Technology has always shaped the music industry, and with the burst of the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, we were left unsure of what the future would hold. While some companies went down in flames, others rose to prominence and would eventually change the way we accessed, shared, and consumed music. The music industry itself, specifically within the genre of rap/hip-hop, had already been through a significant change – The Golden Age of Hip Hop – during the late 1980s and into the 1990s. The deaths of Biggie Smalls and 2Pac left us wondering whether or not the rap/hip-hop scene would ever be the same.
It wouldn’t. Nobody could’ve predicted that a black Canadian child actor would one day have a rap album reach 1 billion streams, or that a white dude not named Eminem would win a Grammy award for Best Rap Album. It’s impossible to recognize every single album, artist, collaboration, and mixtape that came out of the 2000s, which serves as a testament to both the quantity and quality of production during the era.
2000s rap was not just important because of the music; it had an unrecognized major contribution to pop culture, perhaps due in part to the fact that most of our generation unconsciously associates that period of time with the traumatic transition into adolescence. When you’re in eighth grade and the sight of anything that looks remotely like a pair of tits forces immediate ejaculation, you’re not exactly going to hold an active appreciation of Lil Wayne running the mixtape game. Whatever the reason may be, looking back on the 2000s almost demands a willing suspension of disbelief – the 2000s were a constant stream of events that make certain moments feel as if they were fictitious. Cam’ron getting shot and driving himself to the hospital in his Lamborghini Gallardo still wearing $200,000 in diamonds was not made up. Three 6 Mafia really did win that Oscar and R. Kelly probably did pee on that girl. All in all, I don’t think my generation recognizes how many hits the 2000s gave us and my hope is to highlight as many as I can before millennials somehow find a way to fucking ruin it.
If I told you Eminem, Outkast, Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Nelly, Ja Rule, Mystikal, Snoop Dogg, and Lil Wayne all dropped albums in the same year, you might think I’m lying. You may have forgotten, but 2000 saw the release of The Marshall Mathers LP, Stankonia, The W, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, Country Grammar, Rule 3:36, Let’s Get Ready, The Last Meal, and Lights Out (respectively). From 2000 to 2001, we began to see the fade of the East Coast vs. West Coast rap beef and a transition to city-centric production.
Houston rap already had a unique sound thanks to DJ Screw’s success in the mid-nineties, and his influences were brought to the mainstream airwaves in 2000-2001 with Big Hawk’s Hawk, Z-Ro’s Z-Ro vs. the World and King of da Ghetto, UGK’s Dirty Money, Lil Flip’s The Leprechaun, and Lil Keke’s Platinum in da Ghetto. With the help of Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Chalie Boy, and Devin the Dude, h-tine would always hol it dine.
Out of Memphis came Project Pat’s Mista Don’t Play: Everythang’s Workin’ and Three 6 Mafia’s Choices. Although both had been on the scene for years already and even had released albums in 2000 as well (Murderers and Robbers and Sixty 6, Sixty 1, respectively), their message has always been clear – swallow these pills, take this drink, and join our movement. If you don’t like it, get the fuck out.
The neighborhoods of Atlanta brought us Ludacris’ Word of Mouf, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz’s We Still Crunk, and T.I.’s first studio album, I’m Serious, which was probably a reference to people questioning how he wears his fitted hats. Atlanta would eventually produce some of the most famous rappers to ever get behind a mic (more on this later). Although Three 6 Mafia is credited for making crunk music (which actually originated in Miami) popular in Memphis, it wouldn’t have been possible without Atlanta and Lil Jon. Regardless of where it originated, the crunk music movement is responsible for some of the songs that, when played at prom, suddenly made girls want to grind until their pelvises turned into dust. There’s a conversation here about Making America Crunk Again, but I digress.
On top of the emerging popularity of crunk music and keeping it trill, 2001 also saw the release of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint. It would prove to be a glimpse into Hov’s now-legendary artistic vision. In a time where samples were generally frowned upon, 12 out of the 15 songs on the album were produced with samples. The Blueprint also established Kanye West and Just Blaze as producers, with each artist having credits on multiple songs.
Other notable album releases between 2000-2001:
Big Tymers – I Got That Work
Cam’ron – S.D.E.
Too $hort – You Nasty
Nas – Stillmatic
Sisqo – Return of Dragon
Wu-Tang Clan – Iron Flag
Pastor Troy – Face Off
Lil Bow Wow – Doggy Bag
D12 – Devil’s Night
Coolio – coolio.com
Fabolous – Ghetto Fabolous
NOTE: 2001 would also be the year that Puff Daddy became P. Diddy, the importance of which still escapes me to this day.
50 Cent released “Guess Who’s Back?” in 2002, a reference to being famously shot 9 times in May of 2000. Although Fitty had managed to fight off the cold hand of death, the same could not be said for the rest of the music industry. Jam Master Jay’s murder and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes’ car wreck in Honduras left 2002 with an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Jam Master Jay’s contribution to mainstream hip-hop with Run-DMC left many artists reeling, ultimately wondering if their industry would always overlap with the violence of the streets. Today, seeing rappers take their issues to Twitter makes me long for the day when they’d just shoot each other like adults.
Other notable albums released in a solemn 2002:
Cam’ron – Come Home with Me
Juicy J – Chronicles of the Juice Man
Lil Wayne – 500 Degreez
Project Pat – Layin’ Da Smack Down
Clipse – Lord Willin’
Lil Flip – Undaground Legend
Young Buck – Born To Be A Thug
LL Cool J – 10
Devin the Dude – Just Tryin’ Ta Live
NOTE: Xzibit also released his fourth studio album, only to find out that nobody cared. Again.
Although the rap game was undergoing massive change, 2003 would prove to be the year that sent it into overdrive. 50 Cent dropped Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Outkast came out with Speakerboxx/The Love Below, and Jay-Z kept the album-a-year pace with The Black Album. Together, those three albums have been certified platinum 22 times. Twenty-two (not a typo). You might feel the sudden urge to go back and listen to “Hey Ya,” “Roses,” and “In Da Club,” so let’s take a break here and reconvene in a few.
Okay, you’re back. Remember when that shit came out? Fucking incredible, right? Anyway, back to what we were talking about – 2003 also saw the launch of MySpace, which gave rappers a new medium through which to share their work without necessarily having a record deal, as well as gave your friends plenty of blackmail a few years down the road when they found your old profile. One of the first to take advantage of MySpace was Soulja Boy, who had amassed hundreds of thousands of friends by the time he released “Crank That” in 2007. He was also one of the first to doctor metadata on LimeWire files, tricking users into downloading his songs thinking they were by another artist. Just 17 years old at the time, he was already proving to be one of rap’s great innovators and in many respects is considered to be the father of modern rap.
Other notable albums released in 2003:
Lil Wyte – Doubt Me Now
Slim Thug & Lil Keke – The Big Unit
YoungbloodZ – Drankin’ Patnaz
Nappy Roots – Wooden Leather
Ja Rule – Blood In My Eye
G-Unit – Beg for Mercy
Bubba Sparxxx – Deliverance
The first four years of the new millennium wouldn’t have been the same without the help of one man, who unknowingly contributed to the spread of rap/hip-hop. While the top artists in the game had been in the studio churning out hit albums, Apple had been in the lab as well. On October 23rd, 2001, Apple launched the first iPod. That ugly, 5-gigabyte, brick-looking motherfucker would change how we listened to music forever. God bless you, Steve Jobs. By the end of 2003, the number of songs downloaded on iTunes cracked the 25 million mark and Apple was preparing to release the iPod mini. We were, however, far off from our present-day digital media status where streams are factored into RIAA certification, but 2004 would certainly speed up the pace..
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