The 8 Ball 4.12.14: Top 8 2000s Rap Albums
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.12.2014
From Jay Z's The Blueprint and 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' to Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP, Kanye West's The College Dropout and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 2000s rap albums!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Welcome back to the Music Zone 8 Ball ladies and gentlemen! I am, as I always am, Jeremy Thomas and today we're concluding our look at rap albums throughout the decades. (No, we will not be covering the first four years of the decade. Maybe if I'm still doing this as of 2020 we'll get to it!) Where the 1980s was rap's formative decade and the 1990s was the decade in which it grew up and got serious, the 2000s found the genre at a crossroads. The genre was at new heights of mainstream success, but it was also trying to find its identity anew. Following the collapse of gangsta rap in the wake of Biggie and 2pac's deaths, some major elements of the genre ran in the opposite direction and turned to Bling Rap for a long time. At the same time the genre was diversifying as other names in the gangsta field came forth and subgenres like crunk and alt-rap became more prominent, while pop music began to accept hip-hop and rap so they could incorporate it in and cash in on the new big thing. This week we're looking at the greatest rap albums of the '00s.
Caveat: To qualify for this list, an album had to be a rap LP (non-compilation or soundtrack) that was released between 2000 to 2009. That's all the criteria we have this week!
Just Missing The Cut
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter II (2005)
The Game - The Documentary (2005)
Common - Be (2005)
Jay-Z The Black Album (2003)
Kanye West - Graduation (2007)
#8: Ghostface Killah Supreme Clientele (2000)
Last week was a very Wu-Tang Clan heavy list, for obvious reasons. The 2000s were not nearly as dominated by members of the group; ODB passed away in 2004, RZA focused more on film and producing and many other members of the collective found themselves distracted in other directions or fading away somewhat. But Ghostface Killah remained and not only did he stick around, he upped his game to new levels. The prime example of that is Supreme Clientele, his second solo LP. This was an album that truly set him apart from his Wu-Tang compadres and established him as a lyricist and flow master who was unrivalled in the era. Clientele was produced by RZA and you can certainly hear his influence in a positive way, but what he does the best here is provide the platform for Ghostface to step out on his own with a cohesive, powerful LP. It flows naturally from one track to another; this isn't just a great collection of songs; this is a great singular album that happens to work incredibly well as individual songs as well. It's surprisingly difficult for some people to accomplish that; people usually do a great album where the songs become less distinctive or a great collection of songs that don't work within each other's context. Accomplishing both is a rare feat and helps earn Ghostface the #8 spot.
#7: 50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003)
This one is one of those choices that I do with metaphorically gritted teeth. If I'm being honest, I am not a 50 Cent fan. The rapper, born Curtis Jackson, has undeniable talent but he just doesn't appeal to me for whatever reason; the music doesn't connect to me emotionally and instead just comes off as inauthentic and glossy hit material. However, that talent deserves to be recognized and even if I don't like it, I have to admit that Get Rich or Die Tryin' is one hell of an album. Fiddy had quite a bit of buzz building him up before the release of this LP, including game-changing work in terms of bringing mixtapes to new levels of prominence. When this--his debut LP--dropped, it was an instant smash and became a mainstay of radio. Even I have to appreciate the pure power of the catchiness behind the hits: "In da Club" is still an iconic song, as re "P.I.M.P.," "Wanksta" and "21 Questions." With some fantastic production work from Dre and Eminem, Mr. Jackson was poised to great something of greatness and that's exactly what this was. That he never quite followed up well on this success may prove my disdain for him validated, but it doesn't take anything away from this LP.
#6: Scarface - The Fix (2002)
Scarface is a rapper who deserves to be better-known by mainstream America. That isn't to say he's a complete unknown; the Houston-born MC established quite a name for himself, both as a member of the Geto Boys and through a solo career. But he hasn't achieved the same level of recognition that some of his contemporaries have and that's a bit unfair. The Fix may not be his best album, but it is his most consistently good one from start to finish. Face's mafioso rap style is in rare form here on a surprisingly bluesy rap album that enlists some high-powered guests like Jay Z, Beanie Sigel, Faith Evans and more while Kanye West and Just Blaze deliver all the goods on the production side. This album made a splash on the charts, hitting #4 without the strength of a heavily-played single; this was all on the quality and word of mouth which was deservedly excellent. Face has been called one of the all-time great lyricists and he shows just how good he can be here. Listen to "Sell Out" as an example of how skillfully he elevated the game. It's a great LP from track to track and one of the more consistently-great albums of the early '00s.
#5: Madvillain - Madvillainy (2004)
Speaking of groups that are largely overlooked. Madvillain is the duo of MF Doom and Madlib, and they've only released the one album together (and a remix of the same album, but still). Madvillainy is one of those LPs that few people bought but everyone interested in rap should listen to. It's an experimental and extremely non-traditional rap album with its short tracks and aberrant song structure. The songs don't sound like anything that you're used to in hip-hop, particularly from this era. But even though it flies in the face of everything that should build into success--seriously, this is the exact opposite of "radio-friendly"--it works. And not only does it work, it excels. This is an excitingly original album that feels retro but looks forward, punctuated with abstract lyrics that meticulously constructed and Doom's offbeat rhyme flow while Madlib's jazzed-up beats back him up. It's not an easy album to listen to; it challenges the listener and makes them truly listen to appreciate it. But it's not impenetrable either. There are some LPs that are just flat-out off-putting because they try too hard to buck the trend. Madvillany doesn't try at all; it just does. And that's what makes it brilliant.
#4: J Dilla - Donuts (2006)
What is it with artists who die shortly before or after their albums release? Last week we had Notorious B.I.G. who died two weeks before Life After Death was released. And this week we have J Dilla (or Jay Dee, if you prefer), who died three days after the release of his greatest album and one of the top albums of the decade. Jay Dee (real name James Dewitt Yancey) didn't die the way the way of tragic gang violence or a drug overdose or the like; instead he suffered a heart attack related to a rare blood disease and lupus. It robbed the world of one of the more innovative and talented rappers of the first decade of the 21st century and while several posthumous albums have been released, Donuts remains his high point. It's one of the most singularly-effective albums from a production standpoint that I can remember from the era; it follows the same short structure that Madvillainy has but frankly goes in more accessible directions without sacrificing any of its creative integrity. The expansive thirty-one track LP never sags thanks to the short running times and Jay Dee's ability to keep it engaging throughout; the beats were so good that they've been a major source of sampling throughout the years by some of hip-hop's greats. This remains one of the albums that most deserves greater recognition, not only for its quality but for its influence because to be frank, you can hear the last eight years of rap, hip-hop and even R&B directly when you listen to this album.
#3: Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
The Marshal Mathers LP is Eminem's greatest achievement, without question. I don't know anyone who would dispute that. And considering how high the rapper ranks among most people's lists of the top rappers of the last fifteen years (if not ever), this is an easy choice for a spot near the top of this list. Marshall Mathers was a lightning rod of controversy due to its violent and misogynist lyrics and make no mistake: that helped propel this album to the top of the charts. But for my money, it excelled in spite of those moments and not because of them. Whether you're disgusted or not by tracks like "Kill You," "Kim" and "Marshall Mathers," you cannot deny that the way Em constructs these songs are exceptional from a structural and production standpoint. Em's flow is undeniable and his ability to slip between humorous, serious and disturbing is absolutely stunning. He moves seamlessly from a serious and powerful number like "The Way I Am" into the pop culture-heavy humor of "The Real Slim Shady," then into shock value of "Remember Me" (with RBX and Sticky Fingaz) and it all just flows perfectly together. Eminem peaked with this album and the ones after were viewed as disappointments, at least until the sequel last year and most of that disappointment is because he raised the bar so damned high here.
#2: Kanye West - The College Dropout (2004)
We all have a certain amount of disdain, ranging from mild to severe, for Kanye West as a person these days. The rapper has become one of the most controversial and attention-grabbing individuals in popular music these days thanks to his tabloid exploits, his relationship with reality show queen Kim Kardashian, his egotistical ramblings and so on. But none of that takes a thing away from the fact that he has completely changed the game with his musical output and it all started here with what may just be his best album period. Kanye was working as a well-respected producer within the genre but couldn't get anyone to let him get in front of the mic. That changed when Roc-A-Fella's Damon Dash reluctantly signed him on. The end result was one of the most influential albums of the early twenty-first century. The College Dropout put Kanye immediately at the forefront of the industry with great lyrics and some of the best beats that anyone had heard before...and frankly, sense. Pick any song on here and they stand out as some of the true greats of the era whether we're talking about "Through the Wire," "Slow Jamz," "Jesus Walks" or "All Falls Down." This is an album that had the balls to be entirely different and it became one of the landmark albums of the decade without question.
#1: Jay-Z - The Blueprint (2001)
It's still strange to think about the fact that Jay Z's best work to date came out on September 11th, 2001. The rap icon was quickly becoming one of the biggest names in hip-hop, but The Blueprint put him right over the top. There is so much about this album that is historic, from the iconic hits like "Izzo" and "Renegade" to the blistering diss track against Nas "The Takeover," which kicked that feud up to a new level. In a week when no one was thinking about music, The Blueprint still managed to sell over 425,000 copies and propelled Jay into the status of a household name and the new flag bearer for the genre. It's even more spectacular when you remember that Jay recorded the vast majority of this album in just two days because this is the kind of album that almost every rapper in the game wishes that they could record given a year's time. With production from Kanye and Just Blaze (introducing them to the world) and the perfect mix of incredible beats and versatile yet powerful lyrics, The Blueprint represents the pinnacle of rap music from the 2000s.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
It just missed out on making the top 8, but The Game's Documentary deserves a shout-out for reviving West Coast rap in the 21st century and it gets the spot in this week's Music Video A-Go-Go. Check out one of the many hits from it in "Westside Story":
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.