Top 100 Best Hip-Hop Songs of the 2000s

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These songs embody the spirit of the 2000s. Like the theme music to a good movie, they underscore a unique decade in hip-hop. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane and explore the best rap songs of the 2000s.


Swagga Like Us – Jay Z (feat Kanye West, Lil Wayne and TI).

 Grand Hustle, LLC


Kanye’s braggart rhymes, Jay-Z’s strong presence, Lil Wayne’s unique delivery, and T.I.’s multi-syllabic flow make this a quadruple whammy of star power. T.I.’s star-stuffed single instantly became an inescapable radio hit, club banger, and summer staple in 2008. To crown it all, a heavily pregnant M.I.A. joined the boys onstage for a Grammy performance on her due date. Top that.



Soul Position – The Cool Thing to Do.

Rhymesayers Recording


Like your big brother giving you the “do good, live right” spiel before going away to college. But with a Rembrandt hanging behind him the whole time.


N.E.R.D performing live.
Lester Cohen/WireImage

This hilarious paean to booger sugar had all the girls (and some fellas) fiendin’ for N.E.R.D goodness.


Shyne.

Bad Boy Records


You couldn’t go anywhere in 2000 without hearing Barrington Levy’s voice, followed by Shyne’s gritty flow. Dude was practically on top of the world until a lousy club shooting sent him to jail and deflated his career.


Atmosphere When Life Gives You Lemons.

Rhymesayers Recording



“Yesterday,” a standout cut from Atmosphere’s, finds Slug reminiscing about his father’s days on earth.


Emanon.

Fat Beats Records


Exile serves up the poignant production on this moment of uplift from 2005’s The Waiting Room.


Young Buck.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images



Backed by Hi-Tek’s ominously slamming beat and Dion’s inspiring chorus, Young Buck and Outlawz invent a new genre: hardcorerapsoulnica. Check Buck Marley’s comical rhymes from Buck Marley: “See when the sunshine come out, the Lamborghini somehow had the haters mad, looking at me with they tongue out.”


Danger Mouse & Jemini – Don’t Do Drugs.

Lex Records


The 2000s saw conscious rap crumble under the burden of sanctimonious sentiment. Jemini avoids that criticism by sarcastically urging kids to do drugs on a song titled “Don’t Do Drugs,” while Danger Mouse keeps the beat bubbly.


Erick Sermon.
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

“To relax my mind so I can be free” are the first words on Erick Sermon’s “Music.” Isn’t that what comes to mind when we hear the words “music” and “Marvin”? Erick holds his own, but Mr. Gaye puts on a hell of a performance from the other side.



Nas & Jay Z.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The reconciliation was just as historic as the battle. Rather than contrive a common ground, both men embraced their differences and left us with an event record. It was more than anyone had bargained for.


Murs and 9th Wonder.

Definitive Jux


Much was made about the growing purchasing power of white hip-hop fans. On the 9th Wonder-laced “And This Is For…,” Murs imbues the topic with the insight, bite, and nuance it truly deserved. “Good music transcends all physical limits,” Murs rhymed atop 9th’s deft interpretation of “You’re Winning” by Crackin’.


Nelly – Hot in Herre.
Universal Records

Nelly, in his prime, was a force to be reckoned with in the danceable-rap department. “Hot in Herre” was supposed to be a summer single, but the St. Louis native got more than he bargained for. It went on to become his first chart-topping single and inspired a remix craze that went on for years.


The Roots – Rising Up.

Def Jam Records


The glorious midtempo throb of “Rising Up” outshines everything on Rising Down. From the go-go drums to Chrisette Michelle’s soulful chorus and Wale’s flawless verse, this is what a hip-hop masterpiece sounds like.


Q-Tip – The Renaissance.

Universal Motown


It’s bouncy enough for the club and frenetic enough for the gym. The second half of the song reminds us of the many reasons Q-Tip has managed to remain a strong force. With a flip of the beat, a bubbly rap song descends into a somber subway banger, as Tip recalls his days as a young MC.



Wale – The Kramer.

Allido/Interscope Records


A usually lighthearted Wale gets serious on “The Kramer,” in which he weighs in on the N-word debate.


Scarface – The Fix.

Def Jam Records


Face’s heightened spiritual awareness and ominous street tales on songs like “What Can I Do” and the Houston tribute “On My Block” helped make The Fix his second best album. Second only to The Diary.


Lil Wayne.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Dwayne Carter dons his overalls and proceeds to stitch his ailing patients one after the other. Wayne devotes each verse to a specific element of hip-hop, doling out countless quotables along the way.

Courtesy of CRS

There’s a certain magic to this song that I don’t want to ruin by trying to dissect the ingredients. A sweet reminder of a time when CRS (Kanye, Pharrell, and Lupe Fiasco) teased us endlessly with the promise of a long-player.

Nike Label


Three legendary MCs and one MC known for his legendary hubris celebrate Nike’s Air Force 1.



Lupe Fiasco feat. Jill Scott – Daydreamin’.

Atlantic Records


“Daydreamin'” is a colorful blend of poetry, blues, and hip-hop. Philly sweetheart Jill Scott is on board to sweeten this riveting piece.


Jaylib – The Official.

Stones Throw Records


Bass-heavy breaks and quirky samples surround the green-aided exchange between Dilla and Lib on this standout from 2003’s Champion Sound.


Lifesavas – HelloHiHey.

Quannum Projects


Portland’s Lifesavas paint a solemn and sincere portrait of life as an underground rapper, highlighting some frustrations and funnies that artists and fans can easily identify. The song’s lighthearted vibe is apropos given Oregon’s high depression rates.


J. Cole.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

On “Lights Please,” the Roc Nation signee manages to cram an epistle’s worth of social commentary into four minutes without wandering off into preachy territory.


Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 1.

Viper Records


Darkness permeates “Dance with the Devil” from start to finish, as Immortal Technique tells an elaborate tale of a man named Billy. Billy’s hunger for social acceptance drove him to commit all sorts of atrocities. The song’s hazed-out jazzy vibe, coupled with Tech’s psychopathic recital, is incredibly chilling.



Wiz Khalifa (L) and The Game perform at the 2012 Closer To My Dreams Tour at Club Nokia on September 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images


This is an imaginative masterpiece from Game’s brilliant debut, 2005’s The Documentary.


The Cool Kids – Black Mags.

CAKE, LLC


The year of Chicago was 2007. Not only did the Windy City send three albums to 07’s Top 10; it also introduced us to this cool duo. Their top single “Black Mags” is a ​sonic collision of different styles and genres, from hyphy to boom bap.


Blackalicious- Blazing Arrow.

MCA/Geffen Records


If “Chemical Calisthenics” didn’t help you ace your Chemistry class, you’re doing it wrong.


Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.. Pt II.

Caroline Records/ICEH2O Records


Raekwon serves up a certified Wu banger, alongside Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck. “10 Bricks” is a movie on wax, replete with vivid descriptions and rewind-worthy metaphors.


The Foreign Exchange – Connected.

The Foreign Exchange Music


North Carolina MC Phonte teamed up with Dutch beatsmith Nicolay on 2004’s Connected. Where most rappers tend to approach their side gigs lightly, Tay attacked every beat on Connected as if his career depended on it. One of his most memorable performances arrived on the Darrien Brockington-aided gem “All That You Are.”


Devin the Dude – Just Tryin’ Ta Live.

Rap-A-Lot Records/Rap-A-Lot 2K Records, Inc.


Devin is known for propagating the green gospel. Usually, when he does so, it’s because he has trouble on his mind. When he’s down and out, his doobie is all he has. But when you take away his refuge, it’s like stealing a fat kid’s lunch. Luckily for us, some mean bastard took his doobie away and Devin lived to tell the beautiful tale of “Doobie Ashtray” possible.


Cam’rom – I Hate My Job.

Asylum Records/Diplomatic Man 


Cam’ron’s recession rap anthem captures the frustrations that peppered the global economic turmoil. “Why am I workin’ here? It ain’t workin’ here, it ain’t worth it here/I’m never gone persevere,” Cam raps on “I Hate My Job.”


Jay-Z and Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind.

IDJ/S. Carter Enterprises, LLC distributed as Roc Nation



More of a standout than any of Jigga’s rhymes is the brilliant display of exceptionally strong vocals from Ms. Keys. Imagine if Jay-Z teamed up with Nas and Rakim for a remix. A brother can dream, right?


Terror Squad – True Story.

Universal Records/Rifkind Entertainment


If you partied at the dawn of the century, you must have encountered this bouncy trifle at some point. Best of all, it went down easy no matter what kind of dance you were doing in the club.


Rich Boy.

Interscope Records


Rich Boy made a splash in 2006 with his ubiquitous hit single, “Throw Some D’s,” which spawned a kabillion remixes, including the one that ultimately set off Kanye West’s campaign for Graduation.​


Snoop Dogg (feat. Pharrell Williams) – Drop It Like It’s Hot.

Geffen Records


Snoop dropped this one in the hovering humidity of ’04 and watched it sit on No.1 for three weeks. By now, everyone had learned one thing: never bet against The Neptunes.


Mos Def – Quiet Dog.

Downtown Records


Mighty Mos Def blends Fela Kuti-inspired funk with Kanye-esque 808s for an uncanny hip-hop anthem.


Nas.

Island Def Jam Music Group/Columbia Records


Aside from Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, no other event garnered hip-hop support like the 2008 presidential election. Nas and a bunch of others made something of a contest out of documenting the historic election. “Black President” took Pac’s skepticism (“we ain’t ready to see a Black president”) and turned it into a positive assertion of progress in U.S. politics.


Ghostface Killah – The Champ.

Island Def Jam Music Group


Just Blaze does his best Mathematics impression on this “Mighty Healthy” sequel. Perfect ring walkout jam.


50 Cent – Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.

Shady Records/Aftermath Records/Interscope Records


As deadly as the bullets that pierced his skin and nearly claimed his life.


Jurassic 5 – Power in Numbers.

Interscope Geffen (A&M) Records


“What’s Golden” hearkens to Jurassic 5’s mission statement. Merging conscious rhymes with old-school beats was the forte. And they held onto those values all the way to the end of the group’s run in 2007.


Ludacris – Back for the First Time.

Island Def Jam Music Group


Spun by The Neptunes, “Southern Hospitality” grew to be a club requisite in the early 2000s. That unmistakable bling tug filled the floor quicker than a money rain.


Brother Ali – The Undisputed Truth.

Rhymesayers Entertainment




Brother Ali rails against the status quo. Sorta like Ron Paul without the political baggage.


Chamillionaire – The Sound of Revenge.

Universal Records


Cham’s octane-flow approach is only rivaled by the fast-tongued Krayzie Bone here. It’s arguably the biggest hit to ever come out of Texas. This one was so hot it inspired Weird Al’s “White & Nerdy” remix.


The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come for Free.

Pure Groove, Ltd./69 Recordings Ltd.


Mike Skinner’s A Grand Don’t Come for Free was a flawless album. It relies on a simple plot: a boy loses money, gets a girl, loses the girl, finds the money. “Blinded by the Lights” is a smart, intense bit from the narrative that encapsulates the protagonist’s helplessness.


Jadakiss – Why (featuring Anthony Hamilton).

Ruff Ryders


Jadakiss hooked up with Havoc and Anthony Hamilton for a moment of reflection on a wide array of social issues. The Common-aided remix is equally fascinating.


Elzhi – The Preface.

Fat Beats


This giddy lyrical back-and-forth is a good enough reason to pick up eLZhi’s The Preface. El and fellow Motor City MC Royce engage in a fierce rhyming contest over Black Milk’s sample-heavy concoction. “Motown 25” is four minutes of non-stop multi-syllabic rhyme schemes.


Aesop Rock – Daylight.

Block Block Chop


“Daylight” is the perfect theme song for a walk through a cold night. It’s the very song that helped spur the Def Jux revolution. A modern masterpiece.


Wu-Tang Clan – Gravel Pit.

SBME Strategic Marketing Group/BMG Music


When Antoine Duhamel scored the French TV miniseries Belphegor in 1965, he didn’t expect RZA to turn it into a rap hit 35 years later. I would’ve liked to be a fly on the wall to see Duhamel’s reaction when he first heard this gem of a song.


Jay Z – Life and Times of S. Carter.

Roc-A-Fella Records/Roc Nation/IDJ


Oh man, the good ol’ days when Timbaland was cranking out club knockers every other Tuesday. Jiggaman and UGK teamed up to give us this sure-shot in the summer of 2000. And if you happened to be a UGK fan back then, you probably recall doing backflips as soon as you heard Bun go, “It’s the big southern rappin’ pimp Presario.”


Kid Cudi.

G.O.O.D./Dream On/Universal Records


Kid Cudi’s trippy psych-jam became the go-to song for lonely stoners in the 2000s. Little did we know, at the time, that Cudi planned to make a career out of stoner jams.


M.O.P. – To the Death.

J-Love


M.O.P. made considerable strides in the 2000s because of songs like “How About Some Hardcore” and “Ante Up.” Respect is due.


Trae – Restless.

Starz Music/BCD Music Group


Well, it’s heavy, compelling, a deeply moving jam that sucks you in until you’re devoid of sunlight. A classic eulogy that nails the job it wasn’t trying to do in the first place.


Madvillain.

Stones Throw Records


MF DOOM reached the height of his creativity in the 2000s. This ebullient jawn from his collaboration with Madlib captured the two in top form.


Kanye West.

Manny Carabel / Getty Images


Already a respected producer, Kanye West demonstrates his sonic range on “Flashing Lights.” He doesn’t disappoint on the mic either: “Martin with no Gina,” he quips on “Flashing Lights,” while Dwele rides shotgun.


DC Loves Dilla – 9th Annual Tribute and Fundraiser (2014).

 fuseboxradio/Flickr.com


“All I Do Is Think of You” is a favorite among Jackson 5 fans. The ballad, which appears on Jackson 5’s Moving Violation, is also one of the group’s most sampled tunes. A slightly faster, albeit equally melancholic, version of the song is the framework for Dilla’s “Time: Donut of the Heart,” off his critically-acclaimed 2006 album, Donuts. The Roots later used the same track as for the album closer, “Can’t Stop This” on 2007’s Game Theory.


T.I.
Jeff Golden / WireImage

David Banner serves up an orchestral sound-bed, while The King kicks street wisdom to young trappers in the struggle. You can play this at a retirement home and watch old souls get excited about a line dance.


Reflection Eternal – Train of Thought.

Rawkus Entertainment, LLC


Reflection Eternal’s debut, Train of Thought, will go down as one of the best hip-hop albums of the 2000s, thanks to timeless tunes like “The Blast” and “Four Women.” Nina Simone’s beautiful art survives on this sprawling epic, as Kweli confronts the social pain afflicting Black women everywhere.


Jay Electronica.
Brad Barket/BET/Getty Images

Jay Electronica is no ordinary rapper. And “Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)” is no ordinary rap song. Jay flips the theme music from Eternal Sunshine into a gorgeous hip-hop gem. Powerfully plumbed with acoustic guitar, though the production is lo-fi. Its simplicity only accentuates the sound of Jay’s heartbreaking. No hip-hop song in recent memory captured so perfectly the sentiment of despair and the possibility of hope.


The Roots.

Greetsia Tent/WireImage/Getty Images


This song has enough bounce to get your adrenaline flowing any day, any weather.


Jay Z.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

In the midst of his battle with Nas, Jay-Z needed a magical moment. Kanye came to his rescue on the back of this Jackson 5-sampling anthem from The Blueprint. 


ABN – It Is What It Is.

Rap-A-Lot/SoSouth Music Distribution


Once that deceptively smooth piano loop drops, you immediately think these guys are about to sing you a lullaby. Instead, they kick you in the teeth. “First of all, f–k you to every one of y’all.” Wait, what are those things standing upright at the base of your skin?


Brother Ali – Shadows on the Sun.

Rhymesayers Entertainment


This is the hymn of a man at peace with the sound of his own voice. As subtle as T-Pain’s “You Don’t Have to Like Me” tattoo.


Dizzee Rascal – Fix Up Look Sharp.

XL Recordings


Orbiting around a bombastic Billy Squire sample, “Fix Up, Look Sharp” grabs your ear instantly and keeps ringing even after the last note has dropped.


Freeway.

Roc-A-Fella Records


Roc-A-Fella was the dominant crew of the decade. Long before Beans went rogue, the Roc’s top three MCs joined forces to craft this street masterpiece.


El-P.

Def Jux Records


Tense, dark, paranoid. “Drive” starts out with El spewing lines like, “C’mon ma, can I borrow the keys? My generation is carpooling with doom and disease.” Classic El-Producto rocking the world, one anxious thought at a time.


OutKast.
Rick Diamond / WireImage / Getty Images

Andre 3000 and Big Boi, in their creative ebullience, dazzled with 2000’s Stankonia. Arguably their best LP, Stankonia, scored 5 mics in The Source and spawned three of the year’s most popular songs: the ferocious “B.O.B.,” the swaggerlicious “So Fresh, So Clean,” and this here baby-mama-drama anthem “Ms. Jackson.”


AZ Aziatic.

Universal Motown Records


AZ and Firm partner trade rhymes on, “The Essence”, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group.


Akrobatik – Remind My Soul.

Play Aktion/EMI


On this underappreciated gem, Akrobatik reminds his peers to be careful about what they’re teaching the younguns. Ak’s code of ethics is simple: If it makes Bob Marley turn in his grave, don’t do it.


Eminem – Lollapalooza 2011.

 EMR/Flickr.com


Eminem’s songwriting prowess is part of what made him one of the premier MCs of the 2000s. “Lose Yourself” has the double gift of being both an inspirational speech and an instructional manual. Em instructs you to “lose yourself in the moment,” while the beat motivates you to move your feet. Perfect for a mid-tempo workout session.


Missy Elliott.

Myrna Suarez/Getty Images


Strong songwriting and instrumentation as well as respect for influences. In other words, pure joy crystallized into an impossibly catchy dance cut.


Jay Z performing in Philadelphia.
Arik McArthur / FilmMagic / Getty Images

Musically accessible, but no less intriguing than “Ether.” Mature, nuanced, and rife with unexpected metaphors. This will probably go down as the greatest challenge ever posed in a head-butting contest.


Nas, Hamburg/Germany 2003.

 Mikamote/Wikimedia Commons


Nas’ esoteric yet wittily ferocious response to Jay-Z’s “Takeover” helped clinch his victory in the battle for New York supremacy. It’s undoubtedly one of the greatest diss songs in the history of hip-hop.


Rhymefest performing live in the U.K.
Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images  

Classic Rhymefest humor (“I’m Saddam, except I got weapons”) sprinkled with Classic Rhymefest musings (“They sold MySpace for $500 million/They sold YouTube for $1.6 billion/And you’re in the project fighting over a building”). Theme music for any revolution.


Ghostface Killah performing at The Meadows Festival.
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Too many songs on Fishscale either veered too far left of Wu mantra or stuck too close to home. “Shakey Dog” worked because it found that sweet spot in the middle.


Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West.
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images  

Few newbies ever get an opportunity to split a single with a big enchilada. When Kanye used the chart-topping “Touch the Sky” as a vehicle to ferry Lupe Fiasco to the big scene, Lupe seized the opportunity and gave one of the most memorable guest performances of the decade.


Eminem.
Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

Unlike many of the tracks on 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP, there are no targets. No punching bags, either. Just Eminem defending his sheer existence as an unapologetic, foul-mouthed, lyrically-equipped artist who can’t stand boy bands.


50 Cent.
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

50 struck gold with this Dr. Dre concoction from his debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. “In Da Club” sat atop every chart in every country and scored a few Grammy nods for Fif. The song that had college kids chanting “Go shawty, it’s your birthday” regardless of what day or month it was.


Aasim.
Ray Tamarra/Getty Images  

Aasim is not a household name, but he should be. His flow on “Hip-Hop 101” is crispier than vanilla wafers. His rhymes are sharper than a Samurai ginsu. The beat, courtesy of the late great Roc Raida, will have you reaching for Bengay from too much head bobbing. Among the greatest rap songs of all time.


Andre 3000 of Outkast performing at The Grammy Awards.
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images  

While everyone else was preoccupied with the next big bassline, Andre 3000 kept it simple. The ingredient for this runaway smash? One mindless phrase repeated over and over and over and over until it becomes irresistible.


Lil Wayne – 2009 BET Awards.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Weezy goes on a free-verse rampage, rambling about everything under the sun. But you simply can’t turn it off because his flow is so damn infectious.


Missy Elliott with Grammys.
 Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Missy quickly became a favorite in the 2000s on the strength of her progressive production and innovative videos. “Get Ur Freak On” is a testament to her array of artistic strengths. It combines disparate elements that have no business being in the same pot together: Indian strings, tribal drums, Chinese gibberish. The result is a cohesive gem that sent ripples across the airwaves.


Jay Electronica.
 Prince Williams/Getty Images

“Exhibit C” embodies everything people admire about Jay Electronica—a combo of compelling confessionals and convincing boasts, delivered in a charismatic manner. Jay’s imagery is impressive. But it’s only one part of the equation. The other part comes from Just Blaze’s musically rich soundboard. A dense soundscape of shimmering piano licks over a classic breakbeat and thumping bass is the recipe for an instant banger. Hey hip-hop, your future is in safe hands.


Mike Jones.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

How many artists can claim to have placed their hood on the map with just one single? The H-Town triumvirate of Mike, Slim, and Paul should be somewhere near the top of that list for spearheading Houston’s momentary chokehold on hip-hop. ​Loud and languorous, “Still Tippin'” captured the essence of southern hospitality in 2004.


M.O.P.

Scott Gries / Getty Images


Mash Out Posse came out the door with a loud bang and sustained that intensity throughout the 2000s. “Ante Up” is further proof that their albums should come with the following warning sticker: “Repeated listens may lead to violence against things.”


Royce Da 5’9″.
Wendell Teodoro/Getty Images

In this corner wearing green trunks, representing Detroit, Royce da 5’9″! “Boom” is the sound of a heavyweight champ sparring with himself.


Big Boi performing at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square New York for the Advertising Week party.

David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons (CC by 3.0


Outkast and Raekwon hadn’t collaborated since Aquemini and this track – with an amazing closing verse from Andre –showed us why they needed to do it again. Though Big Boi and Raekwon dropped some memorable lines here, you’ll remember 3K’s verse even after “Royal Rush” has pumped out its last note. Then you hit the repeat button.


Talib Kweli.
Paul R. Giunta/Getty Images

This jam about survival helped Kweli make the transition from member of a dynamic duo to a strong solo artist.


The Game performing with his son at the BET Awards.
  Michael Caulfield Archive/Getty Images

We may never know exactly how much of this song was 50’s idea, but one thing is certain: “Hate It Or Love It” is a winner. Too bad, 50 doesn’t craft hooks like this anymore.


Kanye West 2015 VMAs.
Michael Tran / Getty Images

Most impressive is how seamless Kanye’s social commentary and Shirley Bassey’s extolling of diamonds mesh.


TI.
Johnny Nunez/Getty Images

Ahh, the good ol’ days when every rap single posed a question to the listener. What you know about that?


Dead Prez.
Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

A bouncy anthem simultaneously showcasing DP’s versatility and underlining their commitment to activism.


The Pimp and The Bun — RIP Pimp C.

 Udbhav Gupta/Flickr.com


Two revered groups merge forces for the first time and yield a pulverizing hip-hop moment. From the goofy concept to the way the beat is tailor-made to suit each artist, “Int’l Players Anthem” is flawless. It doesn’t matter if you’re a backpacker, a purist, or a southern rap aficionado, this is one anthem you won’t forget anytime soon.


Clipse.

Hannah Maule-Ffinch / Getty Images


The pared downbeat and thumping bass made this a solid club banger and one of the strongest singles of the 2000s.


Nas.
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

“One Mic” builds up gradually and explodes into a torrent of explosive rhymes. One of Nas’ finest moments.


Lupe Fiasco.

Don Arnold/WireImage


Lupe’s skateboard anthem made the world take notice of the Chi-Town MC’s push for the return of the art of storytelling sorely needed in this decade.

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

West demonstrated that a rap song could marry the mainstream to the Messiah and make it both sonically dynamic and commercially viable.


The Concert for Valor in Washington, DC Nov. 11, 2014 — Eminem.

EJ Hersom/DoD News (Publicly shared via Wikimedia Commons)


“Stan” unmasks a vulnerable Eminem, one that turns up the pathos several notches while barely raising his voice. Dido’s ethereal crooning adds more soot to the tale.


Jay Z.

Roc-a-fella Records


It’s impossible to fully appreciate the genius of this concert favorite until you’ve seen hip-hop fans leap up in excitement as Jay-Z delves into an exercise in lyricism. 


Common — NYC 2003 in Taxi.

 Mikamote/Wikimedia Commons


Produced by the late great J Dilla and inspired by Common’s ex Erykah Badu, “The Light” warmed up many nights throughout the 2000s. It was musical irrigation to our souls the first time it washed over the summer airwaves.


OutKast.

 outkast.com


They couldn’t have foreseen the emergence of Vuvuzelas or Octomom’s prominence, but they had everything else covered on “B.O.B. (Bombs over Baghdad)” The gulf war, political imbalance, and global warming never sounded so good. A frenetic drum blast supplies the backdrop while the chorus gets its riveting effect from a group of children now old enough to enlist in the military. OutKast used the eerily prescient “B.O.B.” as a missile metaphor to challenge their peers to go hard or go home: “Don’t pull the thang out unless you plan to bang.”

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