The 2000s marked an exciting era for hip hop as it fully transitioned into mainstream popular music. New sounds and styles emerged as both chart-topping and underground rap artists left their impact. This countdown looks at the 25 best hip hop songs that defined the decade.
From crunk to trap, ringtone rap to political material, these tracks showcase the dynamism within 2000s hip hop. Established superstars and upstarts alike provided anthems that shifted tastes and still resonate today. These songs represent creative pinnacles of lyricism, production, flow, and more. Let’s dive into the iconic rap hits of the 2000s starting from #25 down to the #1 top hip hop song of the decade.
#25: “In da Club” – 50 Cent
After generating hype on mixtapes, 50 Cent’s official debut single “In Da Club” exploded as a smash hit in 2003. Its minimal beat produced by Dr. Dre pulsates as 50 Cent delivers charismatic verses about partying which helped define his appeal. The track spent 9 weeks at #1 and was inescapable throughout 2003 establishing 50 Cent as rap’s new phenomenon.
#24: “Drop It Like It’s Hot” – Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell
This laidback funky track from 2004 blurred stylistic lines between hip hop and dance music. Pharrell’s mellow, stripped-back beat paired perfectly with Snoop Dogg’s effortless flow. The feel-good jam topped charts for weeks as Snoop enjoyed one of the biggest hits of his enduring career, proving his ability to evolve with changing trends.
#23: “99 Problems” – Jay-Z
In 2004, this defiant track from Jay-Z’s The Black Album found him addressing critics and legal issues over producer Rick Rubin’s guitar-heavy production. Jay-Z details his personal “problems” with trademark braggadocio, elevating complaints into an anthem. His fiery delivery and nimble rhymes made it an instant hip hop classic still celebrated today.
#22: “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” – Jay-Z
Released as the first single from Jay-Z’s celebrated 2001 album The Blueprint, “Izzo” saw him collaboratively working with the Neptunes. The track’s explosive beat as Jay delivers battle raps solidified his status as rap royalty. Lines like “Ladies is pimps too” became instantly quotable, showcasing his confident flow and wordplay abilities.
#21: “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” – Eve ft. Gwen Stefani
In 2001, rapper Eve linked up with No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani on this fusion hit blending hip hop swagger and pop hooks. Produced by Dr. Dre, it features Eve turning in slick rhymes before Stefani’s memorably catchy chorus. Reaching #2 on the Hot 100, it became Eve’s first chart-topping hit and an anthem for female camaraderie and empowerment.
#20: “Renegade” – Jay-Z ft. Eminem
This collaboration united two rap kings at the height of their powers in 2001. Jay-Z and Eminem trade vicious verses over a snarling beat from Eminem’s production team. Many fans argue Eminem’s wordplay outshined Jay on his own track. But regardless, the lyricism elevated hip hop competitiveness to new heights on this menacing stand-out cut.
#19: “Big Pimpin'” – Jay-Z ft. UGK
Driven by a sample of Middle Eastern music, this 1999 #1 hit off Jay-Z’s Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter album became an anthem celebrating opulent hip hop excess. Along with UGK members Pimp C and Bun B, Jay-Z reflects on his newfound wealth and elite rap star status with slick charismatic turns of phrase you can’t help but love.
#18: “Still D.R.E.” – Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg
Hip hop legends Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg reunited on this smash lead single from Dre’s comeback album 2001. Its glossy Scott Storch keys and thumping beat provide a strong backdrop as the West Coast icons reflect on their dominance. Snoop’s slick hook and Dre’s self-assured rhymes re-announced them as a force in the early 2000s.
#17: “One Mic” – Nas
Released in 2001 amidst Jay-Z’s growing dominance, this dramatic track re-established Nas’ talent through passionate storytelling. Vividly depicting street struggle, Nas pours emotion into contemplative verses set against moody, minimal production. His introspective performance strikes a balance between confident battle rapper and vulnerable poet.
#16: “Jesus Walks” – Kanye West
On this landmark single from his influential 2004 debut The College Dropout, Kanye West sauntered into hip hop as a unique voice. Rapping about faith over contrasting soul samples, the song revealed early glimpses of Kanye’s dexterity blending conscious themes with mainstream sonics. It remains one of the most important songs in his influential discography.
#15: “Stan” – Eminem ft. Dido
Eminem fully displayed his storytelling mastery on this disturbing narrative track from 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP. Rapping obsessively from the perspective of an unhinged fan, Eminem chillingly depicts mental instability and anger toward celebrity figures like himself. Dido’s melancholic hook provides an anchor as Em spits disturbingly introspective bars.
#14: “Hot In Herre” – Nelly
This horn-fueled 2002 club anthem introduced the Midwest rapper Nelly to the masses and quickly dominated airwaves. Backed by production duo The Neptunes, Nelly turns up the temperature through inventive rhymes celebrating the carefree party vibe. With clever lines like “it’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes,” the undeniable track spent 7 weeks at #1 making Nelly a superstar.
#13: “How We Do” – The Game ft. 50 Cent
West Coast rapper The Game emerged as one of rap’s biggest new stars in the 2000s, aided by this sugary party anthem featuring mentor 50 Cent from The Game’s major label debut, 2005’s The Documentary. Its laidback Dr. Dre keys and slick hook celebrates the excess of fame amidst The Game’s namedropping and humorous verses. The excitement of “How We Do” encapsulated The Game’s invigorating sound.
#12: “Work It” – Missy Elliott
Producer Timbaland provides his trademark futuristic funk grooves as Missy Elliott gets her freak on with defiant sexually charged lyrics on this smash 2002 single from Under Construction. The innovative music video also upped the song’s popularity. Elliott’s creative vision and unapologetic style helped make “Work It” one of the most iconic and boundary-pushing hip hop hits by a female rapper ever.
#11: “Lose Yourself” – Eminem
As the lead single to his semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” found him at a creative peak. The urgent production builds as he packs every bar with intensity and complex rhyme schemes. Eminem motivates listeners to capture opportunity against adversity like his own come-up story. The depth of his performance secured this unconventional rap song an Oscar, making history.
#10: “Made You Look” – Nas
This blistering track off acclaimed 2002 album God’s Son found Nas firing off bars over dramatic blaring horns. His sharp lyricism and rhyme delivery shine as he assertively cements his lyrical legend status. “Made You Look” demonstrated Nas’ continued vitality amidst newer crop of MCs trying to claim his throne. He succeeded in crafting an exhilarating display of true skills.
#9: “Grindin’” – Clipse
Hailing from Virginia, rap duo Clipse burst onto the scene in 2002 with this menacing, paranoia-filled street anthem produced by The Neptunes. Malice and Pusha T’s inventive rhymes and flows vividly describe hustling and evading cops over the grinding beat. Songs like “Grindin’” helped bring Clipse’s unique coke-rap style into the spotlight at rap’s critical and commercial peak.
#8: “Get Ur Freak On” – Missy Elliott
This avant-garde club banger paired Missy Elliott with iconic producer Timbaland again on her 2001 album Miss E…So Addictive. Between the Middle Eastern-inspired beat and gibberish chorus chants, the experimental track finds Missy rapping ferociously about late-night desire and conquest. Her carefree confidence helped make “Get Ur Freak On” massively influential in pushing open-minded hip hop forward.
#7: “In da Club” – 50 Cent
As mentioned earlier, 50 Cent dominated 2003 with this minimal club anthem celebrating hedonism and success. Produced by Dr. Dre, the sinister beat forms the perfect backdrop for 50 to introduce himself as a charismatic new force against the competition with signature ad-libs. The cultural domination of “In Da Club” kicked off 50 Cent’s reign atop 2000s rap.
#6: “Ms. Jackson” – OutKast
Released in 2000, this creative single from southern rap duo OutKast’s boundary-pushing Stankonia album blended hip hop, rock, and pop elements. Andre 3000 delivers playful yet earnest verses apologizing to his ex’s mother for the failed relationship. The song’s widespread crossover appeal demonstrated OutKast’s adeptness fusing genres long before it became commonplace.
#5: “Passin Me By” – The Pharcyde
West coast underground rap group The Pharcyde delivered one of alt-hip hop’s defining tracks with the smooth jazz-influenced “Passin Me By” from their debut Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde in 1992. Rapping about missed love connections with introspection and humor over breezy production, Bootie Brown and Imani’s chemistry shines bright with clever lines and flows.
#4: “Hey Ya!” – OutKast
Andre 3000 pushed boundaries even further on this genre-bending, kaleidoscopic centerpiece track off Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, OutKast’s double solo album from 2003. Fusing rap with pop, rock, funk, and electronic music, Andre’s infectious energy made “Hey Ya!” an unexpected yet dazzling crossover phenomenon that still feels futuristic.
#3: “Hot in Herre” – Nelly
As mentioned earlier, Nelly instantly turned into a 2000s juggernaut with this funky, ubiquitous party rap smash produced by The Neptunes. Beyond just celebrating good times, Nelly displays verbal agility and swagger with couplets like “Heated up, we burnin’ up, chicks that give it up easy.” The song remains Nelly’s signature hit and one of the decade’s most fun hip hop cuts.
#2: “Still D.R.E.” – Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg
Dr. Dre enlisted his friend Snoop Dogg to chronicle their rise and enduring dominance atop West Coast hip hop on this smash lead single from his 1999 comeback album 2001. Their seamless chemistry illuminates this victory lap. Snoop’s infectious hook and fluid rhymes paired with Dre’s potent verses celebrate their elite rap status for this hip hop essential.
#1: “Lose Yourself” – Eminem
Claiming the top spot, Eminem’s masterful theme song to semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile marked his creative peak and still stands as one of rap’s crowning motivational anthems. Over the guitars and iconic drum kick pattern, Eminem’s technical prowess and introspective lyricism shine as he captures the hunger and passion that fueled his rise out of hardship. Raw power and emotion that transcends hip hop makes “Lose Yourself” one of the greatest rap songs ever, period.
The diverse sounds and styles showcased in this 2000s countdown reflect hip hop’s continuing artistic evolution through the decade. Mainstream smashes co-existed with underground gems pushing the craft forward. From newcomers 50 Cent, Nelly and The Game to veterans like Jay-Z, Nas, Missy Elliott, and OutKast dropping classics, lyricism and musicality thrived.
Production also progressed with beats from maestros like Dr. Dre, The Neptunes and Timbaland. Far from forgetting its roots, hip hop found ways to expand its reach. These songs represent pinnacles of creativity during the 2000s that still resonate powerfully today.
Frequently Asked Questions
What new styles emerged in hip hop during the 2000s?
Crunk, snap music, and trap out of the Southern scene rose to prominence. Indie rap flourished through artists like MF Doom and Atmosphere. Traditional East Coast boom-bap endured via Jay-Z and Nas. Kanye West ushered in new soundscapes. Pop and R&B/rap hybrids grew popular.
What rappers broke out as superstars in the 2000s?
50 Cent skyrocketed as a new superstar with his 2003 debut. Nelly fused pop and rap into chart dominance. The Game emerged among West Coast rap’s elite faces. Artists like T.I., Ludacris, Young Jeezy and Rick Ross became Southern rap leaders. Veterans like Jay-Z and LL Cool J enjoyed sustained success.
How did production change during the 2000s?
Hitmakers like Dr. Dre, Timbaland, The Neptunes and Kanye West created diverse soundscapes. Samples fell out of favor for more electronic instrumentation and dramatic synths. Beats became crisper and heavier on drums. Underground acts still utilized classic 90s boom-bap though.
What female rappers thrived in the 2000s?
Veteran female MCs like Missy Elliott, Eve, Lil Kim and Remy Ma stayed relevant. Young artists like Shawnna, Trina and Jacki-O found success. By the decade’s end, Nicki Minaj arrived as the next big female rap star. But overall, male rappers still dominated.
How did rap’s popularity progress in the 2000s?
Hip hop grew into the decade’s most commercially successful genre. Artists frequently topped pop charts rather than just rap ones. Hip hop culture further permeated TV, film and fashion.
What rap songs impacted broader pop culture most?
Massive crossover smashes like “Hot In Herre,” “In Da Club,” “Lose Yourself,” and “Hey Ya!” permeated culture beyond just core rap fans. Kanye West also brought new styles to the mainstream. But traditional hip hop lyricism and production still thrived through artists like Jay-Z and Nas.