disgrace of the White House and the powers that be. Aggressive yet poignant, Ali chalked up another decisive win in his already unbelievable discography.
28. Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein (2001)
Two Harlemites named Vast Aire and Vordul Mega created what became known as one of the most definitive albums in the underground throughout the decade with their exceptional debut, The Cold Vein.
With production by El-P, this had the feel of an apocalyptic NYC filled with paranoia and hardships. A championed album in every facet, we wouldn’t see another Cannibal Ox album for over ten years, and even thought the album was dope, it wasn’t The Cold Vein, not by a landslide.
This album was hard and cold, and this should’ve been the launching pad to propel these two into the galaxy beyond the underground.
27. Scarface - The Fix (2002)
The author and creator of four of the most impactful consecutive albums in the history of Hip Hop, Brad Jordan is no stranger to crafting memorable, long-lasting Hip Hop, and The Fix was no different.
His first and only album on Def Jam South, this album was his most star-studded with names like Nas, Jay-Z, Faith Evans, and Beanie Sigel dropping in, strong heavyweights like Kanye on the board for a couple tracks.
What it didn’t lack at all was the formula that made Face a legend to begin with: brutal honesty, gritty realism, and impeccable storytelling. This time, he adds all that with a strong sense of spirituality and redemption making this perhaps his most poignant release to date.
26. Jean Grae - Jeanius (2008)
Emcee phenom Jean Grae is one of the most feared voices in all of Hip Hop. Albums such Attack of the Attacking Things and This Week all displayed her witty and intricate way with words.
It was her collaboration with 9th Wonder, however, that her skills were placed over some of the most soulful and acclaimed beats of her career. The album, a tour de force of an album by the way, is a fantastic example of ability to cut right to your throat with her rhymes, while still managing not to take herself too seriously at times, especially on the Phonte-assisted “The Time Is Now”.
A definitive album for both Jean and 9th alike, this album is still a treasure for all who had the pleasure of purchasing.
25. Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030 (2000)
Every so often, a concept album comes along that completely makes you reevaluate the state of Hip Hop. An album that is so brilliantly put together and it gives you hope that there are artists that actually care to think and give you new creative albums designed to shake the stagnation up.
This is one of those albums. Longtime Hieroglyphics member Del The Funky Homosapien teamed up with gorillas producer Dan The Automator to present the first ever sci-fi Hip Hop album. The concept is built around a planet built entirely around Hip Hop that is endangered of going extinct due to technology and science. Every track on here flows wonderfully together and the result is something that doesn’t come around every day.
This was ground breaking for the underground and one of the most revered projects in all of Hip Hop throughout the millennium.
24. Little Brother - The Minstrel Show (2005)
While showing just how excellently talented the abilities of Phonte, Pooh, and 9th were, they got scooped up by Atlantic Records for their major label debut.
This album took the strong efforts of The Listening and multiplied it into one of the game’s most exiting projects of the past decade. Many feel this is their biggest and most cherished album, and conceptually, this album was a play on stereotypes of Black America, especially in pop culture.
Incredible cuts like “Hiding Place” with Etzhi, “Slow It Down”, and “Lovin’ It” showed that they were truly on their way to being our generations’ Tribe or De La had they would’ve all stuck around longer as a group.
23. Masta Ace - Disposable Arts (2001)
One of the grand vets of this game resurfaced in ’01 with what can only be described as a realistic conceptual album. He plays a guy that just got out of jail and returns home in Brooklyn to find out how crazy the streets have become and enrolls in a school called “The School of Disposable Arts”, which is totally Hip Hop based.
The conceptual storytelling of this album as a narrative is astounding, and truthfully he crafted the album of his career with this one. While known for albums like Take A look Around and Slaughtahouse up to this point, this became a whole new look for Ace, as he reinvented himself but kept his tremendous lyrical abilities regardless.
This was a defining moment in the career of Ace, and one that every album from him since has been trying to live up to.
22. Common - Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
When Common left Relativity Records for MCA Records, he knew he needed to do a reintroduction of sorts. What we didn’t anticipate what just how much of a stellar breakthrough release this would become. We were first Blessed with the Dilla-crafted “Doinit” and the exquisite Premo-powered “The 6th Sense”, then from that point on, we knew were in for something special, and we got it.
His fourth album, Like Water For Chocolate, was an extraordinary album from an extraordinary emcee. This was the most mature-sounding we had heard from Common and once “The Light” dropped, he went to the moon with his first platinum album.
A Hip Hop treasure, Like Water For Chocolate officially gave Common what he needed for a long time, commercial accessibility without sacrificing his craft.
21. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Pinata (2014)
Highly touted and revered producer Madlib, who was officially given underground producer god with his work on Madvillainy, decided to collaborate with rising Midwest rapper Freddie Gibbs, who had been known for dope projects like Str8 Killa, ESGN, and Cold Day In Hell.
They got the streets open with the insane single “Thuggin'”. The anticipation was high for their awaited album, Pinata, and when it hit, man were we buggin’ out. Seen as a gangsta version of Madvillainy, Gibbs delivered a new career benchmark and became more noticeable in the mainstream’s eye. To say the least, Madlib’s magic did it again, as gangsta rap never sounded so beautiful in this time.
20. Reflection Eternal - Train Of Thought (2000)
By the end of the first year of the millennium, we were gifted with incredible albums like the aforementioned Like Water For Chocolate and Supreme Clientele. While those albums were acclaimed to classic status, one other album should’ve made in the same conversation.
Brooklyn emcee Talib Kweli got up with friend and DJ/producer from Cincinatti, Hi-Tek to make Train Of Thought. Known for their underground work for the once highly praised Rawkus Records, and fresh off his timeless collab album with Mos Def as Black Star, these guys had weight on their backs to craft an album just as formidable and did they ever.
This album still stands as Hi-Tek’s production masterpiece and we got just another example as to why Kweli was one of the game’s most intelligent rhyme animals. This had boom-bap, ol’ school, sensitive poetry and exotic musicianship all in one, and is one of the best albums of any age in Hip Hop.
19. Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele (2000)
Let’s face it, three crews ran the entire nineties: Deathrow, Bad Boy, and the Wu. The Wu was in their peak season, having dropped Wu-Tang Forever in ’97 and releases during that time from Method Man, Raekwon, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
None, however, would reach the pinnacle of acclaim Ghost‘s sophomore album, Supreme Clientele, would reach. After delivering a hot debut in ’96 with Ironman, we had no idea just how much of a punch his sophomore album would be. Hands down, this and Rae’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… are the best Wu albums of all-time.
Ghost found his lyrical niche, as he was at his lyrically dexterous best. Just as much, the story is also about the impeccable production. Each cut is distinct and carried a Wu signature with it, but even we weren’t prepared for the most bizarre yet brilliant use of a scratched record ever done, as evidenced on “Strokes Of Death”.
This album is the definitive Ghost album, and considering the albums he has released since, that’s saying something.
18. J Dilla - Donuts (2006)
There will never be another J Dilla. This Detroit native is placed among the Mount Rushmore of Hip Hop producers and is highly regarded as the most influential Hip Hop beatsmith ever. From Common to Nas to Ghostface, if you were blessed with a Dilla beat, you were in a high standard.
Primarily known for his work with Tribe and Slum Village, he became the most fascinated producer in not just the underground but anywhere in Hip Hop. His instrumental album, Donuts, is considered the end-all-be-all of Hip Hop instrumental albums to this day. This was the album that solidified the legacy James Yancey would be known by.
A true icon. Rest in beats.
17. Blu & Exile - Below The Heavens (2007)
One of the most definitive underground albums of this or any era came from the west coast. Cali upstart Blu got up with acclaimed producer Exile to create a fabulous soundscape in this day and age.
Blu’s debut, Below The Heavens, was a highly intelligent and spiritual boom-bap journey of a young man coming of age. While their next album, Give Me My Flowers…was hit and miss, and a lot of Blu solo albums could be considered the same way, this album saw the beginnings of a future commodity in Hip Hop.
This is a gorgeous debut that needs to stop being slept on…NOW!
16. Kanye West - Late Registration (2005)
When Kanye was called to deliver a formidable follow-up to his classic debut, The College Dropout, he didn’t sweat it whatsoever. Not only did he do so, he exceeded even more expectations. He became known for crafting even more methodically organized samples and this time more lush arrangements.
While we started to see the start of superstar Kanye, with themes of materialism and stardom, this is still definitive Kanye and is considered one of his greatest artistic and critical milestones. With Grammys and other accolades a-plenty just from this album and units selling around four million, it’s no wonder this album stamped him as a star.
15. Slum Village - Fantastic Vol. 2 (2000)
If there was ever such a thing as neo-Hip Hop, this would be a perfect album to put as an example. With the demise of Tribe and the lengthy abscence between albums from De La Soul, we needed a new voice to represent a Native Tongues-type vibe, much like Little Brother.
In 2000, we were delivered SV’s Fantastic Vol. 2, a much more cohesive and fluid sequel to their prodigious yet unfocused debut Fantastic Vol. 1. We officially saw the rise of the production stardom of Dilla with this album. This was such an amazing album, artists like Pete Rock, Kanye West, and Common have considered this one of the greatest albums ever heard. This was a very needed approach to feel good, no frills Hip Hop that Tribe left behind.
While other SV albums have been hits and misses, this remains one of the millennium’s best examples of just good ol’ Hip Hop.
14. Brother Ali - Shadows On The Sun (2003)
Was there more of a critically acclaimed album within the entire underground during this time? With the exception of one that will be seen later, the answer is a profound nope. This was raw, heartfelt, honest, intelligent, and b-boy lyrical all in one album, and it’s touted as one of the greatest Hip Hop albums to exist this entire era.
Brother Ali‘s Shadows Of The Sun is an exemplary piece of art that is hard to be replicated in today’s overall talentless period of rap. Outstanding doesn’t begin to describe this album, you just have to breathe this album in and exhale the rubbish you’ve been forced to digest. Simply put, this is what Hip Hop sounds like kiddies.
13. Jay-Z - The Blueprint (2001)
Jay-Z may be the game’s most overrated emcee, but when he’s good, he’s hot. He’s had his share of fantastic albums and duds alike, but he struck paydirt in 2001 with The Blueprint. Not since Biggie’s Life After Death has there been a bigger marriage of the radio and the streets. While many of his fans swear his venomous dis cut to Nas and Prodigy “The Takeover” was the dis song of all dis songs and that he defeated Nas (he didn’t at all BTW), this album as a whole was the new standard to judge Jay by musically and lyrically, just as much as Reasonable Doubt. This was the absolute perfect Hov album.
12. Kanye West - Graduation (2007)
Completing the thrilling trilogy subjecting around a school theme, Kanye reached another plateau with Graduation. Combining the best of The College Dropout and Late Registration, Graduation saw him reaching back into his backpack and bringing good ol’ soulful Hip Hop.
With excellent cuts such as “Stronger”, “Champion”, and “Everything I Am”, Kanye knocked it out the park post-College Dropout and an album that was as meaningful to Hip Hop as anything acclaimed within the decade.
11. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels (2013)
When Killer Mike sand El-P were coming out saying they were putting out an album together, many were very excited, as El-Producto did a fantastic job producing Mike’s aforementioned R.A.P. Music.
Run The Jewels not only met our expectations, it surpassed them, a lot. This was fun, yet in-your-face at the same time. El-P’s electro-heavy production was actually very well meshed with Mike’s southern battle heavy drawl. Not to mention, El-P’s anti-establishment and slightly anarchist lyrics were very much fitted on this album, as tackle everything from religious hypocrisy to governmental control. This was a debut for your ass, and then some.
10. Kendrick Lamar - Untitled, Unmastered (2016)
You know you’re a special artist when you have an album filled with throwaways from the greatest album of this decade (spoiler alert), and they’re still better than anything current out in this game.
Nas dropped The Lost Tapes, which was filled with cuts that were bootlegged and lost album cuts from I Am, Stillmatic, and Nastradamus. This one contained elements that made To Pimp A Butterfly the masterpiece it is: funk, jazz, soul, and bossa nova bits. While there were no official titles to any of the songs, this is an album you just let ride with no critiques. There’s no need to. Even in Kendrick’s not so focused vision on this album, this still reeks of brilliance and insight.
One could only imagine what would’ve happened if these cuts were of better quality and mixed for the better. The thought provokes shivers.
9. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
When we got introduced to Marshall Mathers in ’99 with his major label debut, The Slim Shady LP, we knew there was a genius level of lyricism mixed with macabre and twisted humor.
This was all multiplied in 2000 when we got his sophomore follow-up, The Marshall Mathers LP. While this is sick, twisted, mildly homophobic, and damn sure filled with blunt honesty and occasional rage, this is also a masterwork.
We saw there was a ton of depth within Mr. Mathers and while we were occasionally uncomfortable with the ride, none of us can say the ride wasn’t worth it all. Conceptually, is there a better song than “Stan”? Let’s not even mention that this is one of the biggest-selling Hip Hop albums of all-time.
8. Outkast - Stankonia (2000)
Looking to grow in even more eclectic avenues, this album could subsequently be seen as Aquemini Pt. 2. While Aquemini mixed world music, samba, funk, blues, and soul, this brilliant piece of work infused all that plus psych, rave, and electro to make a truly unique ride through the make-believe city of Stankonia.
Selling over six million units, they were well on their way to becoming the greatest-selling Hip Hop duo ever, while deserving accolade after accolade along the way. Stankonia is one of the most ingenious recordings of our time, in any genre.
7. Run The Jewels - RTJ2 (2014)
Dear God!! We didn’t think it was possible to outdo their first offering together, but they did. This is even darker and more layered than their unstoppable debut. These guys are angrier, more in-your-face, even more bleak about the future of America and substantially more paranoid.
This album is a game-changer and is as hard-hitting as any album done in many years. Cuts like “Blockbuster Nite Pt. 1” and “Close Your Eyes and Count To Fuck” are like several blows to your abdomen and will be guaranteed to cause neck braces to be handed out while constantly being on the edge of insanity. This album is beyond special. Killer Mike and El-P officially have put themselves as the most dangerous duo in music today.
6. Nas - Stillmatic (2001)
After getting his cred nearly assassinated by Jay-Z on “Takeover” and critics thinking he fell off with Nastradamus, he took time off to reassert himself, and when he returned, he knocked the game on its ass to remind people just who he was.
It started with one of the most factual dis records of all-time “Ether” that shut down anything Jay had to come at him with. From there, the anticipation was reaching epic proportions. Not only did it not disappoint, it ended up becoming his greatest achievement since Illmatic. He went back to the hood poet that was among the most intelligent street rhymers of our time.
Creative bangers like “Rewind” and the amazing declaration of overcoming hate and troubles on “You’re The Man” brought him his championship back and became a career turner for him. While many say Jay had the better commercially accessible album, this was for the mature-minded emcee and fan. Nas was once again “the man”.
5. Kanye West - The College Dropout (2004)
Introducing Kanye West, Roc-A-Fella’s major league producer (along with Just Blaze at this time). Turns out dude can rhyme, and ain’t bad at all. He turned heads with his haunting and autobiographical “Through The Wire”, but that was far from it. When he dropped his debut album, The College Dropout”, it was clear he was gonna help lead Hip Hop in a new soulful, honest direction. This admitted backpacker (at that time) delivered some of the most relatable Hip Hop heard since the likes of Common and Talib Kweli.
His production was the stuff of prodigies in terms of sample flipping. This album explores everything from HBCUs (“School Spirit”) to poverty (“Never Let Me Down”) and religion (the breathtaking “Jesus Walks”) in such transparent realism. This is one of the genre’s most captivating debuts in any era and marked the rise of a star, with or without the Roc.
4. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012)
West coast prodigy Kendrick Lamar, after catching critical acclaim with his work on his aforementioned excellent Section.80, caught the ear of Dr. Dre who signed him to Aftermath for his major label debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. When news broke, we were fiending for the music we would hear from the good doctor.
The first street single was the DOPE “The Recipe”, but when we got wind of “Swimming Pools”, we were completely open. The track about his own personal struggles in the past with alcohol abuse made him an official star. From there, incredible tracks like the Drake-assisted “Poetic Justice” and the thumping “Backseat Freestyle” showed off his lyrical dexterity. Poignant pieces like “Sing About Me” and “Dying Of Thirst” are exemplary tracks that helped make this album one of the most impactful debuts ever made and it signaled the new turn of leadership in Hip Hop to emerge from the west.
3. MF Doom & Madlib are Madvillain - Madvillainy (2004)
The only word to describe this piece of musical brilliance is MASTERFUL.
This one album changed the entire course of the underground and made it the most acclaimed underground album of all-time. It became the standard-bearer of musical excellence and Doom and Madlib became the most auspicious duo around.
Much like classics like De La Soul Is Dead and Aquemini, this takes a while to fully unpack the genius concoction of what this entails, but once you’ve absorbed it, this is an album completely and totally ahead of its time, and truthfully is completely beyond anything that is conventional. As unorthodox as it is organic, cuts like “Figaro” and “Fancy Clown” are so trademarked Doom that even over beats from Madlib, which are among the most unique beats ever heard, this album is in a lane all by itself.
2. Common - BE (2005)
If there a was a beating heart of what Hip Hop represents for us within the culture, Common‘s BE was that beating heart. After his bizarre and critically mixed Electric Circus (recorded during a time where he said he wasn’t a fan of rap at that point and wasn’t listening to it), he got up with Kanye to deliver the album of his career hands down.
Over some of the best Kanye production ever heard, Common found his fire again and his love for the game in what can be described as the spirit of Illmatic all over this record. Stellar tracks like “The Food”, “The Corner”, and “Go” are classic Common with new passion and a b-boy’s heart. Up until last year, there wasn’t an album on this Hip Hop earth that touched this album in all of its purity and its back to basics approach to presenting quality Hip Hop. Not only does this stand as his best work ever, but also as one of Hip Hop’s all-time greatest prizes.
1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
Do I really need to go into why this is the best album of the millennium? For that matter, do I even need to state why this is one of the most important albums from this or any genre in the past twenty years? Kendrick officially became the leader of the new generation with this landmark release.
A masterwork to say the least, this is a brilliant conceptual piece that will stand the test of time throughout the years and decades of Hip Hop. Touching into not just Hip Hop but the Black experience as a whole, cuts like “How Much A Dollar Cost” and “Mama” are jarring and sobering looks at a society that he’s passionate about saving but views himself as a failure along the way.
Much like Marvin Gaye’s timeless epic What’s Going On to Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, this is the standard to which all conceptual, passionate, gripping music is based, at least within Hip Hop circles. Musically, this is the stuff of legend, with elements of blues, jazz, funk, and soul mixed with live instrumentation being the catalyst of this release. This is the official benchmark for King Kendrick. Not only did he do the damn near impossible by outdoing his phenomenal debut, but he made an album that quite possibly saved Hip Hop music for this current era.
This album is nothing short of complete and total perfection.
- Percee P – Perseverance
- Eminem – The Eminem Show
- Guilty Simpson – OJ Simpson
- Jedi Mind Tricks – Violent By Design
- Jedi Mind Tricks – Visions Of Ghandi
- J-Live – The Best Part
- J-Live – All Of The Above
- Pusha T – King Push: Darkest Before Dawn
- Roc Marciano – Marcberg
- Roc Marciano – Reloaded
- Big K.R.I.T. – Live From The Underground
- Gangrene – You Disgust Me
- Gangrene – Vodka & Ayahuasca
- Logic – Under Pressure
- Logic – The Incredible True Story
- Joey Bada$$ – B4. Da. $$
- Ka – The Night’s Gambit
- Sean Price – Mic Tyson
- Sean Price – Jesus Price Supastar
- Sean Price – Monkey Barz
- Tech N9ne – Something Else
- Demigodz – Killmatic
- Drake – If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
- Drake – Thank Me Later
- Drake – Nothing Was The Same
- Ab-Soul – Control System
- Skyzoo – The Salvation
- Skyzoo – Music For My Friends
- Damani Nkosi – Thoughtful King
- Pharoahe Monch – P.T.S.D.
- Pharoahe Monch – W.A.R.
- A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
- eMC – The Show
- Apollo Brown & Ras Kass – Blasphemy
- Danny Brown – XXX
- Cunninlynguists – Oneirology
- Nicky Minaj – The Pinkprint
- Mac Miller – Good: A.M.
- Blackalicious – Broken Arrow
- Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
- Aesop Rock – Labor Days
- R.A. The Rugged Man – Legends Never Die
- Ludacris – Word Of Mouf
- Common – The Dreamer, The Believer
- Nas – Hip Hop Is Dead
- Nas – The Lost Tapes
- Action Bronson & The Alchemist – Rare Chandeliers
- Action Bronson – Dr. Lecter
- The Alchemist – Russian Roulette
- Mobb Deep – The Infamous Mobb Deep
- INI – Center Of Attention
- dead prez – R.B.G.
- The Roots – The Tipping Point
- The Roots – Undun
- Ghostface Killah – The Pretty Tony Story
- Bun B – Trill
- The Game – The Doctor’s Advocate
- Random Axe – Random Axe
- Little Brother – Getback
- Jean Grae – This Week
- Atmosphere – God loves Ugly
- Atmosphere – You Can’t Imagine The Fun We’re Having
- El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
- Slaughterhouse – Slaughterhouse
- MF Doom – Mm…Food??
- Jay Rock – 90059
- Royce Da 5’9 – Success Is Certain
- L’Orange – The Golden Years
- L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae – The Night Took Us In Like Family
- Blu – Her Favorite Colo(u)r
- Blu & Mainframe as Johnson & Johnson – Johnson & Johnson
- Mos Def – The Ecstatic
- Reflection Eternal – R.P.M.
- Talib Kweli – Quality
- Talib Kweli – Eardrum
- Talib Kweli – Gravitas
- Buckshot & 9th Wonder – Chemistry
- Murs & 9th Wonder – Murray’s Revenge
- Murs & 9th Wonder – Fornever
- Murs & 9th Wonder – The Final Adventure
- Murs & 9th Wonder – Sweet Lord
- David Banner & 9th Wonder – Death of a Pop Star
- Masta Killa – No Said Date
- Styles P – A Gangster & A Gentleman
- Ice Cube – Laugh Now, Cry Later
- Rick Ross – Teflon Don
- RZA as Bobby Digital – Digital Bullet
- Blaq Poet – The Blaqprint
- Black Milk – Album Of The Year
- Black Milk – If There’s A Hell Below
- Binary Star – Masters Of The Universe
- Rah Digga – Dirty Harriet
- Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol 1
- Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol 2
- Jurassic 5 – Quality Control
- Fashawn – Boy Meets World
- Y Society – Travel At Your Own Pace
- Marco Polo & Torae – Double Barrel
- Diamond District – In The Ruff
As you can see the millennium was FILLED with tons of outstanding music, in spite of what’s being forced upon you today. Hip Hop isn’t dead, it’s fully living, you just may need to change your method or approach to finding it. Chances are I’ll get inundated with lots of omissions or people disagreeing with my placement of the selections, and that’s okay. This is strictly subjective. In any event, hope you enjoyed checking out this list. Until next time, hold it down!