Top Hip Hop Songs of the 2000s
The 2000s were a time for great hope and cultural change on the back of the 90s era which had brought about such glorious offerings in music. This continued into the new millennium with the hip-hop genre building on its breakout decade to assert its dominance in the charts and various artists cementing their legendary status along the way. When it comes to hip-hop songs in the 2000s, there aren’t many names more synonymous with the time than Jay Z and it’s with the great man that we start below as we chart the top hip hop songs of the 2000s.
What is Jay-Z's Best Album?
Jay-Z is without doubt one of the most instantly recognizable and influential figures in all of hip-hop so it therefore comes as little surprise that his legacy is often debated by fans and critics alike. The Brooklyn-born rapper has given us so many unforgettable moments and musical masterpieces down the years that choosing his greatest ever album is a thankless task. However, we’ve set out to do it and in order to do so it is necessary to chart his musical legacy right back to its origins when he delighted fans with his album debut in the 1990s.
Ranking all of Jay’s albums from his extensive discography would be impossible so we chose our five favorites below and gave reason (if any was needed) just why they made this list.
Magna Carta…Holy Grail (2013)
UK fans of hip-hop really know their stuff, so it was a little surprising that this album, which came some 17 years after Jay's first offering of Reasonable Doubt (1996) was indeed his first UK album number one. It is perhaps best known for spawning the hit “Holy Grail” featuring Justin Timberlake which made waves all over the planet. Given its success, Jay-Z’s 12th studio album sold 528,000 copies in its first week and went platinum in less than a month as well.
The critical response and recognition it received, however, did not mean that it was as well received by fans as one might expect from an album with so many sales behind it. It is not frequently talked about amongst Jay Z's possibly due to his diverting away from his usual lyrical offerings and the speed, finesse and flair in which they are delivered. This offering, however, shows the true versatility of this legendary artist.
American Gangster (2007)
American Gangster is an album that is not just synonymous with Jay-Z but is instantly thought of when considering the top hip-hop albums of the 2000s. The album would provide the soundtrack for the blockbuster Denzel Washington film of the same name and only added to Jay's growing reputation as he explored the themes of greed, suspense, loyalty and heartbreak. The album is granted executive production from Diddy and adds some more flair to the offering. The highlight is perhaps the hook up with Pharrell Williams on the tune “I Know” which is often talked about as one of the top hip hop songs of the 2000s. A further collaboration with Nas on “Success” is another iconic moment as the two bury the hatchet following a long-running feud and sprinkle yet more stardust on this unforgettable album.
The Black Album (2003)
The world was shocked in 2003 when Jay-Z announced his retirement along with what he was calling his final album, entitled 'The Black Album'. As it was to be his final album, the offering was a reflection on his whole life experiences to date and how those moments had come to define him and his rap legacy. Some of the most iconic tunes include “December 4th”, his unique take on racial injustices in the United States in “99 Problems”, and reflecting on his status as a cultural icon of hip-hip on “Moment of Clarity,” widely considered one of the top hip hop songs of the 2000s. Some of Jay's most trusted producers including Kanye, Just Blaze, The Neptunes, Timbaland, Rick Rubin, Eminem and more are all called in for what was supposed to be his final curtain call. More on that to come below..
Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Here we are in 2022, - 24 years on since Jay-Z debuted his remarkable album 'Reasonable Doubt' - and yet this retains its place amongst the upper echelons of hip-hop folklore. The album focuses upon how Jay's tough upbringing in Brooklyn is so relatable for the youth of the 90s and how it gave him a different perspective. A masterful example of lyrical prominence, the album also features some high-profile collaborations such as “Can’t Knock the Hustle” with Mary J. Blige as well as “Brooklyn’s Finest”, which features none other than Biggie. The album is often considered one of Jay's finest and also one of the finest releases during a golden age for hip-hop during the 1990s in which legends emerged left right and center.
The Blueprint (2001)
Determined to see in the new millennium in style, Jay-Z really brought it home with this relentless array of classics all crammed into one legendary offering. Featuring some of the top hip hop songs of the 2000s, The Blueprint showcases Jay-Z’s ego at its bubbling best with the Brooklyn rapper now established at the very top of his profession. To add to the legend juice, the album is also produced by Kanye West and Just Blaze and features Jay in irrepressible mood as he looks to cement his legacy, defending his throne against Nas and Mobb Deep on “Takeover”, building his connections on ”U Don’t Know”, as well as giving us many life lessons on how to become a better man. Despite the stiff competition, The Blueprint has a real claim to being Jay-Z's greatest ever album.
We couldn't have a list of Jay-Z's top albums without including his 2017 offering, '4:44.' This album came at what was probably the most difficult time of Sean Carter's life and career and is perhaps the most emotional and heartfelt of all his albums. During the most talked about time of his remarkable career, Jay-Z sent this one out to his family, haters, and fans with what seemed like one long, heartfelt reflection of his life and mistakes in 4:44. The true greatest of this album invariably lies in its vulnerability. We see a side to Jay in this album that hasn't always been on show - it was a risk, and one that paid off spectacularly.
Why Are So Few of Jay-Z's Songs on YouTube?
When it comes to YouTube, Jay-Z is not an artist that has taken as kindly to the online video-sharing platforms as others have. Indeed, the question “why are so few of Jay-Z’s songs on YouTube” is a question often asked when discussing the iconic hip-hop legend. As a rap icon and one of the most recognizable and successful rappers of his generation, one might expect that Jay would welcome the further exposure the popular platform might offer. However, the answer lies within the entrepreneurial background and businessman-like approach of the Brooklyn-born superstar who has gone on to become one of the richest men in music.
First and foremost, Jay has given a few interviews in which he has spoken of his distaste for YouTube and how it has cheapened many artists and their discography. For a rapper who is obsessed with image and how he comes across, it therefore checks out that he probably wants to avoid having his iconic back-catalog played out on a platform he isn’t a fan of.
However, perhaps the more obvious answer lies in a conflict of interest and bottom-line cash when it comes to having his songs on YouTube. That’s because Jay-Z actually has a majority stake in TIDAL (a subscription-based music streaming service that combines lossless audio and high-definition music videos with exclusive content and special features on music). It follows then that, given the nature of their business model, TIDAL are in direct competition with YouTube and other similar platforms. As someone with an interest, Jay-Z therefore releases all of his songs on TIDAL firstly, like he did with the 2017 album ‘4:44’ . In fact, a lot of his albums and songs which fans love so much are now Tidal-exclusive, meaning you can’t actually find the official versions of them anywhere on YouTube at Jay’s specific request.
What Are The Best Old School Hip Hop Songs of All Time?
Where do we start with this one? Hip hop has become a fundamental part of the music industry and the genre just seems to go from strength to strength with each passing decade. Some of our favorites include top hip hop songs from the 2000s, but who could forget when the genre burst into life with so many legendary artists in the 90s? Given the number of legendary artists that have graced the genre over the years, this list could probably be a mile long, but we’ll keep it down to a shortlist of our favorites and leave you to ponder your own!
Gin and Juice - Snoop Dogg (1994)
A classic for so many reasons as Snoop delivers again - and this just had to make our old school list. “Gin and Juice” was one of the first tracks at any 90s party after its 1994 release and is a reflection of its cool creator. The song’s popularity is most likely due to its snappy hook (that just means the main, most prominent line) that describes the joys of drinking gin and juice - if you didn't know already! The simplicity of this song really hit home with fans and gave Snoop an instant hit that lives on today.
Whatta Man - Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue (1994)
Successive entries from 1994 here as this year really brought it home when it comes to old school iconic hip hop songs. “Whatta Man” saw its peak at number four on the Billboard charts and won multiple music awards, gaining much acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic as both US and British audiences lapped up this catchy tune from Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue.
Ruffneck - MC Lyte (1993)
When it comes to women in the hip hop genre, MC Lyte comes towards the top of the list as one of the many trailblazing artists of the 1990s decade. This song acts as kind of a love letter to anyone willing to listen, serving to describe the artists' ideal partner - a ruffneck, masculine and rough and ready kind of man. It was one of the first songs to place emphasis on women's desires and challenge patriarchal views when it comes to the genre.
No Scrubs - TLC (1992)
TLC are perhaps best known today for their iconic track "Waterfalls" but before then “No Scrubs” was making waves in the early 1990s era. This song is looked upon as a classic for countless reasons, but mainly due to its out there brand of lyrics which charges lazy mean with the descriptive of being 'scrubs' and really puts a flag in the ground for women at a time of patriarchy in the hip-hop scene.
Slow Down - Brand Nubian (1990)
An interesting entry here with Brand Nubian's classic single “Slow Down” The uniqueness of the song tells you all you need to know and its success overshadowed everything they did before or since. The song itself details different personalities who the rappers take great delight in mocking with their lyrical wit and charm and all makes for a thoroughly unforgettable hip hop legend.
Roxanne, Roxanne - UTFO (1983)
The song that was charged with beginning the “Roxanne Wars” simply couldn't be left off our list. The subsequent wars that followed involved multiple different artists within the genre attempting to respond or make reference to UTFO’s original track about a girl named Roxanne who does not return their love. Reciprocal love is the hardest thing to find and this hip-hop classic plays it perfectly.
The Message - Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982)
The 1982 song “The Message” showed that hip hop and rap was not just one dimension hand-jabbing music but actually had societal relevance beyond the bars. It was originally dismissed by record producers due to it being "too sad" in lyrical tone but proved a huge hit with audiences. The popularity of the song is evident in the fact that it retains its place amongst hip-hop folklore today, 40 years on from its release.
Rapper's Delight - The Sugarhill Gang (1979)
This from the Sugarhill Gang is the definition of an old-school hip-hop classic. The 1970s was the decade that welcomed hip hop/rap into the pop cultural mainstream and the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” is often pointed to as the song that did just that. Widely considered a groundbreaking track, it entered the charts with a new style of flow that really set the genre on the path to what we see today.
Who Has Greater Influence Jay-Z or Eminem?
All of these songs are classics but when we talk about Jay-Z and Eminem, we are not just talking about two of the greatest rappers of all but two of the biggest cultural icons in America, both boasting an army of millions of devoted fans worldwide. The influence these two men have stretches way beyond just music and their ability to have an impact on such a large number of people is testament to their strengths as people as well as artists. Jay-Z and Eminem are two individuals who for a generation defined the genre and transcended the industry, but in comparative terms just who has the greater influence – Jay-Z or Eminem?
First and foremost, let’s look at the numbers. As of 2021, Jay-Z has sold a total of 51 million albums while Eminem, on the other hand, has sold 165 million albums which is more than 3 times as many as Jay. It should also be noted that these numbers do not reflect Eminem’s time with the hugely successful group D12, just their solo contributions. However, this doesn’t really answer the question over who is the most influential. Of course, success plays a part but Jay-Z is really more of a businessman than a musician these days and his personal fortune dwarfs that of Eminem’s, coming in at a staggering $800m while Eminem’s is $200m.
The only real answer to the question of who is the most influential out of these two hip-hop icons lies in a yardstick that you can’t really measure – in the hearts and minds of their army of fans. These two could sell out America’s biggest stadiums and arenas tomorrow if they announced a tour (and often have) and very few artists in the world are as prominent as both.
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