Hip Hop Music of the 2000s

The 2000s was an extraordinary decade for hip hop, as both new artists emerged and established ones continued their upward trajectory. Producers who once operated behind-the-scenes became front men and women of their craft.

After years of waiting for his successor to Illmatic, Jay-Z finally delivered with Reasonable Doubt and it quickly became a classic album.

Kanye West – “All Falls Down”

Kanye West’s 2004 hit All Falls Down is one of the most iconic hip hop songs ever created, drawing significant recognition among young listeners who may not have been exposed to hip hop’s heavier production. All Falls Down served as an antidote for materialism by reminding young listeners that material possessions cannot bring true happiness.

Prior to his breakthrough hit, West was producing local rappers in his native Chicago using “crumb soul”, an experimental production technique using sped-up vocal samples from soul songs and known by its nickname of “chimpunk soul.” In 2000 he moved to New York City and started producing for major artists on Roc-A-Fella Records; his first major hit came when he handled production duties on Jay Z’s The Blueprint in 2001; this then led him into becoming an artist himself and creating his debut album The College Dropout.

Kanye West’s lyrics may have appeared vulgar to some mainstream rap listeners; however, his underlying message was quite serious and thought-provoking. With his unique sense of humor satirizing materialism and those uneasy college years we all endure, he also noted how many African Americans purchase material items to mask their inner insecurity or poverty.

West’s music attracted many listeners by virtue of being unpredictable and provocative, drawing many into its fold. He even gained notoriety for disrupting award shows – such as when he prevented Beck from receiving his Grammy for Best Album that year on grounds that Beck did not respect artistry and therefore should win over Beyonce as award recipient.

Kanye West established his own record label, GOOD Music, after finding success with his second album Late Registration. Graduation received eight Grammy nominations in 2007 before Kanye released 808s and Heartbreak which marked an artistic departure by exploring feelings of loss and regret while simultaneously introducing more anthemic hip hop music that blended rock ‘n’ roll and house music into his work.

Ludacris – “Stand Up”

The 2000’s marked an exciting period of technological, social and musical change. As digital tools became more available, raw and gritty soundscapes of the ’90s began melding with more polished electronic-infused beats; creating a sonic renaissance in hip hop featuring artists like Eminem pushing boundaries; Jay-Z writing The Blueprint; Missy Elliott adding futuristic flair; plus internet spreading regional sounds such as LondonaEUR(tm)s minimalist grime; Houston’s slow moving chopped and screwed music; and Atlanta short lived hyphy – setting hip hop up for its most melodic decade ever.

Rappers of the early 2000’s continued rapping about luxurious lifestyles and leisure, but many also created socially conscious narratives. Additionally, production style changed to more synthesizer-heavy production with more emphasis on creative visuals.

Ludacris first made an impactful entrance with his debut album Back for the First Time in 2000, producing his hit “Southern Hospitality,” an anthem for Dirty South hip-hop that established him as an industry powerhouse. A year later came Word of Mouf, featuring Mystikal/Krayzie Bone collaboration “Move Bitch,” an embracement of crunk music – which would soon become Atlanta rap’s signature sound.

As the 2000s progressed, Ludacris flourished as an artist. His innovative lyricism about skateboarding and love was captivating; while his ability to collaborate with artists from disparate rap scenes demonstrated that hip hop had moved beyond geographic confines.

Other rappers were also pushing back against the traditional regional divisions that kept rap separate. 50 Cent’s G-Unit crew united all three major corners of rap into one cohesive unit, while Dre’s post-regional executive production blurred lines between once distinct styles. Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick, Push” opened up dialogue about using hip hop as a political tool while discussing issues like slavery and oppression; all contributing to make 2000s hip hop an influential cultural force even today.

Big Tymers – “Still Fly”

Birdman Baby and Mannie Fresh have a certain prestige among independent rappers as the cofounders of Cash Money Records, but their songs remain accessible despite often using simple rhymes and delivery. Although their lyrics may not always provide profound lyrical content, Birdman and Mannie tend to emphasize party lifestyle aspects while maintaining a Playboy image which garners them so much notice – an obsession many of their peers share as they pursue money’s promises of luxury goods and lifestyle upgrades.

Hood Rich (2002) by Hoodrich is no exception; featuring a catchy sea shanty-esque chorus that could easily have come from Gilligan’s Island, these songs from Hoodrich poke fun at middle class fiscal propriety with abandon. Making renting out mink coats and increasing wheel size seem just as thrilling as doing drugs (indeed it can even be more exciting!). In truth it often is.

The production of this track encapsulates the New Orleans sound that has come to be associated with rap music. Its bass-heavy, synth-driven beat is both catchy and infectious – produced by Mannie Fresh who worked on numerous hits for Cash Money crew before embarking on his solo career.

Fresh is well known for his work with the Big Tymers but has also produced for numerous New Orleans artists from UNLV to Trombone Shorty and Pimp Daddy. Additionally, Fresh has earned himself a stellar reputation as an exceptional chart-topping producer by creating hit songs for Lil Wayne, Yasiin Bey and T.I.

Metro Boomin and Mike Will Made It have carried on his legacy at Def Jam, keeping New Orleans sounds alive in hip hop music. While neither are as prolific or talented as Big Tymers were at creating amazing hits in early 2000’s music charts – hopefully, their legacy will live on for many years to come!

OutKast – “Ms. Jackson”

Outkast was an innovative rap duo for over a decade. Although they adapted the Cadillac-pimping style that defined Atlanta rap, they continually subverted it at every turn. Posing as laid-back gangsters while simultaneously producing dense dense thickets of words with rare levels of nuance and empathy and playfulness; their best albums like 2000’s Stankonia even managed to push hip hop further beyond what had been established as mainstream genres.

Outkast began expanding their audience as their popularity grew. One example is “Ms. Jackson”, which reimagined Erykah Badu’s mother, Katherine Jackson. Not only was the song critically and commercially successful but it also introduced Outkast to new listeners – something no other artist had achieved until this point. It marked an important turning point.

“Sleepwalkers” was released as the second single from Big Boi and Andre 3000’s album, but had much to live up to; its predecessor had been “Bombs Over Baghdad,” which failed miserably on the charts. Big Boi and Andre 3000, however, made an effort nonetheless: pushing all kinds of experimental boundaries in the studio with engineers doing things they had never attempted before (for instance recording an entire track backwards to add an unnerving disquieting feel), recording an entire track backwards so as to add disquieting lyrics into disquieting lyrics (they even recorded an entire track backwards to add weird disquiet).

Outkast delivered an unforgettable blend of funk, soul, jazz, Public Enemy-styled aural chaos, drum’n’bass and even Funkadelic and Prince. Their mind-bending journey revealed a whole new universe for Outkast listeners to explore. Requiring patience to fully appreciate, their album became one of hip hop history’s timeless classics and remains revered today as one of its key milestones.