By the end of the 1990s, rap music had vaulted to the top of mainstream media. Much of the success was due to the East vs West Coast feud that resulted in the tragic deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. With that said, hip hop has blown up even bigger since then, so let’s take a look at some of the best rappers of the 2000s that helped mold rap music into what it is today.
The Best Rappers of the 2000s Era
Let’s begin with Jay-Z.
1) Jay Z
With countless challengers to the throne, Sean Carter’s longevity is a testament to his status as the best rapper of the 2000s. The success of The Blueprint vaulted Jay-Z to superstar status early in the decade. After coming out on top of the “Ether” vs “Takeover” beef with Nas, Hov sought early retirement at the prime of his career (one of many primes).
If Jay-Z had actually retired after The Black Album, he would still remain a top 5 rapper. Luckily for us and for Jay-Z, he came back like Jordan, wearing the 45, and continued to carve out a legacy like Michaelangelo carving David. This legacy includes creating his modern Dynasty with partner Beyonce, reaching Billionaire status, and introducing the world to another generational talent and future billionaire, Rihanna.
My Favorite Jay Z Song: “Allure” – The Black Album, 2003. HOVs “swan song” one the album. He reminisces of his old drug dealing life style and how the allure is hard to resist. His line, “I mean James Dean couldn’t escape the Allure. Dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse.” Jay-Z knows that if he doesn’t give up the life (previously drug dealing, now rapping) it could be the end of him. But its worth it to him, hinting at his short retirement.
2) Lil’ Wayne
Stepping out from the Hot Boyz, Lil Wayne cemented himself in the rap game with a run of mixtapes and albums that had him in the running for best rapper alive. He flexed his rap muscles on his mixtape series’, Da Drought and The Dedication, where he (in)famously rapped over the best beats from other rappers songs.
Meanwhile, The Carter was met with crossover success on the billboard charts. Lil Wayne was a new breed of rapper from the South and his unique New Orleans swagger made him undeniable during the 2000s.
My Favorite Lil Wayne: “Show Me What You Got Freestyle” – 2007. Lil Wayne ruled the mixtape circuit through the end of the 2000s much in thanks to sites like Datpiff and Livemixtapes.. He produced this legendary freestyle over a Jay-Z beat while the two were at odds for the title of “Best Rapper Alive”.
3) 50 Cent
If there was any rapper that seemed untouchable during the 2000s it was Curtis Jackson aka 50 Cent. On his mission to Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the rapper became one of the biggest stars on the planet, many thanks to a cosign by Eminem and Dr. Dre. The two helped vault 50 Cent into the mainstream eye, and he hit the ground running. His debut album had hit after hit and is a hood classic.
The autobiographical film by the same name made his story a household tale further cementing his legend. He essentially ended Ja Rule’s career, and dared to go Head to head with Kanye on album sales. 50 is a rapper that helped define the genre during the decade.
My favorite 50 Cent song: “Many Men (Wish Death)” – Get Rich of Die Tryin’, 2001. This might be one of the most gangsta songs of all time.
When Dr. Dre introduced the world to a platinum blonde haired white boy from Detroit, Michigan, it immediately shook up the entire rap game. Eminem’s looks alone caught people by surprise. His aggressive, rapid-fire, and creative rap style mixed with his raw and sometimes gruesome lyrics captured the attention of listeners across all the world.
Eminem created controversy with his lyrics, video content, and over the top performances. There are still detractors today that doubt his abilities and credibility, but there is no denying the numbers that make him one of the best selling rappers and successful artists of all time.
My favorite Eminem song: “Till I Collapse” – The Eminem Show, 2002. A football locker room and weight room classic. The combination of Eminem and Nate Dogg is one of the most random musical pairs that just seems to work.
5) Kanye West
When people say they miss the old Kanye, this is who they are talking about. Kanye West gave us the trifecta of The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation. In 2008, he changed the game again with 808s & Heartbreak, an emotionally fueled album that would be a precursor to many of his current woes.
Kanye changed the trajectory of the rap game after his album outsold 50 Cent in 2007 and the genre hasn’t looked back since. Kanye gave us emotional rap, changed rap fashion, reimagined how the 808 is used, and other key contributions that have shaped music, art, and culture.
My favorite Kanye: “Gone” – Late Registration, 2005. Bars. Bars. Bars. Kanye, Cam’Ron, and Consequence give us nearly six minutes of effortless rap.
“Damn ‘Ye, it’d be stupid to diss you
Even your superficial raps is super official”
The 2000s saw Atlanta begin to emerge as an epicenter of rap music and culture. T.I. was one of the driving forces of that movement. His modern style of southern gangsta or “trap” rap was well received in the early half of the decade. He dropped a number of street anthems helping cultivate the Atlanta sound.
His 2006 album King was released in collaboration with his debut acting role in the movie ATL. This would take T.I.’s fame to new heights joining other multi-faceted rappers on this list. From 2003 to 2008, each of T.I.’s five album reached Top 10 status.
My favorite T.I. song: “Top Back” (Remix) – King, 2006. While the original track is a banger, the remix brought T.I. and Atlanta rival Jeezy together for an epic collaboration.
7) Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg was already a household name by the new millennia. This decade he linked up with Pharrell Williams to recreate his signature G-Funk sound to a more mainstream audience. Snoop Dogg leaned into his personality during the 2000s, showing a new side to the Dogg apart from his gangsta rap origins.
Fans saw a softer side of Snoop with songs like “Beautiful” and “Perfect”. Snoop Dogg also began to diversify his image with acting roles in films and commercials. A prelude to his almost endless endorsement deals of today.
My favorite Snoop Dogg song: “It Blows My Mind” – Neptunes Present… Clones, 2003. The combination of Pharrell and Chad Hugo blessed us with and album showcasing their unique production style across multiple genres. This funky Snoop song is another example of the magic that happens when he and Pharrell get together.
8) Andre 3000
Andre 3000 had already solidified himself as one of the best rappers out during the 90s as part of the duo Outkast. The 2000s would see the duo split but not before dropping arguably their two most notable projects, Stankonia and the dual album, Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below. Three Stacks continued to lean into his own unique style of rap fusing street stories with poetic prose while stepping up the political nature of his lyrics. With songs like B.O.B. and The Whole World calling out situations with war and inequality within the United States and abroad.
After the success of The Love Below, Andre began an unofficial hiatus from Outkast but still blessed rap fans with some of the best features of the decade. No matter what track Andre hopped on, he was sure to blow listeners away with his verses.
My favorite Andre 3000 song is: “So Fresh, So Clean”, Stankonia, 2000. One of the coolest songs ever. Andre and Big Boi give their signature dungeon family sound about being cooler that Freddie Jackson sipping a milkshake during a snow storm).
Rumor has it that Jadakiss has never uttered a wack sentence in his life. Bar for bar, kiss can go toe to toe with anyone on this list. After establishing his grimey voice and hardcore rhymes as a part of The Lox, Kiss continued to progress as a solo artist. His first single “We Gonna Make It” was a top ten hit.
Through out his career the Yonkers rapper has been affiliated with Bad Boy, Ruff Ryders, and Roc-A-Fella Records (through Def Jam). Regards of the label, this rapper is always going to deliver some of the hardest bars around. Recently, he forever cemented his legacy of both hip-hip and New York supremacy with his verbal slaughtering of The Diplomats on Versus.
My favorite Jadakiss song: “We Gone Make It” – Kiss Tha Game Goodbye, 2001. From the opening bars, Jadakiss sets the tone for this dope song. Still looking for a bathtub that lifts up.
Ludacris is often forgotten about when talking about Atlanta but there is no denying his contribution to putting the city and sound on the map. The Dirty South rapper dropped eight popular albums, each with chart topping singles that are still popular today. He was instantly well received with his confident personality, signature cornrows/ afro, and a smooth and clever delivery.
He is not only one of the most best selling Southern artists of all time but also one of the most successful rappers turned actors. While mainly known for his role in the Fast & Furious franchise, he has given notable performances in movies such as Crash and Hustle & Flow.
My favorite Ludacris song: “Saturday (Oooh! Ooooh!)” – Word of Mouf, 2001. One his earliest hits, Saturday is is a fun and upbeat track that features Ludacris unique delivery style. How you gonna act like Luda isn’t one of the best rappers of the 2000s?
While New York and the South got a majority of the love and attention, one rapper held it down for the Midwest in the 2000s. Hailing from St. Louis, Nelly showed the world a different type of rapper, fusing country themes with party music to create his popular style. He was one of the most popular artist of any genre during the first half of the decade with hit songs like Country Grammar and Hot In Herre.
My favorite Nelly song: “Air Force Ones” – Nellyville, 2002. Forces, AF1s, Uptowns, no matter what you call these classic sneakers, you’ll appreciate this song. Nelly and the St. Lunatics have some pretty amazing sneaker habits as they describe in this song. Ahh the simplicity of the midwest.
In the early part of the 2000s, the late DMX was one of the biggest stars on the planet. After ascending to superstar status at the tail end of the 90s, he seemed the heir apparent to the hardcore rap throne yet also had the personality and artistic talent to crossover into film, tv, and modeling. He was another rapper taking on acting and arguably the most talented.
His portrayals in Romeo Must Die and Cradle to the Grave injected the character of DMX seamlessly believable movie roles. He is the first artist to have his first five albums all debut at number one. A true legend in the game. R.I.P.
My favorite DMX song: “Get It On The Floor” – Grand Champ, 2003. DMX’s signature growl and grit on one of Swizz’s dopest beats. Enough said.
The Harlem rapper was a mainstay on the early 2000s charts with his own hit albums and singles, and as a member of The Diplomats. Cam’Ron went platinum with his 2002 album Come Home with Me and followed up with a Gold plaque for Purple Haze (2004). His sometimes ridiculous east coast style was often accompanied by production by Kanye West and Just Blaze. He was often armed him some of the best beats in his arsenal.
My favorite Cam’Ron song: is “Down And Out” – Purple Haze, 2004. Kanye blesses Cam’Ron with one of his best beats ever. Cam’Ron repays him by allowing him the rap the Chorus. One of the earliest introductions to Kanye for the general public.
New York produced many of the top rappers on this list but two stand out from the rest due to their parts in the most epic rap beef of all time: Ether vs Takeover. While Jay-Z may have won the overall war, Nas definitely won the battle. His bars in Ether go straight to the soul of Hov with little remorse. The beef helped reinvigorate the rapper to continue his lyrical dominance through the decade.
While many strayed into the realm of commercial rap, Nas stayed true to his conscious and aware street rap while stepping up the bravado and modernizing production. He famously declared the death of the genre with his album Hip-Hop Is Dead (2007), citing his distaste for the state of rap music.
My favorite Nas song: “One Mic” – Stillmatic, 2001.
One Mic is a song that encapsulates the essence of Nas. Personal, raw, real. The rapper delivers a signature poetic performance.
15) Missy Elliot
Before the current take over of female rappers, there was one that stood out from the rest of her counterparts, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot. With the guidance of legendary producer, Timbaland, the Virginia rapper broke on to the scene at the end of the 90s. He eclectic style, effortless rapping, ability to sing, and unconventional sex appeal made her a person of interest in the industry.
The early 00s saw her rise to international fame with a run of one-of-a-kind albums and singles. Within over 30 million records sold, she is one of the best selling female rappers of all time and certainly one of the best female rappers of all time.
My favorite Missy Elliot Song: “Get Ur Freak On” – Miss E… So Addictive, 2001. Probably the most creative song on this list. Timbaland lost his mind with this beat. Perfect for an artist like Missy who literally lost her head in the video.
Thanks to the internet the 2000s saw hip-hop music permeate the entire country. Even before the major web boom, the genre managed to infiltrate every region and culture of the country. To recap on this list of the best rappers of the 2000s we have artists hailing from NYC, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, Virginia, Long Beach, and St. Louis. Each region brought its own unique contribution to the rap scene that helped it become the most popular genre of music during the time.
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