HipHopGoldenAge was founded to celebrate classic Hip Hop and the pioneers of the music and culture we all love, and also to provide a counter-weight to the emptyheaded bubblegum rap that took over the mainstream from the mid-nineties on. Our focus is not just on the eighties and early nineties though – we are also here to show that quality Hip Hop has always existed. If you only follow the mainstream you would not know it, but quality Hip Hop has always been there. While we will always consider 1987 – 1996 the best ten-year period in Hip Hop ever, the 2000s have been great too. Hip Hop is the dominant cultural and musical force in the world now, and its dominance is reflected in its diversity. Listed here you will find what WE consider the top 150 Hip Hop albums of the 2000s decade, based on criteria such as cohesiveness, creativity, replay value, potential longevity, enjoyability, and overall quality, and to a lesser extent on criteria such as impact, influence, and popularity.
Not included are instrumental albums, compilations, mixtapes, and EPs. This is our album list, and albums are LPs – Long Playing records – EPs by definition are a different category. As this list will reflect, our MVPs of the decade include J-Live, Nas, MF DOOM, The Roots, Brother Ali, Common, Little Brother, Kanye West, Eminem, Jay-Z, and Immortal Technique. Some of the albums listed here have received general critical acclaim and have enjoyed commercial success, some were completely ignored and slept on by the media, critics, and the general Hip Hop audience alike.
So – let’s get into the top 150 Hip Hop albums of the 2000s list – can you find YOUR favorite 2000s albums here? Which albums are missing, which ones are ranked too low or too high? Weigh in with your opinion, here or on Social Media!
1. Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004)
This album is ART, pure and simple. Madvilliany redefined the underground and is a perfect example of what can happen if two left-field geniuses combine powers. MF DOOM and Madlib have both produced many pieces of brilliant music, but this epic album is the crowning achievement of both their careers. The album of the decade and a top 10 Hip Hop album of all-time.
2. Common – Be (2005)
Common’s second, third and fourth album – Ressurection (1994), One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997) and Like Water For Chocolate (2000) were all classics in their own right, but many thought Common was over and done with after he released the bizarrely experimental Electric Circus in 2002. Disenchantment with Hip Hop at that time lead Common to drop that strange album, many doubted if Common would ever be able to come back from that. However, what happened was Common got up with Kanye West and J-Dilla to deliver the album of his career.
On Be Common found his fire and his love for the game again. Stellar tracks like “Testify”, “The Food”, “The Corner”, and “Go” are classic Common – in fact, the whole album is tight and consistent as can be. Common would go on to drop a whole bunch of other excellent albums but Be will forever be his magnum opus.
3. J-Live - The Best Part (2001)
This is one of the most slept-on Hip Hop albums ever, and it easily is one of the best of the 2000’s decade. The Best Part was recorded between 1996 to 1999, featuring production by Prince Paul, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock. Due to label problems, it was not before 2001 when the album was finally released. There’s no doubt it was worth the wait, though.
J-Live is an incredible emcee, with a great flow and delivery and lyrics worth listening to. “Yes,” “Don’t Play”, “True School Anthem”, “Got What It Takes” and the classic cuts “Braggin Writes” and “Can I Get It” are just six of the awesome songs you have to check out on this album. Critically acclaimed by those in the know, but sadly ignored by the larger audiences, The Best Part simply is a must-have for any self-respecting Hip Hop head.
4. Jay-Z - The Blueprint (2001)
In his long career, Hip Hop’s biggest businessman Jay-Z dropped a bunch of fantastic albums (along with a couple of duds as well), but he released the album of his career in 2001 with The Blueprint. Jay-Z’s most complete album since his debut Reasonable Doubt and one he would not be able to top with later releases. The Blueprint should be rightfully regarded as one of Hip Hop’s greatest albums and it certainly is one of the best of this decade.
5. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Eminem in his prime, lyrically unbeatable. Released after his breakthrough The Slim Shady LP (1999) and before the equally excellent The Eminem Show (2002), The Marshall Mathers LP still stands as Eminem’s magnum opus – the middle of an impressive three-album run and one of the best as well as best-selling Hip Hop albums ever.
6. The Roots – Game Theory (2006)
The Roots is one of the most consistent acts in the game. Practically their whole catalog is excellent – but for us, Game Theory is one of their stand-out albums – right up there with the very best Roots albums Illadelph Halflife (1996) and Things Fall Apart (1999). Cuts like “False Media”, “Clock With No Hands” and the elegant Dilla tribute “Can’t Stop This” help make this album a definite Roots classic, but there are no skippable tracks on Game Theory.
7. Little Brother – The Minstrel Show (2005)
After their incredible debut The Listening, 9th Wonder, Phonte, and Big Pooh dropped another gem on us with The Minstrel Show. Another one of those albums that received widespread critical acclaim, but no radio play – as it was not about guns, money, and bitches but rather about intelligence and upliftment. Clever rhymes, dope beats, and HEART, this is Hip Hop as it is supposed to be.
8. Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein (2001)
Cannibal Ox really delivered something special with The Cold Vein. With invaluable work on the boards of El-P during the heyday of the unsung DefJux label, this album is nothing less than a masterpiece. The lyrical prowess displayed by Cannibal Ox’s two emcees Vast Aire and Vordul Mega is outstanding, they succeed in painting a grim picture of modern NYC life with imagery that’s highly creative. El-P’s innovative and layered production is what sets the atmosphere for the album though – this one of those albums where the beats perfectly complement the lyrics and vice versa, creating a musical tableau that is atmospheric and hypnotic at the same time – complex but ultimately eminently rewarding. The Cold Vein was years ahead of its time and is only getting better as time goes by.
9. Brother Ali – Shadows On The Sun (2003)
Brother Ali is one of the heavy-hitters of the fantastic Rhymesayers label. All of his albums are great, but Shadows Of The Sun arguably is his very best. Over some of the most engaging Ant production ever heard, Ali paints honest, poignant, and compelling pictures all over the album.
While every track is exceptional in its own right, perhaps it’s the painfully open “Forest Whitiker” – where Ali bravely points out all his physical imperfections while embracing them at the same time – showing the importance of self-love in one of the most empowering cuts ever. With Shadows Of The Sun Brother Ali delivered a landmark album – one of the best Hip Hop albums of this entire decade.
10. J-Live – All Of The Above (2002)
A year after his official debut, the brilliant The Best Part, slept on emcee J-Live drops another near-perfect gem with All Of The Above.
All Of The Above is the best Hip Hop album released in 2002, even edging out albums like Eminem’s The Eminem Show, Nas’ The Lost Tapes, and The Roots’ Phrenology. This album is pure Hip Hop. J-Live is way above most of his peers, another emcee who truly deserves the overused label ‘underrated’. Intelligent and confident, the whole album shines, there’s no need to skip any tracks and it has endless replay value – the mark of a true classic.
“Satisfied?”, “MCee”, “Traveling Music”, “A Charmed Life”, “Like This Anna”, “One For The Griot”, “The Lyricist” – just a few of the highlights of this long but totally satisfying album.
11. Q-Tip – The Renaissance (2008)
There was a lot riding on this album, released 9 years after Q-Tip’s last (solo)album Amplified – which wasn’t all that well-received. While not a bad album at all, Amplified was considered too ‘lightweight’ and insubstantial for someone with Q-Tip’s stature.
The Rennaissance obliterated all doubters and Q-Tip critics. The album is consistent as hell, 13 tracks with no filler material. “Gettin Up”, “We Fight/We Love”, “Official” and “Believe” are highlights, but there really are no weak tracks here. With The Rennaissance, Q-Tip succeeds perfectly in blending the ATCQ vibe we all love with his own distinct style.
12. Little Brother – The Listening (2003)
One of the most celebrated indie Hip Hop releases of the early 2000’s, The Listening by North Carolina crew Little Brother is an album that needs to be in your record collection. The Listening is near-flawless, perfectly encapturing the spirit and vibes of classic early & mid 90’s Hip Hop, similar to the soulful sounds of De La Soul, ATCQ, The Fugees and The Roots, but unique enough to stand on its own.
“For You”, “Whatever You Say”, “The Way You Do It”, “Away From Me”, “The Listening” – all tracks featuring clever rhymes by Phonte and Big Pooh and exceptional production by 9th Wonder. Even though The Listening was much-lauded it went relatively unnoticed. If YOU missed out it on for some reason, it’s never too late to pick it up.
13. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (2009)
The Ecstatic is Mos Def’s fourth solo-album, after his magnum opus Black On Both Sides (1999), the misunderstood The New Danger (2004)) and the disappointing True Magic (2006). While Black On Both Sides will forever be seen as Mos Def’s best and most defining work, The Ecstatic is just about as excellent – without a doubt the best album released in 2009. Sonically creative and diverse and lyrically astute – this album is standing the test of time and will always have a place among the best 100 Hip Hop albums of all-time.
14. Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030 (2000)
Simply brilliant. One of the best concept albums ever created, this collaboration between producer Dan the Automator (as The Cantankerous Captain Aptos), rapper Del the Funky Homosapien (as Deltron Zero/Deltron Osiris), and DJ Kid Koala (as Skiznod the Boy Wonder) is as timeless a piece of music as it gets. A challenging listen maybe, but ultimately extremely rewarding – a milestone not just for Hip Hop, but for music in general.
15. Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele (2000)
No sophomore slump for Ghostface Killah. Where most of his Wu-Tang colleagues struggled (and failed…) to follow-up their classic solo debuts with worthy follow-ups, Ghostface even surpassed his already awesome debut Ironman with Supreme Clientele. If not for the little lag – with a few skits too many – in the middle of the album, Supreme Clientele would have been an absolute Hip Hop classic. As it is, it’s still a monumental album, and for us, Ghostface’s very best.
16. Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain (2003)
MF DOOM is a genius. 2003 saw two releases from the man, under two new aliases. Where the King Geedorah album had its focus on the beats – which at times overpowered the lyrics by mostly guest emcees – Vaudeville Villain focuses more on DOOM’s lyrics. For production duties, DOOM enlisted Sound-Ink record label members Heat Sensor, King Honey, and Max Bill, with the exception of “Saliva”, which was produced by RJD2.
Nothing wrong with the musical backdrops by the way – a lot of dirty, dusty drums and snares, just as can be expected on an MF DOOM record – but the lyrics steal the show here. The album is filled with crazy creative imagery, humor, and dope punchlines, DOOM once again proves lyrically he is in a lane of his own. The opening track “Vaudeville Villain” starts off the album brilliantly, and the quality doesn’t let up all the way through. More accessible than King Geedorah’s Take Me To Your Leader, Vaudeville Villain is one of 2003’s best albums.
17. Grip Grand – Brokelore (2008)
Six years after a distinctly mediocre debut, Bay Area producer/emcee Grip Grand returns with this truly excellent sophomore album. Brokelore is the most surprising album of the year. Excellent rhyming – lyrics and flow – and smooth, infectious beats from beginning to end. The album has a couple of great, well-placed guest appearances too, especially NYC legends Percee P and A.G. steal the show with their features. This is a near-perfect album, expertly blending traditional West Coast and East Coast Hip Hop sounds and adding a unique contemporary vibe. The mark of a classic? Endless replay value and no skips – Brokelore is such an album.
18. Canibus – Rip The Jacker (2003)
Nobody ever disputed Canibus’ superior lyrical skills. The fact he made a bunch of not-so-good albums had more to do with subpar production than his work on the mic. On Rip The Jacker, his fifth studio album, everything finally comes together for Canibus – resulting in what arguably is his best album.
Production is done completely by Jedi Mind Tricks’ production genius Stoupe The Enemy Of Mankind, ensuring a totally cohesive sound throughout the whole album. The intricate soundscapes laid down by Stoupe mesh well with Canibus’ complex and sharp rhymes. “Indibisible”, “Showtime At The Gallow”, “Genabis”, “Levitibus”, “No Return” and the 8-minute epic “Poet Laurette II” (in which Canibus spits 200 bars over 3 different beats) are standouts, but all eleven tracks on this album are fire. Forget 50 Cent, this is one of the best albums of 2003.
19. Kanye West – Late Registration (2005)
Kanye West’s second album, and arguably his best – even with The College Drop Out (2004) and MBDTF (2010) in that discussion. One of the biggest albums of the decade.
20. Jedi Mind Tricks – Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell (2006)
Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell is the fifth studio album by legendary Philly crew Jedi Mind Tricks and arguably their best, in a series of mostly excellent albums. It is also their best-performing album commercially but still went criminally unnoticed (especially when compared to 2006 highest selling and wack rap albums from the likes of Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and others like them).
Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell is worth the price of admission alone for the masterpiece that is “Uncommon Valor”, with an epic verse by guest emcee R.A. The Rugged Man. But the rest of the album bangs too. Stoupe’s unique and cinematic soundscapes and Vinnie Paz’s vicious lyrics get equal shine, every track works. With some dope additional rhyming from guest like regular JMT collaborator Chief Kamachi, Sean Price and especially the aforementioned R.A. The Rugged Man, this album truly is a worthy addition to anyone’s music collection.
21. Jay Z – The Black Album (2003)
Jay-Z’s third best album, after The Blueprint (2000) and Reasonable Doubt (1996). The Black Album was supposed to be Jay-Z’s last album, but we all know how that turned out. It would be his last truly great album though – even if some of the albums that would follow this one are really good, The Black Album is Jay-Z’s last true classic.
22. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor (2006)
The debut from Chicago’s Lupe Fiasco is one of the best of the decade. In an age of simplistic rhymes and lack of meaningful concepts, Lupe Fiasco brought intelligence and consciousness back to mainstream Hip Hop. He would drop more excellent projects later on (and some misses as well), but Food & Liquor still remains his best album.
23. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 2 (2003)
Revolutionary Vol. 2 is a follow-up to Immortal Technique’s debut album, Revolutionary Vol. 1, which is just as excellent and important. Revolutionary Vol. 2 attacks the United States government, especially the Bush Administration. Issues repeatedly discussed on the album include poverty, drug trade, slave labor, censorship, corporate control over the media (including Hip Hop), 9/11, racism, the prison industrial complex, and class struggle. This is Hip Hop for thinking people – you don’t even have to agree with everything Immortal Technique says, but you have to LISTEN to him, so you can think for yourself and make up your own mind.
24. J Dilla – Donuts (2006)
Released just three days before his untimely death on Feb. 10, 2006, Donuts turned out to be J Dilla’s magnum opus. Donuts is a fitting reflection of Dilla’s creativity and musicality, and an apt tribute to his career.
Together with DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing (1996), Donuts has become THE landmark album when it comes to instrumental Hip Hop. It serves as the perfect example and as a great inspiration for countless aspiring beatmakers and DJs, showing where talent and dedication can lead to Donuts is the defining masterpiece from an amazingly talented musician who died much too young.
25. Common - Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
In an overall excellent discography, Like Water For Chocolate certainly is up there as one of Common’s best, together with Resurrection, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, Black America Again, and the monumental Be – Common’s very best.
Like Water For Chocolate is just about as good as Be is though, and it is one of those rare albums that musically transcends the genre of Hip Hop but at the same time is pure Hip Hop to the core. With jazzy and soulful production work from the likes of Questlove, J Dilla, and DJ Premier, and with Common in top form on the mic – this truly is a masterpiece that is aging like a fine wine.
26. Brother Ali – The Undisputed Truth (2007)
Over the years Brother Ali has put together a consistently dope catalog. Where Shadows On The Sun (2003) is our absolute Brother Ali favorite and the crown jewel in Ali’s body of work, The Undisputed Truth is not far behind.
27. CunninLynguists – A Piece Of Strange (2006)
The third album from the underrated CunninLynguists is a masterpiece from start to finish. Much darker and denser than their more light-hearted and fun first two albums, A Piece Of Strange takes us on a journey following the story of a man and those closest to him in their struggles with right and wrong, love and hate, while at the same time exploring the religion and racism that were (and are) so prevalent in the south. The 16 songs contain loose connections with certain defined Biblical numerics and their interpretations. In Kno’s own words:
“This album is not meant to be overtly Christian in theme or presentation, but more so delivering an amoral slant to a storyline communicated through Hip Hop. Deacon’s life growing up as the son of a preacher definitely led us to some of the insights and story molding that went on when we were making and recording the album, but as most moderate Christians will tell you…you have to relate the material as generally as possible without preaching and talking down to people. APOS wasn’t meant to teach faith-infused lessons necessarily, but simply to deliver a story.”
A Piece Of Strange offers excellent production and clever lyrics – the whole album is as good as it gets. Standouts tracks aplenty, but cuts like Brain Celland Nothing To Give especially shine. Don’t sleep folks, this truly is a landmark album.
28. Blu & Exile – Below The Heavens (2007)
Record sales don’t make an album a classic. A classic album is timeless, one that will still sound good decades from the date of its release. A classic album can be played again and again, without having to skip tracks.
Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens is such an album. Consistent quality throughout – Exile’s soulful production is perfectly complemented by Blu’s introspective and intelligent lyrics. The album was well received by real Hip Hop heads and critically acclaimed, but it never got the sales or mainstream attention it deserved. This is real Hip Hop and a true underground classic.
29. Mr. Lif – I Phantom (2002)
The cover of the album adequately sums up the lyrical content – I Phantom deals with media, government, food, religion, law, sex, violence, drugs, and money – and how these things control and run people’s lives and how they are used to wipe out a person’s individuality. I Phantom is filled with excellent tracks – if you somehow missed out on this album and you want to have a taste of the album, check out the 8-minute epic “Return Of The B-Boy” (in which Mr. Lif is resurrected as a Hip Hop messiah), and you’ll know what you’re in for.
The thematic and narrative scope of I Phantom is incredible, and even it is heavy stuff at times, this is a brilliant album. Lyrically astute and the production to back up the poignancy of the narrative – this is an important album and one that has to be remembered. In a year where an album like Nellyville sold over 6 million units, this Mr. Lif masterpiece went largely unnoticed. Fluf over substance – that’s the world we live in and that’s one of the points this album so cleverly makes.
30. Masta Ace – Disposable Arts (2001)
Masta Ace is one of those few artists who are able to keep reinventing themselves while turning out consistent quality. This album is no exception. Ever since his 1990 debut album Take A Look Around, Masta Ace has been one of Hip Hop’s greatest talents, who was always able to capture the true essence of Hip Hop in all his work.
Disposable Arts is a clever concept album that offers excellent production and dope wordplay; from Masta Ace himself and guests like Rah Digga, Jean Grae, Greg Nice, Punchline, Wordsworth and more. This album arguably is Masta Ace’s magnum opus, although the sequel/prequel A Long Hot Summer is almost as formidable.
31. El-P – Fantastic Damage (2002)
The first solo album by Definitive Jux head-honcho El-P builds on the lyrically and sonically dense sound he pioneered with Company Flow, with Fun Crusher Plus (released via Rawkus Records in 1997) as the benchmark album that was instrumental in keeping real Hip Hop alive. On Fantastic Damage, he produces avant-garde digital beats and drops ill lyrics designed to make you listen carefully and to make you think. With his drive to experiment and innovate, El-P’s (and Def Jux’s) influence on keeping Hip Hop fresh and exciting cannot be overstated.
32. Nas – The Lost Tapes (2002)
More so a collection of songs than an official album, this flawless project from Nas is too great to NOT include on this list. It stands as one of the greatest projects in the Nas catalog and with songs like “No Idea’s Original”, “Purple”, and “Blaze A 50”, Nas really does what he does best here to the highest power.
33. Diamond District – In The Ruff (2009)
Diamond District is the truth. This is real, raw & pure Hip Hop done right. In The Ruff is that perfect example of an album with a Golden Age sound but with one leg firmly in the present as well. Oddisee is a talented producer and emcee, and together with emcees X.O. and YU he delivers an excellent record, filled with hard AND smooth boom bap beats and dope flows.
A breath of fresh air in 2009; and an album that should have a place in any Hip Hop fan’s collection – easily one of the best Hip Hop albums released in that year. Don’t sleep and go get Diamond District’s In The Ruff if you didn’t before.
34. Eminem – The Eminem Show (2002)
Three-in-a-row for Eminem. The Eminem Show – his fourth album – is another classic, just like its predecessors The Slim Shady LP (1999) and The Marschall Matters LP (2000). Not completely flawless, but near enough – The Eminem Show was Eminem’s last truly great album, released when he was at the peak of his power and fame.
35. Scarface – The Fix (2002)
For many, this is Scarface’s best album and it’s easy to see why. Production is excellent – with some of the soundscapes provided by a young Kanye West in top form – and lyrically Scarface is at his best, deftly balancing his trademark street tales with conscious commentaries. “Guess Who’s Back” ft Jay-Z & Beanie Sigel, “In Between Us” ft Nas, “In Cold Blood”. “Safe”, “Keep Me Down” and of course the monumental “On My Block” are all unforgettable Scarface tracks.
36. Nas - Stillmatic (2001)
Nas’ comeback album and a career highlight for Nasir Jones. From the blistering Jay-Z dis “Ether” to the dope L.E.S.- produced “Every Ghetto”, with classic cuts like “One Mic”, “Rewind”, “You’re Da Man”, “2nd Childhood” and “Got Ur Self A Gun” in between – this album is almost as tight and cohesive as Nas’ magnum opus Illmatic. Not counting The Lost Tapes (2002), Stillmatic is Nas’ best album of the decade.
37. OutKast - Stankonia (2000)
OutKast‘s fourth album is yet another excellent effort from the Southern giants. Stankonia is a musical masterpiece, as was Aquemini, as was ATLiens, and as was their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and it cemented OutKast’s status as one of Hip Hop biggest and best-selling acts ever.
38. Reflection Eternal - Train Of Thought (2000)
Sometimes seen as part three in an unofficial trilogy, with part 1 and 2 being Black Star’s Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star and Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides, Talib Kweli’s and Hi-Tek’s Train Of Thought album is every bit as brilliant as the other two. Hi-Tek comes with excellent production throughout and Talib Kweli once again proves he is a gifted emcee who can write meaningful lyrics and has the emcee skills to deliver them. No skippable tracks on this album – quality all the way. Intelligent, conscious, positive – Train Of Thought is an all-time Hip Hop classic.
39. Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass (2007)
Aesop Rock’s best album? We think so. The album features production by Blockhead, El-P, Rob Sonic, and Aesop Rock himself – so there need be no doubt about the quality of the soundscapes. A frontrunner in the ‘alternative’ Hip Hop wave instrumental in saving Hip Hop around the turn of the millennium, Aesop Rock may be best known to most because of his left-field kind of production. People often overlook his lyrical abilities, though. Aesop Rock is underrated as an emcee – each track on this album is a carefully created gem of lyrical genius. None Shall Pass is the epitome of Aesop Rock’s creativity and progressiveness – and a true Hip Hop gem.
40. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 1 (2001)
The first installment of the series bangs out with harder subjects, and angst that’s even more pronounced than on his second volume. Compared to Public Enemy classics like Fear Of A Black Planet and It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, on this incredible debut Immortal Technique spares no expense sounding off on anybody and anything deserving of his wrath. This is an album that is among the most important of the decade.
41. Jurassic 5 - Quality Control (2000)
Perfectly capturing that throwback Hip Hop vibe, this Californian crew are all about flawless emceeing over dope instrumentals. Chali 2na, Mark 7even, Zaakir, and Akil can flow and harmonize with the best of them. while DJ Nu-Mark and the legendary DJ CutChemist add value with the beats and cuts they provide. Much needed upbeat Hip Hop in times when materialism and violence of gangsta wannabes dominated the mainstream.
42. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale (2006)
Ghostface Killah is the most prolific and consistent artist out of the Wu-Tang camp. Starting with his dope solo-debut Ironman in 1996, over the decades he has put together an amazingly high-quality catalog, stocked with gems and containing very few duds (in contrast to most of his Wu-Tang colleagues). Fishscale is one of Ghostface’s best four albums, competing with Ironman and Twelve Reasons To Die (2013) for the second place spot, after his magnum opus Supreme Clientele (2000).
43. Percee P – Perseverance (2007)
Percee P is a criminally underrated emcee. One of the best lyricists in the game, ever. Active in the Hip Hop game since the 1980s – and always stealing the show as a guest emcee on other peoples albums – Perseverance, his official solo debut album came out as late as 2007. If he could have gotten himself released in the early 90s, no doubt he would be widely recognized now as one of the all-time greats. As it is, this album may have come too late – in a time when Hip Hop was being watered down and dumbed down for near on a decade already and quality Hip Hop like this was not promoted anymore by the big money people.
This is a real Hip Hop album, that should have a place in any real heads collection. Superior lyrical skill, astute lyrics and produced by one of the best producers in the game: Madlib. It has Madlib’s signature sound; a bit modern & experimental at times, but still with enough of an ‘old-school’ feel to them to match Percee P’s lyrics.
The album has a couple of guest spots – Guilty Simpson, Vinnie Paz, Diamond D, Prince Po, Aesop Rock – all quality emcees, but Percee P outshines them all effortlessly.
44. Aesop Rock – Labor Days (2001)
Labor Days is Aesop Rock’s third studio album and one of his best. As always with Aesop Rock, the soundscapes are innovative and exciting, and you need to really close to his next-level wordplay to get his meaning – this is another one of those artists who make music for thinking people.
“Daylight,” with its epic bass-line, clever lyrics, is a stand-out, as is “Save Yourself,” which addresses Hip Hop traditionalists who’d rather talk about their skills and diss the bubblegum rappers than say anything meaningful. But there’s much more to enjoy on Labor Days, one of Def Jux’s flagship albums.
45. Jurassic 5 – Power In Numbers (2002)
Hip Hop in its purest form. The beats and scratches by Cut Chemist & Nu-Mark are dope and the lyrics by Akil, Chali 2na, Marc 7, and Zaakir are on point. As always, Jurassic 5 brings Hip Hop with a great nostalgic throw-back vibe to it: fresh, fun and positive – much needed in the early millennium when emptyheaded gangsta-pop materialism had taken over the mainstream. “Freedom”, “If You Only Knew”, “Break” , “A Day At The Races” (featuring Percee P & Big Daddy Kane) and the single “What’s Golden” are easy favorites, but the whole album vibes.
46. Pharoahe Monch – Desire (2007)
Desire is the second solo album from Pharoahe Monch, released eight years (!) after his critically acclaimed solo debut, Internal Affairs. Where some artists seem to favor quantity over quality when it comes to their output (we’re looking at you Kool Keith), in case of Pharoahe Monch it clearly is the other way around. Eight years is a long wait for a follow-up, but Desire was worth the wait. The album offers hard-hitting boom bap beats with Pharoahe Monch exercising his insane flow with extreme precision and style. Lyrically complex, but thoroughly enjoyable, Desire is one of those albums that is not be missed by those who are into Hip Hop for grown-ups.
47. dead prez - Lets Get Free (2000)
In an era where conscious Hip Hop had long lost the spotlight to dumb materialism and violence, dead prez was one of the crews who kept the tradition started by Public Enemy and KRS-One alive: bringing intelligent, socially and politically charged messages over some kick-ass beats. Whether you agree with all of dead prez’s points of view or not, you can’t deny the power of their messages. Amidst all the bling-bling, materialistic, candy-coated ‘I wanna be a gangsta’ pop rap especially pumped out by No Limit and Cash Money Records at that time, this Hip Hop album for the thinking man was an undeniable breath of fresh air.
48. Lupe Fiasco – The Cool (2007)
Lupe Fiasco’s debut, Food & Liquor (2006), 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 Food & Liquor (the official sequel, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album (2012), didn’t quite meet those expectations). Powerful cuts like “The Coolest”, “Gold Watch” and “Hip Hop Saved My Life” are exhibits of how intelligent and well-read Lupe Fiasco is. Easily comparable to his classic debut in terms of quality, this album was one of 2007’s best releases.
49. Prolyphic & Reanimator – The Ugly Truth (2008)
Prolyphic & Reanimator’s The Ugly Truth is an excellent and sadly slept-on gem. The album was released on Sage Francis’s Strange Famous Records, and features guest appearances from Sage Francis himself, along with regular collaborators Macromantics, B. Dolan, and Alias. Reanimator’s inventive instrumentals are a delight from start to finish – the dark and dirty boom-bap beats infused with live instrumentation serve as a perfect backdrop for Prolyphic’s clever bars.
50. Non Prophets – Hope (2003)
Sandwiched between two excellent solo-albums – Personal Journals (2002) and Healthy Distrust (2005) – Providence, Rhode Island emcee Sage Francis dropped Hope, under the name Non-Prophets, a collaboration between himself and producer Joe Beats. Joe Beats handles all production duties on Hope, ensuring a musically cohesive and consistently dope sound throughout. Sage Francis’ lyrics are somewhat ‘lighter’ on Hope than on most of his solo-albums, less deep and less personal, but as intelligent and thought-provoking as always anyway.
51. Elzhi – The Preface (2008)
Elzhi is one of the most underrated emcees in the game. The Detroit lyrical giant dropped an instant classic with The Preface. Bangin beats – mostly provided by equally underrated Detroit producer Black Milk – and excellent wordplay by Elzhi himself and guests like Guilty Simpson, Royce da 5’9″ and Black Milk, make this one of 2008’s best albums. “Guessing Game”, “Motown 25”, “Colors”, “Transitional Joint”, “What I Write”, “Talking In My Sleep” – just a few standout tracks on an album with not a bad song on it. “Show these motherf***ers what a classic is…” In the intro of the album Elzhi sets himself up for a tall order, but boy does he deliver.
52. Masta Ace – A Long Hot Summer (2004)
Following the monumental Disposable Arts, A Long Hot Summer is another concept album by Masta Ace, and just as brilliant as its predecessor. A Long Hot Summer serves as sort of a prequel to Disposable Arts. The story follows Ace, an underground rapper through his “Long Hot Summer” in Brooklyn, accompanied by buddy Fats Belvedere. Ace ventures through the Brooklyn streets and goes out on tour with Fats as his unofficial manager.
With guest appearances by Jean Grae, The Beatnuts, Big Noyd, Edo G., Punch & Words, Apocalypse, Leschea and Rahzel, A Long Hot Summer confidently manages to navigate its riveting storyline, resulting in another masterpiece for the unsung Masta Ace. Universally praised, but underappreciated anyhow on account of poor sales figures. Make no mistake though, this is one of 2004’s best albums.
53. The Roots – Rising Down (2008)
Much like its predecessor Game Theory, Rising Down gives us a slightly darker sound than we were used to on earlier Roots albums. Stripped down sonically, with intelligent socio-conscious lyrics throughout – Rising Down is a great album and among the most under-appreciated within The Roots’ discography.
54. De La Soul – The Grind Date (2004)
Everybody will recognize the fact that De La Soul dropped more than one classic album, but strangely enough De La’s 2004 release The Grind Date (their 7th album) is rarely mentioned when discussing their best records. It should be, though.
The Grind Date is tighter and leaner than other De La releases (no skits, which is something a lot of people can appreciate) and it boasts production of Madlib, J Dilla, 9th Wonder, with guest spots of MF DOOM (with an epic verse on “Rock Co.Kane Flow”), Common, Ghostface Killah, and others. If you somehow missed The Grind Date – now’s the time to check it out.
55. Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)
Whatever you think about later-Kanye, his seminal debut album is a true classic. Having already earned stripes producing for others (most notably on Jay-Z’s magnum opus The Blueprint), he exploded on the scene in 2004 with his first album.
The College Dropout is unique and musically diverse, and very listenable – even if Kanye isn’t the best emcee ever and even if the album has too many skits and a few filler songs: always a risk on a 75-minute album. Songs like “Spaceship”, “All Falls Down”, “Jesus Walks”, “Two Words”, “Last Call”, and “Never Let Me Down” all are classics though, and there are plenty more to enjoy besides.
56. Doomtree – Doomtree (2008)
Doomtree’s first album as a group, and what an album! When the beat from the first track (after the intro) “Drumsticks” kicks in you know what you’re in for. The album received mixed reviews upon its release in 2008, but those who underrated it either clearly didn’t really listen to it or were otherwise not in a right state of mind. Top-notch beats, top-notch rhymes, and top-notch production – this is the first official release on which the individual Doomtree talent combine their skills to create something that is bigger than the sum of its individual parts. Make no mistake: this is one of 2008’s best albums and if you have never listened to it before you are in for a treat.
57. 50 Cent – Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ (2003)
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ is one of the most important albums (if not THE most important album) of the decade – in terms of sales, impact, and popularity. For these reasons alone this album is a super classic, but at 19 tracks just a little bit too long and lacking in variety to be ranked (even) higher here: 50 Cent’s gangsta-pop subject matter can get tiring, and of course he has never been a very good rapper. That being said, he certainly was on the top of his game here – and having Dr. Dre and Eminem in his corner surely didn’t hurt. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ contains a bunch of classic cuts and featured near-flawless production throughout, and will forever be seen as one of Hip Hop’s biggest albums.
58. P.O.S – Never Better (2009)
Doomtree’s P.O.S best album? It may be hard to pick one and label it ‘best’, but Never Better certainly is our P.O.S favorite. Every single track on this album is great. Like most other Doomtree projects Never Better may require multiple listens to fully appreciate its brilliance – this is not easily digestible and forgettable bubblegum pop-rap after all.
What Never Better is, is a creative blend of Hip Hop and other musical styles like punk-rock – with P.O.S dropping his challenging semi-abstract, metaphor-heavy but at the same time relatable and accessible lyrics over unique instrumentals.
Take an hour, sit yourself down, play the album from the start to finish and read along to let the lyrics sink in. Or just listen to the emotional “Been Afraid”, or other stand-out cuts like “Goodbye”, “Optimist”, “Purexed” and “Low Light Low Life” (with Dessa and Sims) to get a taste and you will go in for more P.O.S without a doubt.
59. Immortal Technique – 3rd World (2008)
Immortal Technique’s third album continues in the vein of its two predecessors – 3rd World is another intense and intelligent album, filled with nuggets of knowledge and unfiltered opinions on the state of the world we live in. Reminiscent of the ferocity and insightfulness we know from early Public Enemy and Ice Cube, Immortal Technique once again pulls no punches – he is without a doubt one of the best, if not THE best political rappers in the game.
60. Atmosphere – You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005)
Ever since Rhymesayers Entertainment was founded in 1995 as an independent record label they have been consistently dropping high-quality Hip Hop from a wide roster of talent. Obviously, Rhymesayers co-founders Sean Daley (Slug) and Anthony Davis (Ant) are one of the label’s flagship acts, releasing music as Atmosphere since 1999. You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having, is their fifth album, a release as beautifully crafted and put together as any other album in that entire decade – Ant has rarely been better behind the boards, and Slug is just fantastic on the mic.
Dope beats and intelligent rhymes all the way through, stand-out tracks like “Say Hey There”, the fascinating “Pour Me Another” and the touching standout “Little Man” help to make this album their absolute magnum opus and one of 2005’s best releases.
61. People Under The Stairs – Stepfather (2006)
People Under The Stairs have put together a truly excellent catalog over the years, starting in 1998 with The Next Step and ending in 2019 with their final album Sincerely, the P. Stepfather is the fifth album by the Los Angeles duo – and one their best. Stepfather is a long but totally cohesive album filled with dope beats and rhymes – a testament to the fact that culturally positive Hip Hop will prove to have longevity, much more than the dumbed-down crap that was (and is) dominating the mainstream. An album like Stepfather will still be listened to decades from now, whereas the bubble-gum rap that may peak for a moment will soon be forgotten.
62. Zion I – True & Livin’ (2005)
True & Livin is the third album from Oakland’s duo Zion I, the first album on their own label LiveUp Records. Zion and Amp Live expand their creative and experimental sounds on the album, featuring a wide range of musical styles, laced with intelligent, socially conscious lyrics. Amp Live’s head nodding beats are laced with jazzy and elegant musical backdrops, and Zion’s thoughtful and expressive lyrics complement the soundscapes beautifully. Guests like Talib Kweli, Aesop Rock, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Gift of Gab only add to the quality of the album.
The singles “Soo Tall”, the Talib Kweli featuring “Temperature” and especially the excellent “Bird’s Eye View” are immediate standouts, and cuts like the abstract “Poems 4 Post Modern Decay” (with Aesop Rock), “The Bay”, “Stranger In My Home” (with Gift Of Gab) and the jazzy “Doin’ My Thang” also bang – but there are no weak tracks on this album. True & Livin’ flew way under the radar in 2005 – if you missed it somehow it definitely deserves your attention.
63. Kanye West – Graduation (2007)
Completing the trilogy subjecting around a school theme, Kanye dropped another dope album with Graduation. Combining the best of The College Dropout (2004) and Late Registration (2005), Graduation saw him reaching back into his backpack and bringing good old soulful Hip Hop. With excellent cuts such as “Stronger”, “Champion”, and “Everything I Am”, Kanye knocked it out the park once again, making his classic record streak three-for-three.
64. Felt – Felt 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez (2009)
Opinions seem to be divided on this one. Some critics consider this to be the worst of the three Felt albums, Felt 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez is our absolute favorite of the series, however. Some nay-sayers have criticized Aesop Rock’s production on this one, but we feel the soundscapes he provided here serve super-combo Slug and Murs’ lyrics perfectly. Everything fits on this album, the beats do work and the synergy between Slug and Murs is awesome – they bounce bars of each other like Run and DMC did in their best days. For us, Felt 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez is a top 5 album of 2009. and therefore well-deserving of its position on this list with the decade’s best albums.
65. Eyedea & Abilities – E&A (2004)
Just one of the many Rhymesayers Entertainment gems. E&A is the second studio album by Eyedea & Abilities. In their own words:
‘We makin’ music, just tryin’ to put the fun back in
Turntablism, lyricism, ain’t no gun packin”
66. Fashawn – Boy Meets World (2009)
Great beats, great lyrics, great hooks. The beats provided by Exile prove to be a fine foundation, but it is Fashawn’s deep and personal lyricism that makes his debut album Boy Meets World the modern classic it is. Fashawn comes off like a seasoned vet, commanding every track with ease. Boy Meets World is an awesome debut by a great talent (Fashawn was just 21 at the time of its release), and it still is his best work to date.
67. Slum Village - Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000)
Pretty much everything J Dilla has been involved in bears the mark of pure quality, and this official debut album from Detroit’s Slum Village in no exception. Brilliantly produced, this is an album you will probably appreciate more for the beats than for the lyrics, and that’s perfectly fine. Some dope guest spots, great vibe – this is an album for the ages.
68. Beanie Sigel – The B. Coming (2005)
An album that tends to be overlooked for all the wrong reasons, The B. Coming is the best Beanie Sigel album. While his previous albums had everything you wanted out of the Broad Street Bully, the music here and the focus he brought with it is amazing. Facing a prison bid at the time, Beanie would drop classics like “Have Mercy”, “Feel It In The Air”, “I Can’t Go On This Way”, and a number of other tracks that set the tone for this slept-on gem.
69. CunninLynguists – Southernunderground (2003)
SouthernUnderground is the second album from CunninLynguists, the trio hailing from Lexington, Kentucky and Atlanta, Georgia – consisting of Deacon the Villain, Natti, and DJ/vocalist Kno. For SouthernUnderground the trio employed Mr. SOS to accompany on vocals for much of the album.
SouthernUnderground may be best known for its single “Seasons” – which features Masta Ace – a classic cut that details the history of Hip Hop comparing different eras to seasons of a year. Other stand-outs include “Old School”, “Dying Nation,” “War,” and “Appreciation,” (about 9/11), and especially “Falling Down” – a creative musical masterpiece by Kno. Kno definitely is the key to CunninLynguists’ creative success, his work on the boards is all-around awesome, and with SouthernUnderground he delivers one of the best-produced albums of the year.
Even if SouthernUnderground was generally critically acclaimed it was commercially not nearly as successful as it should have been, making it one of 2003’s under-appreciated masterpieces.
70. Ohmega Watts – The Find (2005)
In a year where wack albums like 50 Cent’s The Massacre sold millions of copies, this gem of a record went largely unnoticed. Perfectly encapturing the 90’s boom-bap vibe, sonically paying homage to sounds of the likes of Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Diamond D, Q-Tip, Large Pro and other NYC mid-nineties production giants – but also capturing the vibe of west coast groups like The Pharcyde and Souls Of Mischief – Ohmega Watts simultaneously succeeds to give his beats and rhymes his own authentic and contemporary feel.
The self-explanatory “Where It All Started”, the old-fashioned-feeling “Full Swing” and cuts like “Saturday Night Live”, “Treatment”, and “Mind Power” are just some of the highlights, but the whole album slams. Filled with jazzy and soulful beats, great sampling and lyrics worth listening to, The Find simply is an amazing debut and an all-around brilliant album – one for the true Hip Hop connoisseur.
71. P.O.S – Ipecac Neat (2004)
Ipecac Neat is P.O.S’ first studio album, released in 2004 on Doomtree Records, then re-released the next year on Rhymesayers Entertainment. Energetic and angry-sounding lyrically as well as musically, Ipecac Neat offers an intense listening experience that is aging quite well. A bit closer to ‘regular’ Hip Hop than some of his later albums, Ipecac Neat already showcases P.O.S’ original style and flow. A hidden gem and an essential piece of the Doomtree legacy.
72. Cunninlynguists – Dirty Acres (2007)
Much like People Under The Stairs, Cunninlynguists is another one of those crews that have succeeded in putting together an amazingly consistent body of work over the years. Stylistically different from their previous albums – Dirty Acres is the album that sonically and lyrically showcases Cunninlynguists’ Down South heritage most of all their albums – and while not a classic like its predecessor A Piece Of Strange (2006), this album nevertheless is dope as hell.
73. Murs & 9th Wonder – Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition (2004)
In his two decades in the Hip Hop game, Murs has released a whole bunch of excellent albums – solo as well as collaborative efforts. This may very well be one of his best, the first collaboration album he did with producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder.
Murs is another one of those rare personalities in Hip Hop who is always completely real. No fronting, no posing – just honesty and real emotion. The collaboration with 9th Wonder works perfectly – the soundscapes 9th Wonder provides all serve to enhance the strength of Murs’ intelligent lyrics.
Standouts include the Phonte-featuring “The Animal”, “Bad Man”, “And This Is For…”, “The Pain”, and especially the genius “Walk Like A Man”, which has three different beats to match the mood of the deep and insightful story told. But it is all good – at 10 tracks the album is short but sweet and there are no weak spots.
74. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II (2009)
In ’95, Wu-Tang’s dynamo 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 camp.
With pressures from fans to deliver a sequel, Raekwon finally did so in 2009. It’s damn near impossible to recover the magic of an exceptional classic debut, but Raekwon did it with this one. Everything from the cover to the feel of the album was reminiscent of the original. After several sub-par efforts, Raekwon struck gold again with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II. If the first one was The Godfather, this one was The Godfather Pt. II.
75. MF DOOM – Mm.. Food (2004)
MF DOOM has dropped a bunch of left-field classics and dope concept albums in his career. While albums like Operation Doomsday and Madvillainy are true Hip Hop classics, most of DOOM’s other work is usually considerably less celebrated. Mm… Food is one of those albums. Kind of a concept album, as every track is compiled primarily of food-related subject matter. The food-related content works better than you might expect, particularly when DOOM uses it as a means to cleverly diss other emcees.
“Beef Rap”, “Hoe Cakes”, “Rapp Snitch Knishes”, are some of the real DOOM bangers on this one. Creative and experimental production as always (mostly done by MF DOOM himself) and of course DOOM’s conversational and complex flow and abstract lyrical imagery, make for a dope album, admittedly for people with an acquired taste.
76. Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner (2003)
With strong influences of typical British musical styles like Garage, Techno, and Dancehall, Boy In Da Corner sounds absolutely different from the usual Hip Hop. It also sounded way ahead of its time when it came out – still sounds ahead of its time today. This album was hugely influential too, it was essential in establishing the Grime niche in (UK) Hip Hop.
Dizzee Rascal’s achievement is all the more impressive knowing he was not even 18 years old when he wrote most of this album. Boy In Da Corner is filled with sharp, sometimes witty, sometimes grim commentaries on modern life from the perspective of a troubled inner-city youth, delivered in Dizzee’s claustrophobic and disturbing style over stripped-down beats and bouncing baselines.
“Fix Up, Look Sharp” with its pounding drumbeat is the song that comes closest to the sounds of‘ traditional’ Hip Hip and is one of our favorite tracks on Boy In Da Corner. Other highlights include “I Luv U” (a breath-taking synopsis of teenage pregnancies), “Jezebel” (an anti-single motherhood tale), and “Brand New Day” – but the whole album is special.
Boy In Da Corner proves that creative audacity and raw authenticity can go a long way. Sonically and lyrically dense, dark and discomforting, this album will definitely not be for everyone, but those who are up for an incidental change of menu or those who are feeling musically adventurous could do worse than to dip into Dizzee Rascal’s East-London genre-bending take on Hip Hop.
77. Ugly Duckling – Journey To Anywhere (2001)
Journey to Anywhere is the first full-length studio album by Long Beach, California trio Ugly Duckling, bringing a sound that was very atypical for West Coast Hip Hop at that time, or in fact ever. The group’s style is primarily a throwback to Golden Age Hip Hop, using a lot of drum breaks, loops, scratches, and sampling. Like fellow Californians Jurassic 5, Ugly Duckling is all about Hip Hop tradition and this excellent debut album is fresh, entertaining and fun – a tribute to Hip Hop and its origins.
78. Foreign Exchange – Connected (2004)
This really is a unique album. Foreign Exchange is a collaboration between Dutch producer Nicolay and Little Brother’s Phonte – who met on the online forums of Okayplayer. The two never physically met until after the album was done. Nicolay created the beats in Europe, Phonte rapped over them in the USA. The result is an incredibly organic sounding blend of Hip Hop, R&B, soul, jazz, and other styles – a smooth genre-bending musical experience and a worthy addition to anybody’s music collection.
79. Binary Star - Masters Of The Universe (2000)
One of the most slept on albums of the year 2000 (or the decade even) is Binary Star’s Masters Of The Universe. Where dumbed down factory rap was selling millions of copies, this gem of an album sold less than 50.000 units, which is crazy when you think about it. Binary Star’s One Be Lo and Senim Silla, along with producer Decompoze, give us intelligent lyrics, great flows, captivating soundscapes, and dope beats – what more should a Hip Hop album offer?
80. Talib Kweli – Eardrum (2007)
Talib Kweli’s best albums are two collaboration efforts: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998) with Mos Def as Black Star and Train Of Thought (2000) with Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal. None of his solo-albums ever reached the same level of classic-ness as those two absolute Hip Hop monuments, but Eardrum comes close enough. Arguably Talib Kweli’s best album, Eardrum could have been even better if it had been a bit tighter – at 20 tracks and 80 minutes the album is a bit too long for its own good – but that said, it’s hard to say which tracks should have been left off. The album feels consistent throughout, filled with Talib’s intelligent lyrics and with catchy hooks and dope beats to accompany them.
81. Blackalicious – Blazing Arrow (2002)
Blazing Arrow is the second studio album by Blackalicious, the duo hailing from Sacramento, California, made up of rapper Gift of Gab and DJ/producer Chief Xcel. Their debut album Nia (1999) is an absolute masterpiece, so to come up with a follow-up a strong as Nia was a near impossible task. Even if Blazing Arrow doesn’t quite match Nia, it is an excellent album in its own right. Gift Of Gab is an underrated emcee, with a superb flow and a style that may be too complex for the average listener to fully appreciate and Chief Xcel soundscapes are sometimes for those with an acquired taste – Blackalicious’ music is better suited for the advanced music listener than for the average fan. Nevertheless, Blazing Arrow is a great album that just has to be mentioned among the best albums of the decade.
82. Y Society – Travel At Your Own Pace (2007)
Damu the Fudgmunk teamed up with rapper Insight as Y Society for 2007’s Travel At Your Own Pace. The beats on this album are simply fantastic. Smooth, crisp, sample-driven and jazzy – they offer an intense feeling of nostalgia. Insight’s rhymes are intelligent and insightful pairing perfectly with Damu The Fudgemunk’s distinguished sounding beats. Travel At Your Own Pace is an excellent, but sadly slept-on album.
83. Nas – God’s Son (2002)
Few discographies in Hip Hop are food for discussion as much as Nas’ body of work is. Most will agree that Illmatic is his absolute best album and Nastradamus his messy worst, but in between those two? It will be hard for anyone to argue against the statement that God’s Son easily belongs to the better half of Nas’ albums.
More introspective than any of his other albums God’s Son has a melancholy sense of loss and sorrow hanging over much of it. There’s the dedication to his mother who had died earlier that year – “Dance” and the subsequent wondering about what happens when we die – “Heaven” – but also the duet with the ghostly presence of 2Pac – “Thugz Mansion (N.Y.) – and even the docu-style recounting of his career and beefs – “Last Real N***a Alive” – all of which is imbued with a sense of regret and disappointment. “Book of Rhymes” is an ingenious track in which Nas supposedly is flipping through old notebooks and spitting what he finds (some verses are only a couple of lines) and “Made You Look” is a NY street classic. God’s Son may fall just below the top tier of his albums, but that means it’s still damn good.
84. Non Phixion – The Future Is Now (2002)
3rd Bass’ MC Serch has been responsible for a few feats not everybody may know about. As executive producer, he played an important role in the realization of Nas’ Illmatic, one of the acclaimed albums in Hip Hop history. Another act Serch was responsible for bringing into existence is Non-Phixion. He put together his protege Sabac Red, with DJ Eclipse and Ill Bill, who were later joined by Goretex to form Non-Phixion.
Non-Phixion’s debut album The Future Is Now is loosely based around one concept: almost every song paints a picture of a violent, disturbed, and apocalyptic future, where anarchy reigns and technology has all but taken over. This is an effective and powerful album, one of the first of many dope albums to emerge from the wider Non-Phixion camp.
85. Danger Doom – The Mouse And The Mask (2005)
A year after Madvillainy, the masterpiece collaboration with Madlib, underground hero MF DOOM dropped another gem on us in the form of The Mouse And The Mask, this time together with left-field producer Danger Mouse (best known for mashing The Beatles’ The White Album and Jay-Z’s The Black Album into The Grey Album).
MF DOOM is lyrically as strong as ever, mixing up his trademark abstract imagery with his usual intricate self-aggrandizing, this time all the way through sprinkled with cartoon references – all of it strengthened by Danger Mouse’s instrumentals which definitely add to the thematic feel of the album.
Ghostface Killah, Cee-Lo Green and Talib Kweli drop by for guest verses, with especially Ghostface stealing the show on “The Mask” (will we ever see that DOOMSTARKS album…?) Other highlights are “Sofa King”, “Old School” (with Talib Kweli) and the stab at former friend MF Grimm, “El Chupa Nibre”.
86. Senim Silla – The Name, The Motto, The Outcome (2007)
Senim Silla is 1/2 of Binary Star, the duo he formed with the equally unsung One Be Lo. The Name, The Motto, The Outcome is his first (and only) solo album and another hidden 2007 treasure. The Name, The Motto, The Outcome is deep, layered, and complex – both lyrically and musically – and not an easy album to get into maybe, but one that amply rewards those who are willing and able to invest the time and attention this gem deserves.
87. J-Live – Then What Happened? (2008)
J-Live dropped two absolute masterpieces – The Best Part (2001) and All Of The Above (2002) – but most of his other releases are dope as hell too. The label underrated is over-used, but J-Live truly is one of the most slept-on acts in the Hip Hop game. This mock interview excerpt taken from the first cut on Then What Happened? says a lot:
How many records have you released as J Live?
A little over five
How many records have you sold combined since your first album?
Approximately 100, 000
Do you mean to say that the millions of people who love Hip Hop aren’t aware of your music?
I can hardly believe that unless they were blind, deaf and dumb
Well they were made blind deaf and dumb by popular culture since they were babies
It’s crazy when you consider that wack rappers like Lil Wayne sell millions of albums, while true emcees like J-Live sell almost nothing. Then What Happened? may fall a little short when compared to his first two albums, but it still is an excellent album. Production (by DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Spinna, Evil Dee, Marco Polo, and a few others) is tight and J-Live’s lyrics are sharp and on point as always.
J-Live is part of the best Hip Hop has to offer. If you have slept on J-Live get his first two albums first, then you’ll soon check out the rest of his work too.
88. The Last Emperor – Music, Magic, Myth (2003)
Philadelphia’s The Last Emperor should have had a much bigger career, he is one of the best true emcees out there. This album is excellent, but sadly almost nobody took notice. Last Emperor takes it back to the essence and shows he is good at everything; from story-telling, to bragging & boasting, to being introspective, to being philosophical. His lyrics are intelligent, his rhymes are tight, and his flow & delivery are top-notch. Look for this album if you slept on it, you will not be disappointed.
89. Sage Francis – Personal Journals (2002)
Rhode Island emcee Sage Francis’ best album? Strong beats and strong lyrics – this album is a low-key classic.
90. Nas – Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)
Fans and critics alike seem to rate Hip Hop Is Dead as one of Nas’ weakest albums. We disagree. In fact, we feel Hip Hop Is Dead easily belongs among the best half of his albums. Hip Hop Is Dead is way better than Nastradamus (1999) and Nasir (2018), better than Streets Disciple (2004), I Am (1999) and Untitled (2008), and on par with God’s Son (2002), Life Is Good (2012) and even with Stillmatic (2001) and It Was Written (1996).
The overall production here is better and more consistent than on most of his albums, and lyrically Nas is as good here as he ever was. “Money Over Bullsh*t”, “Where Are They Now”, “Hip Hop Is Dead”, “Black Republican” (with Jay-Z) – all of them are classic Nas cuts. Other highlights include “Hold Down The Block”, “Carry On Tradition”, “Hustlers”, “Still Dreaming” and “Not Going Back”, this really is one of Nas’ most consistent albums. The most underappreciated album in his discography – with Hip Hop Is Dead Nas proved Hip Hop was alive and well.
91. The Game – The Documentary (2005)
Though there’s always been a debate about whether or not 50 wrote the album (he did write about 60% of the hooks), there is no denying the power behind this album and what Game brought back to the game for the West. With aggressive lyrics, booming production that ranged from murderous to upbeat to soulful to despondent at times, Game gives us an album that is beyond what any of us expected. Singles like “How We Do”, “Dreams”, and “Hate It Or Love It” really made the album what it is today: one of the best-selling Hip Hop albums of the decade, with over 5 million units sold worldwide.
92. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
An album that sometimes goes unnoticed or slept on by many in the genre, this album is truly the greatest thing that Pusha and Malice created. They would receive the lushest instrumentals from the Neptunes, which worked wonders for them on the album. The 2006 release featured some solid tracks like “Mr. Me Too” and “Nightmares”, but overall what makes it so special is the cohesion and the lyricism.
93. El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2007)
El-P’s second solo album, and another dope one. As always, El Producto brings that innovative, deeply layered, sonically dense flavor – never that run-off-the-mill rap music: left-field Hip Hop at its finest. Standout tracks include ‘Habeas Corpses” (feat. Cage), “EMG”, “Run The Numbers” (feat. Aesop Rock), “Tasmanian Pain Coaster”, “Up All Night” (feat. Mr. Lif), and “Drive” – but this a solid and consistent listen from beginning to end.
94. Busdriver – Temporary Forever (2002)
Weird, but wonderful. Los Angeles’ Busdriver has never made a straightforward or accessible album, and like all of Busdriver’s work, Temporary Forever is an acquired taste without a doubt. Busdriver’s unorthodox and wild flows and his general abstract and experimental style will leave many heads spinning, but those who allow themselves to be swept away by Busdriver’s eccentricity and by the beats that perfectly gel with his lyrical antics will soon count this underground classic as one of their favorite albums.
Temporary Forever is Busdriver’s second album, and although he would go on to release a couple more great projects (especially Fear of a Black Tangent (2005) and Perfect Hair (2014) are must-haves too), this one stands as his absolute masterpiece.
95. Common – Finding Forever (2007)
After his OK debut album Can I Borrow A Dollar (1992), Chicago’s Common dropped three classics back-to-back: Resurrection (1994), One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997), and Like Water For Chocolate (2000). After that came the highly experimental Electric Circus (2002) – a hate it or love it kind of album, and certainly an odd duck in Common’s otherwise amazingly consistent discography (not counting Univeral Mind Control (2008), which is his weakest album if you ask us).
Anyway, after the for most people disappointing Electric Circus, Common came back incredibly strong with Be (2005), for us the best album of his career and one of the best of this decade. The question was if Be‘s follow up could be as strong as its predecessor – almost impossible of course. Even if Finding Forever does not quite reach Be‘s level of near-perfection, it is an excellent album in its own right. The Bilal-assisted “U, Black Maybe” is the absolute highlight of the album, but like Be the whole album is as tight and consistent as you’d expect from Common, once again with assistance from Kanye West on most tracks.
96. Aesop Rock – Bazooka Tooth (2003)
Bazooka Tooth is the fourth studio album by Aesop Rock, at 70 minutes a monster of an album. Even if Bazooka Tooth is not Aesop Rock’s best work, it still is an excellent album, and among the better Hip Hop albums released in 2003. Even at his most accessible Aesop Rock is an acquired taste, and this being his least accessible album makes this a bad entry point for Aesop Rock noobs. Production-wise Bazooka Tooth takes some getting used to – the lyrics, however, are classic Aesop Rock. He is one of the best lyricists in the game, with an immense vocabulary. Just as Def Jux, Aesop Rock has always been about pushing Hip Hop boundaries and Bazooka Tooth is a prime example of that innovativeness.
97. Zion I - Mind Over Matter (2000)
This Oakland-based crew is yet another example of how real Hip Hop managed to survive the West Coast gangsta craze and was still alive and kicking around the turn of the century. Positive, socially conscious lyrics over innovative beats and live instrumentation – this is an awesome album.
98. Ugly Duckling – Bang For The Buck (2006)
Ugly Duckling never disappoints. Bang For The Buck is another UD winner. Formed in Long Beach, Los Angeles in the mid-90s, Ugly Duckling has always been different (hence Ugly Ducking) from most of their local contemporaries in their sound and subject matter. No G-funk beats and no gun- and crime talk, instead Ugly Duckling are Hip Hop traditionalists. Their sound is lifted straight from the early days of NYC Hip Hop, reminiscent of fellow L.A. crew Jurassic 5.
Bang For The Buck is no exception, this is another more than solid UD production filled with old-school boom-bap instrumentals and great wordplay.
99. Evidence – The Weatherman LP (2007)
The Weatherman LP is the first solo album by Dilated Peoples emcee Evidence. At 70 minutes, this is a long album – but little if any time is wasted. With guest appearances from Phonte, Planet Asia, Rapper Big Pooh, Slug (and others), scratches by DJ Revolution and Evidence’s bandmate in Dilated Peoples DJ Babu, and production by Evidence himself with Babu and others like Sid Roams, The Alchemist, DJ Khalil and Jake One, pure Hip Hop is practically guaranteed. Evidence ‘slow-flow’ style of rapping may not appeal to everybody and he may not be the best emcee you have ever heard – but he doesn’t need to be. This album is dope as f and one of the best to ever emerge out of the Dilated Peoples camp.
100. MF Grimm – American Hunger (2006)
60 tracks? Really? This triple album, with 20 tracks and around 70 minutes playing time for each of the three albums, by all rights should have been a bloated failure. Even most double albums have their share of fillers – something that even plagued some of the most popular / best-known albums in Hip Hop like 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me and Biggie’s Life After Death. But somehow, MF Grimm makes it work on American Hunger.
MF Grimm has stated once that the album is not intended to be listened to in one sitting, rather it is intended to be taken in over the course of three separate listening sessions, reflecting the names of each disc: “Breakfast,” “Lunch” and “Dinner.” However you consume this insanely ambitious project, it will be hard to point out weak spots or skippable material. American Hunger is amazingly consistent and coherent. This project is phenomenally crafted, and it stays interesting and entertaining for the whole ride through. This is one of the most underappreciated projects in the history of Hip Hop.
101. Jazz Addixx – Oxygen (2005)
Jazz Addixxx’s Oxygen is a top 10 album of 2005. Rhymes, beats, scratches – everything is on point. The Jazz Addixx duo gives us a perfect blend of Jazz and Hip Hop with this smooth album. Oxygen feels like a trip back to Hip Hop’s Golden Age that will keep your head nodding with nostalgia. Smooth and thought-provoking lyrics by Jazz Addixx’s emcee M.U.D.D, stylish cuts by DJ Ragz and dope jazzy musical backdrops – this album is pure gold.
If you have never dug this deep and never peeped this album you are in for a treat – add this one to your library and it will become a favorite quickly.
102. Talib Kweli – Quality (2002)
Together with Eardrum (2007), Quality is Talib Kweli’s best solo album, filled with intelligent, battle-hungry rhymes with the occasional socio-consciousness mixed in. With standouts like “Joy”, “Talk To You”, the Pharoahe Monch and Black Thought-assisted “Guerilla Monsoon Rap” the Kanye West-crafted “Good To You” and of course the classic single “Get By” there are just way too many highlighted moments to put a stamp on one particular one. This is clearly one of the year – Quality: the album title speaks for itself.
103. Jean Grae – This Week (2004)
This Week is the second studio album by Jean Grae, an icon of the NYC underground Hip Hop scene. This Week is raw and smooth at the same time – and still stands as her most complete album.
104. Apathy – Eastern Philosophy (2006)
Known for being part of Hip Hop collectives Demigodz, Get Busy Committee and Army Of The Pharaohs, and of his association with acts like Jedi Mind Tricks and others from the unsung Babygrande Records label, Connecticut emcee Apathy dropped this solo-debut in 2006. While Apathy’s later solo-albums like Honkey Kong, Wanna Snuggle, and Connecticut Casual were all dope and held their own, Eastern Philosophy still stands as his best work as a solo artist. Eastern Philosophy is an album filled with vicious, in-your-face lyrics and the beats to match the ferocity of the bars Apathy spits.
105. One Be Lo – S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. (2005)
One Be Lo is best known for being half of Binary Star, under which name he and his Binary Star partner Senim Silla dropped the underground gem Masters Of The Universe in 2000. He has released a bunch of excellent solo albums as well, and this one is the best of them all.
S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. stands for Sounds Of Nashid Originate Good Rhymes And Music, a title true to the content of the album: more than twenty tracks and pretty much all worthwhile, with One Be Lo cleverly and skillfully exploring a wide variety of topics over consistently superior musical backdrops. Pure and uncut Hip Hop by a true emcee. Masterfull.
106. Sean Price – Monkey Barz (2005)
Monkey Barz is the solo debut studio album by Sean Price of Heltah Skeltah and Boot Camp Clik fame. The album was the first release from Duck Down Records 2005 “Triple Threat Campaign”, followed by Buckshot & 9th Wonder’s Chemistry, and Smif-N-Wessun’s Smif ‘N’ Wessun: Reloaded. – which were also dope albums that deserve a mention here. Monkey Barz arguably was the best of the three though, and a bonafide underground Hip Hop classic.
Obvious highlights are the singles “Peep My Words”, “Onionhead”, “Heartburn”, “Boom Bye Yeah”, “Monkey Barz” and “Slapboxing”, but the whole albums slams – raw, underground Hip Hop from start to finish by one of the most authentic figures Hip Hop has ever known. R.I.P. Sean P.
107. Jedi Mind Tricks - Violent By Design (2000)
Violent By Design is Jedi Mind Tricks’ sophomore outing and another great album from the underrated Philly crew. Vinnie Paz & co. rip the tracks on this album with sick flows and clever punchlines. The beats provided by Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind and Mr. Len are as good as you could wish for, which makes the total package an excellent album from one the greatest and most underrated crews in the game. Cop this seminal East Coast underground smash if you don’t have it already.
108. The U.N. – UN Or U Out (2004)
The U.N. was an underground Hip Hop crew from New York City, consisting of Laku, Dino Brave, Mike Raw, and Roc Marciano. The U.N. was Roc Marciano’s post-Flipmode Squad vehicle that would put him on the path of becoming the reinventor of mafioso rap in the 2010s, and one of the most influential artists in that particular subgenre.
UN Or U Out is more straightforward underground Hip Hop – an album that would have been considered a classic had it been released a decade earlier. Roc Marciano’s skills as a producer are on full display here (with a couple of tracks produced by Pete Rock and Large Professor), it’s the beats that elevate this project to a higher level. UN Or U Out is an album to remember.
109. UGK – Underground Kingz (2007)
Known for being one of the pioneering acts to emerge from Texas, UGK saw their biggest commercial success with this album – their last one released during Pimp C’s lifetime, just a couple of months before his untimely death. Maybe not quite the classic UGK’s third album Ridin’ Dirty (1996) was, but Underground Kingz is almost right up there with it – a major final chapter to the much-respected story of one of the greatest duos to ever do it.
110. Gang Starr – The Ownerz (2003)
Five years after Moment Of Truth – which arguably is Gang Starr’s magnum opus – Premier and Guru came out with The Ownerz, their sixth and album as a duo (not counting the classic 1999 Full Clip compilation album). Although it’s hard to point at something that is really wrong with The Ownerz, it doesn’t quite have the same consistent level of quality or the ‘magic’ the previous four albums had.
There are some real bangers here – “Riot Akt,” “Sabotage,”, “Put Up Or Shut Up”, “Skillz”, “Rite Where U Stand” and “Deadly Habitz” are all great tracks – but there also a few weaker tracks and even some unnecessary skits/interludes that add nothing to the album – things we did not see on Gang Starr albums before.
When it’s good, it’s great though – and while The Ownerz is not a classic like the previous four Gang Starr albums are, a not-so-good Gang Starr album is better than most of the other Hip Hop that came out that year.
111. Jay-Z – American Gangster (2007)
American Gangster signified a definitive return to form for Jay-Z after the disappointing 2006 album Kingdom Come. According to Jay-Z himself, almost every song on American Gangster is based on a specific scene from the Ridley Scott film about the life of former drug kingpin Frank Lucas (played by a formidable-as-always Denzel Washington). American Gangster feels like a more mature version of Jay-Z’s classic debut Reasonable Doubt and is one of Jay-Z’s better albums without a doubt.
112. Bun B – Trill (2005)
Bernard Freeman, better known as Bun B, released this album just after his late UGK partner-in-rhyme, Pimp C, was incarcerated. With Pimp C in his heart and mind, Bun B dropped one of the dopest Southern Hip Hop albums in years with this solo debut. Trill is a more than solid album by one of the most important figures in Southern Hip Hop ever.
113. Sage Francis – Human The Death Dance (2007)
Human The Death Dance is Sage Francis’ third solo album, and one of his best – with Personal Journals (2002) and Healthy Distrust (2005) in that conversation. Great instrumentals and skillfully delivered lyrics that are worth listening to – what more do you need to satisfy your Hip Hop cravings?
114. Skyzoo – The Salvation (2009)
The Salvation is the debut album of Brooklyn emcee Skyzoo, and even though he has been dropping consistently dope albums ever since, The Salvation remains of his best releases. Skyzoo has described The Salvation as autobiographical and his most personal work – Skyzoo is one of those artists who are willing an able to write lyrics with substance, in a time when the mainstream was demanding the opposite. There are really no let downs or skippable tracks on the entire album – great beats, great rhymes: great Hip Hop.
115. CunninLynguists – Will Rap For Food (2001)
Will Rap for Food is the debut album by CunninLynguists, at the time only consisting of Deacon the Villain and Kno. CunninLynguists’ entire catalog is dope as hell, and this debut is no exception. Kno is an incredibly talented beat-crafter, one of Hip Hop’s unsung producers. Real recognize real, so true Hip Hop heads know what’s up and will not sleep on CunninLynguists. Will Rap for Food proved to be a great start for this tremendous crew. “Mic Like A Memory”, “Takin The Loss”, “Thugged Out Since Cub Scouts”, “Mindstate” and “616 Rewind” are just a few of the stand-outs on this dope album.
116. Atmosphere – God Loves Ugly (2002)
The flagship act of the Rhymesayers Entertainment label is Atmosphere – the duo consisting of Rhymesayers co-founders, Slug and Ant. On God Loves Ugly they wanted to show how far away they were from conventional, traditional Hip Hop imagery and themes. Absorbing their need to be different, they came up with some of the most conceptually intriguing and dense Hip Hop of the early millennium. Considered one of the first ’emo rap’ (an over-used label these days) albums, Atmosphere brings passion with an intricate poetic nature that makes this one of their very best albums.
117. Asheru & Blue Black – Soon Come (2001)
This is one of those albums you can start and just let run, without having to skip any tracks. Jazz-centric feel-good Hip Hop, with dope rhymes, dope scratching, and dope beats from front to back. Solid emceeing and quality beats in the vein of acts like ATCQ, DeLa, Mos Def, The Roots and Slum Village – Soon Come is a more than fine throwback-vibing album, an album that was ignored by too many.
118. Quasimoto - The Unseen (2000)
Experimental and left-field, this album from Madlib’s alter ego Quasimoto is sure to satisfy the taste buds of those who are into layered, metaphorically and musically complex compositions. Mindblowingly creative, filled with jazzy loop and breaks, short songs, interludes, and Lord Quas’ off-the-wall high-pitched rhyme style, The Unseen feels more like a musical tapestry than a conventionally structured album. The Unseen probably is a hate-it-or-love-it kind of affair, but there is no denying Madlib’s particular brand of genius.
119. The Roots – Phrenology (2002)
Hoping to capitalize on the breakout success of Things Fall Apart, The Roots dropped Phrenology in 2002. Mixing Hip Hop and soul with bits of jazz and rock, with Phrenology The Roots delivered a well-rounded project that becomes more and more enjoyable with each listen, an album that provides the listener with a new direction that relies less on just Hip Hop, and more on the creative and musical influences that drive The Roots as a whole. From the strangely catchy “The Seed 2.0” to the lovely “Complexity” and the seductive “Break You Off”, this album definitely is an excellent listen.
120. Atmosphere - Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EP's (2001)
Usually, we do not include EPs and compilation albums on our lists. But seeing as these three Atmosphere EPs that were formerly available only on vinyl have been re-released as one album, this Atmosphere release deserves a mention here as one album. “Aspiring Sociopath”, “Woman With The Tattooed Hands” and “Guns and Cigarettes” are Atmosphere classics of course, but there is more to enjoy – this album is a must-have for Atmosphere fans at the very least.
121. eMC – The Show (2008)
The Show is the debut album by supergroup eMC, which consists of Masta Ace, Punchline, Wordsworth and Stricklin.
After his supposed retirement with the excellent concept album A Long Hot Summer, legendary Masta Ace returns with this collective, recruiting underground battle rappers Punchline and Wordsworth as well as his protege Stricklin, a.k.a. Strick.
With production duties handled by the likes of Marco Polo, Ayatollah, Nicolay, The ARE, Frequency, Koolade, and Quincey Tones and with guest appearances from Sean Price, Ladybug Mecca, and Little Brother all ingredients are there for well over an hour of dopeness.
The Show does not disappoint and gives what we want to hear: real Hip Hop, cleverly structured as a thematic concept album that follows a day in the life of eMC doing a show on the road. Great album.
122. Del The Funky Homosapien - Both Sides Of The Brain (2000)
Del’s fourth solo album – almost entirely self-produced – is another great album from the Hieroglyphics crew frontman. Dell’s dope, innovative beats combined with his clever lyrics, complex rhyme schemes, and great flow & delivery make this one of his best solo outings. Don’t sleep on Both Sides Of The Brain.
123. People Under The Stairs – O.S.T. (2002)
Los Angeles duo People Under The Stairs never missed. O.S.T. is the third album and one of their best, with some of their most famous songs – “Acid Raindrops” and “The L.A. Song” – as its centerpieces.
124. Project Polaroid – Project Polaroid (2006)
Project Polaroid is a collaboration composed of our favorite crazy genius Kool Keith and Bay Area producer TomC3. Project Polaroid dropped in 2006 and not a lot of people took notice. That’s a shame because this album is fantastic – easily part of the better half of Kool Keith’s prodigious output. TomC3’s soundscapes are dope as hell and lyrically Kool Keith is in great form, with lyrics that are reminiscent of his absolute masterpiece Dr. Octagonecologyst. Project Polaroid is a project everybody slept on, but it is never too late to get up to speed.
125. Dälek – From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots (2002)
Dälek is an experimental Hip Hop crew from Newark, New Jersey – comprised of MC Dälek, Oktopus, and DJ Still ( who passed away in 2018). From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots is their second album and arguably their best, even if there is much more quality to be found in their catalog. Dälek’s music is never easy or straightforward and no doubt this album is an acquired taste, with its boom bap-driven beats backed up by noisy and industrial soundscapes and unorthodox instrumentation. This album was way ahead of its time, and a classic in the industrial Hip Hop subgenre.
126. Nas – Untitled (2008)
The original name for this album, N****r, 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 and at the same time celebrated the empowerment of African Americans, even with using the most venomous word in the English language. Untitled is an ambitious, politically-themed project, with phenomenal cuts like “Y’all My N****s”, “America” and “Testify”, “Sly Fox”, “Project Roach”, “N.I.*.*.E.R. (The Slave & The Master)”. The beats could have been better here and there (as is the case on most of Nas’ albums), but overall this is another outstanding Nas release.
127. Murs & 9th Wonder – Murray’s Revenge (2006)
Not as good as 3:16, but Murray’s Revenge is another dope collaborative release from Murs & 9th Wonder nevertheless. Murray’s Revenge is nice and tight at ten tracks, with enough highlights like “Dreamchasers”, “Love & Appreciate”, “Yesterday & Today”, and “Dark Skinned White Girls”.
128. Cormega – The True Meaning (2002)
The True Meaning is the second studio album by Queensbridge emcee Cormega. It was critically acclaimed and won the prestigious “Independent Album of the Year” at the Source Awards 2003, but in the end, all this acclaim didn’t do much for Cormega’s fame and popularity. He was always well-liked and respected by real Hip Hop heads but remained virtually unknown to the wider audiences. A shame, because ‘Mega’s has more skills than most – he knows how to craft compelling verses and he has the skills to deliver them. The True Meaning arguably is his best album with fantastic cuts like “Introspective”, “Verbal Graffiti”, “The Come Up”, “Live Ya Life”, “Endangered Species”, “Therapy”. “Take These Jewelz”, “Love In Love Out” (addressing his beef with Nas), and the beautiful history lesson “The Legacy” all are highlights – and there you have the main problem of the album: at 40 minutes it’s just too short!
129. Louis Logic – Sin-A-Matic (2003)
Sin-A-Matic is the debut solo-album from Brooklyn emcee Louis Logic, who is also known as being (a former) Demigodz member and half of the duo Odd Couple (with Jay Love). Demigodz emcees Celph Titled and Apathy show up on a couple of tracks on Sin-A-Matic, “Diablos” with Celph Titled being a stand-out: a battle type track with an animated Louis and Celph ripping the beat to pieces, with dope wordplay and punchlines.
On the whole album, Louis Logic’s style is rather comical, his lyrics funny and sometimes shockingly offensive at the same time. Content-wise comparisons with Eminem are inevitable, but Louis Logic definitely is his own man – his flows are nice, his lyrics are on point, and the beats, handled mostly by J.J. Brown, are great as well. Sin-A-Matic is a more than fine album you should check out if never did before.
130. The Roots – The Tipping Point (2004)
The Roots’ sixth album The Tipping Point is not their best album but it’s still better than most other albums released in its year. Short and sweet, The Tipping Point has few real highs, but it contains at least one notable Roots cut: “Boom!”
“Boom!” has Black Thought (one of the greatest emcees ever himself) ‘impersonating’ the all-time greats Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap on the second and third verse, adopting their style, flow, and diction. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it were actual guest appearances by Kane and G Rap – especially Kool G Rap is done flawlessly. To know it’s all Black Thought is truly a testament to the man’s virtually unparalleled skills.
131. Quasimoto – The Further Adventures of Lord Quas (2005)
An acquired taste without a doubt – like much of Madlib’s work The Further Adventures of Lord Quas will not be for everyone. It’s hard to argue against Madlib being a production genius though, one who is never afraid to experiment – and this an another Madlib masterpiece.
The production on this album is different and quality-wise way above most of the generic Hip Hop that was released in 2005. Madlib’s alter-ego Quasimoto (whose voice is Madlib’s own voice sped-up) is a funny character whose stories result in a very well executed concept album.
132. Jake One – White Van Music (2008)
We all know the high profile artists from the epic Rhymesayers Entertainment label, like Atmosphere and Brother Ali. Producer Jake One is a name that may not immediately come to mind when the Rhymesayers roster is discussed, but with this debut album he definitely established his name. With guests like MF DOOM, Elzhi, Royce Da 5’9″, Busta Rhymes, Slug, Pharoahe Monch, Posdnuos, Brother Ali, Freeway, Black Milk, Prodigy, Evidence, Little Brother, and M.O.P. rhyming over his beats, there needs to be no doubt about the lyrical quality on this album. But Jake One is a producer, and this is a producer’s album. 20 tracks and not a weak beat to be found – White Van Music is tight and crisp, a dope debut that is a must-listen for all Hip Hop heads.
133. R.A. the Rugged Man – Die, Rugged Man, Die (2004)
The term ‘underrated emcee’ is used far too often and applied all the time to rappers who are in fact widely celebrated. An emcee who is truly deserving of the label ‘underrated’ is the unique R.A. The Rugged Man.
R.A. The Rugged Man’s third album, but first commercial release, Die Rugged Man Die was recorded between 1999 and 2004 and finally released in 2004 on the Nature Sounds label – over ten years after his first steps on the Hip Hop scene. In the early nineties, a young R.A. caught the eye of Russell Simons before getting signed by Jive Records. A debut on Jive never happened, allegedly not in the last place due to R.A.’s own uncompromising and at times antagonistic behavior.
Whatever did or did not happen for him because of his own attitude and antics, there’s no denying the man’s exceptional lyrical talent. On this debut, the quotable-filled single “Lessons”, the trip through Hip Hop memory lane “On The Block” and cuts like “Chains”, “Dumb” and the great “A Star Is Born” are all testaments of the fact R.A. will always unapologetically say exactly what he wants, and screw what anybody thinks about it.
I ain’t down to sign autographs and shake ya hands
I don’t want trendy ass followers for fans
I don’t wanna sell records, I don’t wanna be big
I don’t want MTV running up in my crib
I don’t wanna be liked in the music biz
I don’t want fans that don’t know who G Rap is
The fact he can back up his attitude with lyrical skills few others possess makes Die, Rugged Man, Die an album to be celebrated and remembered.
134. Blueprint – 1988 (2005)
Not counting his work as part of Soul Position this may be Blueprint’s best-known album. Not as widely known as it should be, but most real heads will own or will at least know 1988. The short intro sets the tone for the album nicely: a mash-up of Stetsasonic’s “Stet Troop ’88” and KRS-One’s “Fresh For 88” statement. This intro is followed by a short track incorporating a classic Run-DMC beat, before the third track titled “1988” kicks in with some old-fashioned scratching and a great old-school battle rap attitude to it. After that, there are a whole lot more stand-out tracks, like “Tramp”, “Trouble On My Mind”, “Fresh” and “Liberated” – but the whole album is great, it’s the overall cohesiveness of this project that makes it the essential release that it is.
To simply call this album a throwback would be wrong, it’s more layered than that. Some tracks may have that retro feel, and even if Blueprint manages to invoke a great golden age atmosphere, he simultaneously brings more modern vibes to the table. 1988 is one of the crown jewels in Blueprint’s discography, one of the better Hip Hop albums released in 2005, and a definite must-have for any self-respecting Hip Hop fan.
135. Royce Da 5’9″ – Death Is Certain (2004)
136. Pumpkinhead – Orange Moon Over Brooklyn (2005)
Orange Moon Over Brooklyn is the second studio album from the late Brooklyn emcee Pumpkinhead (1975 – 2015). Before the released of Orange Moon Over Brooklyn, he was featured as a guest on albums from underground greats like Immortal Technique and Jean Grae – not bad associations when it comes to gaining Hip Hop credibility.
While his 2001 debut The Old Testament was OK, it was his sophomore album that really showed his skills as a talented lyricist with a distinctive and dope flow. What also helps is the work on the boards by Marco Polo, who truly is one of the best producers around. The album starts out great with the melodic “Authentic” (actually the second track) and doesn’t let up.
Lyrics worth listening to over excellent musical backdrops – Pumpkinhead’s Orange Moon Over Brooklyn is a underrated album that you have to check out if you haven’t before.
137. Soul Position – 8 Million Stories (2003)
Soul Position is the unsung Blueprint’s collaboration with fellow Columbus, Ohio DJ/producer RJD2. It was their first full album together (after an EP in 2002), released on Rhymesayers Entertainment. 8 Million Stories probably is the best-known and best-received Soul Position release, with dope RJD2 soundscapes and varied and clever rhymes by Blueprint. Still, it never received the wider acclaim it deserved. Never too late to check it out though!
138. J Dilla – Jay Stay Paid (2009)
Nine times out of ten posthumous releases are doing a disservice to the memory of the artist in question, and are often obvious cash-grab attempts by rightsholders. Not the case with Jay Stay Paid. The album is a 28 track collection of unreleased Dilla beats mixed and arranged by Pete Rock. Although Jay Stay Paid is mostly instrumental, it includes guest vocals from several artists that Dilla worked with or admired, such as Black Thought, Havoc, Raekwon, MF DOOM, and M.O.P. It was executive produced by Dilla’s mother Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey along with the musical supervision of Dilla’s musical idol, Pete Rock. In regard to the album’s feel and direction Ma Dukes stated:
It wasn’t rushed and it wasn’t haphazard. This album combines what he did in the beginning of his career, what he did in some of our early hospital stays, which was very deep, and some stuff pulled from old floppy disks & DATs. It’s mind blowing… this is like the missing links to Dilla’s legacy. (Wikipedia)
The format of the album plays like a radio show with Pete Rock as the program director.
139. Edan – Beauty & The Beat (2005)
Beauty and the Beat is the second studio album by Maryland emcee Edan. The album features guest appearances from Insight, Percee P, Mr. Lif, and Dagha – so you know superior lyrical content is pretty much a guarantee.
Dope tracks aplenty: “Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme” is a great sounding history lesson and one of the standouts, as is “Torture Chamber” which features the unbeatable Percee P. Each song transitions seamlessly to the next which makes this as consistent a listen as one could wish for.
The only complaint may be that the album is too short at just 34 minutes – but with 13 tracks it feels like a full album nevertheless. Edan evidently doesn’t need much time to get his point across, so why take more?
Beauty & The Beat is a critically acclaimed, but sadly forgotten album – easily one of the best of the year though. Lyrically inventive and musically creative and diverse – this is one to keep on rotation.
140. Army Of The Pharaohs – The Torture Papers (2006)
The Torture Papers is the debut album by underground Hip Hop collective Army of the Pharaohs, released in 2006 after years of anticipation. The crew was established in 1998 by Jedi Mind Tricks frontman Vinnie Paz, and originally featured Jedi Mind Tricks, Chief Kamachi, 7L & Esoteric, Virtuoso, and Bahamadia. Virtuoso and Bahamadia later split from the group. When The Torture Papers was recorded, AOTP consisted of Paz, Kamachi, 7L & Esoteric, Apathy, OuterSpace, King Syze, Reef the Lost Cauze, Des Devious, Celph Titled, and Faez One.
The single “Battle Cry” is a standout track on The Torture Papers – an all-out insane rap-fest with nine emcees spitting bars over a great beat with violins and bass. Other highlights include cuts like the title track, “Feast of the Wolves”, “King Among Kings”, “Gorillas”, “Henry the 8th”, “Pull The Pins Out”, “Tear It Down”, “Into The Arms Of Angels” and “All Shall Perish”. The Torture Papers is a very strong, well rounded, and complete album and a must-have for all those into hard, underground battle-rap kind of Hip Hop. No doubt one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 2006.
141. Felt – Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet (2005)
When Atmosphere’s Slug and Los Angeles underground phenomenon Murs combine forces the result has to be something special, right? Right! As established already with their first collaboration Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci Slug and Murs prove once again they have great synergy. “Dirty Girl”, “Early Morning Tony” (with all its references to eighties classics), “Marvin Gaye” and especially “Breaker Down Like A Shotgun” are easy favorites but Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet is consistent throughout, no skips necessary.
142. Brother Ali – Us (2009)
With Us Brother Ali dropped another gem, Hip Hop for thinking people. Thought-provoking lyrics laced with truth and emotion – Ali never disappoints. Following Shadows On The Sun (2003) and The Undisputed Truth (2007), Us is another Brother Ali sure shot, and of 2009’s best releases.
143. Large Professor – 1st Class (2002)
1st Class is the second full-length solo album by the legendary Large Professor. Large Pro has earned most of his fame and respect on account of his production work on countless Hip Hop classics from artists like Nas, Eric B & Rakim, AZ, Cormega, A Tribe Called Quest, Kool G Rap, and many more. Also, as part of Main Source, he was responsible for the creation of the classic 1992 Breaking Atoms album. What people often forget is that Large Pro is pretty nice on the mic too. He can easily carry a whole album by himself, and even if 1st Class has a guest appearance from Nas as well as from Busta Rhymes, Akinyele, and Q-Tip, this is a Large Professor album all the way. Nothing revolutionary or game-changing to be found on 1st Class, just a dope straight up boom bap Hip Hop from one of the legends in the game.
144. Killah Priest – Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) (2009)
Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) is Killah Priest’s 8th solo album and the most underrated album in his vast discography. Killah Priest’s metaphysical deep and thought-provoking lyrics are not for everybody, but those who are in tune with Killah Priest’s particular style will love this album. With 23 songs on Elizabeth and at over 77 minutes of playing time, this is another LONG Killah Priest album but it holds hardly any filler material. There are no features and all production is handled by DJ Woool, which makes for a super consistent presentation that is able to keep attention despite its length. Elizabeth is a quality listen – an experience with a lot of replay value and deep lyricism that will have you coming back for more.
145. J Dilla – The Shining (2006)
The Shining is the third studio album by J Dilla, who died on February 10, 2006. The Shining was incomplete (but mostly done) at the time of J Dilla’s passing and was posthumously completed. With features from the likes of Busta Rhymes, Common, Madlib, Guilty Simpson, Black Thought, and more – and Dilla’s trademark soundscapes throughout, The Shining simply is a great listen. While not an absolute classic like Dilla’s masterpiece Donuts is, The Shining nevertheless is another testament to the exceptional talent J Dilla possessed.
146. Cage – Hell’s Winter (2005)
Not an easy or comfortable listen, as per usual with Cage – the Orange County rapper who never shied away from talking about his troubled past and his personal demons. Compared to other Cage releases, Hell’s Winter is less demented but even more personal – even if some of the stories Cage relates are hard to stomach, especially with the knowledge that at least some of these stories he tells are based on real events and personal experiences.
With his move to Definitive Jux, superior production values under the supervision of DefJux head-honcho El-P are guaranteed. El-P, Blockhead, Camu Tao, DJ Shadow, and RJD2 each bless Cage with musical backdrops, for him to bare his mind and soul.
Sonically superior and lyrically intense – Hell’s Winter is Cage’s magnum opus and one of the many jewels in the DefJux crown.
147. Masters Of Illusion presented by KutMasta Kurt (2000)
Kutmasta Kurt arguably is the only beatmaker that has ever fully understood Kool Keith’s style and who was able to provide him with the most suitable framework for his lyrical expressions on multiple projects. Besides Sex Style and First Come First Served, Masters Of Illusion is their best collaboration.
On this album, Kool Keith is paired up with Bay Area rapper Motion Man. Both emcees spit great rhymes over Kutmasta Kurt’s stellar old-school-style production. As always Kurt provides beautiful boom-bap beats complemented with some real scratching & cutting. Plenty of excellent cuts on this one, but you have to check out “The Bay-Bronx Bridge” – a perfect throwback old-school flavored Ultramagnetic track. Make no mistake – this is a GREAT, 100% Hip Hop album.
148. King Geedorah – Take Me To Your Leader (2003)
MF DOOM dropped two understated masterpieces in 2003. Vaudeville Villain (as Viktor Vaughn) is one, this one is the other. For Take Me To Your Leader DOOM adopts the persona of King Geedorah – a three-headed lizard observing earth from outer space, and commenting on some of earth’s problems.
Where Vaudeville Villain had its focus more on the lyrics, this album is all about the musical backdrops. DOOM’s and especially his guests’ lyrics are worth listening to (DOOM only raps on two tracks, focusing his energy almost exclusively on his work on the boards) but it may take multiple listens to decipher everything and take all in – partly because of the clever complexity of most rhymes and partly because they are sometimes hidden behind a wall of lo-fi sound: dusty beats laced with obscure samples – DOOM digs deep to come up with the craziest soundscapes.
Take Me To Your Leader is not for those who like formulaic mainstream rap, but it is a treasure for those who dig creativity. Along with Doomsday, Vaudeville Villain, Mm… Food, The Mouse & The Mask, and Madvillainy, Take Me To Your Leader is one of MF DOOM’s best albums.
149. Jaylib – Champion Sound (2003)
Champion Sound can be seen as sort of a prelude to 2004’s Madvillainy – one of the most-lauded underground Hip Hop albums of all-time. Both are products of two brilliant producers joining forces, in case of Madvillainy a collaboration between MF DOOM and Madlib, for Champion Sound Madlib teamed up with the late great J Dilla.
On Champion Sound, the two each produced half of the tracks and they rapped over the beats the other one provided, with tracks sequenced alternatingly. Guests like Percee P and Guilty Simpson add some extra flavor, but Madlib and Dilla hold their own on the mic – even if it’s clear enough they are both producers first and rappers second. You don’t listen to Champion Sound for the rhyming anyway, it’s all about the beats – and the beats are mostly great, just as can be expected from two of the most creative producers in the game ever.
150. OutKast – Speakerboxxx / The Love Below (2003)
Yes, of course, this album is ranked WAY too low on this list. Speakerboxxx / The Love Below is one of the greatest albums of all-time within any genre – also OutKast’s commercially most successful, selling upwards of twelve million units.
Andre 3000’s half was The Love Below, a hybrid of heavy Prince-influenced funk and experimental sounds that catapulted Three Stacks into being a true star – crossing genre boundaries with cuts like “Hey Ya”, “Roses” and “She Lives In My Lap”. As for Big Boi, his half – Speakerboxx – was more traditional southern Hip Hop, mixing funk and down south gumbo to come away with a highly impressive disc himself.
Speakerboxxx / The Love Below would have been ranked higher here if Andre 3000’s half had more of a Hip Hop feel to it – still, this innovative double album is an undeniable classic, not just in the genre of Hip Hop but in music in general.