Since the genre’s inception in 1979 with the groundbreaking single “Rapper’s Delight”, hip hop has evolved into the dominant force in mainstream music culture. Humbly beginning as a music staple at block parties in the Bronx, hip hop has become the United States’ most popular genre, surpassing all musical categories (including rock music) in the process.
Originally featuring lighthearted lyrics and rhyming during the “old school” era, the musical style has become more nuanced, diversifying its sonic textures to establish several subgroups. For those who consider the genre a monolith, it is important to consider how the introspective lyrics found in ‘90s gangsta rap differ from the fun melodic tones of the mumble rap of today. But how exactly did this change occur? How did the genre’s roots bear so much diversity?
As with our Best ‘90s Rock Bands and Best ‘70s Rock Bands lists, we will focus on a pivotal era in the evolution of a specific genre — in this case, 2000s hip hop and how it forced its way into pop culture to redefine the landscape of music as a whole. This period undeniably changed the genre as it realized its commercial potential with numerous Billboard Top 100 entries and saw sub-genres such as crank reign supreme. Leading the way were these 10 hip-hop songs:
#10 – Umbrella – Rihanna (Featuring Jay-Z)
Release Year: 2007
A pop standard that still holds a place in the hearts of the masses, “Umbrella” was the undeniable hit of 2007 that catapulted Rihanna into the spotlight and superstardom. Featuring hi-hat, distorted bass, and synths, the track incorporates a variety of styles, including pop, hip hop and rock. The song begins with Jay-Z spitting bars, which serves as an introduction for Rihanna. Delivered perfectly, the Barbadian singer’s jaw-dropping vocals detail the devotion and support a partner has for her significant other.
The track reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It remained there for a total of seven weeks and is considered by many to be Rihanna’s most iconic song. Entertainment Weekly placed “Umbrella” at the top of its “10 Best Singles of 2007” list while Time and Rolling Stone put the track at #3 for their “100 Best Songs of 2007” catalog. Apart from its chart success, “Umbrella” changed Rihanna’s image from “girl next door” to sex symbol.
Trivia: At the time “Umbrella” reigned supreme in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Romania, massive rain storms terrorized the public, leaving the tabloids to correlate the single with the weather. Written by Terius Nash, “Umbrella” was initially propositioned to Britney Spears and Mary J. Blige. After the success of the single, Rihanna actually set up her own line of umbrellas through the Totes company.
#9 – Gon’ Give It To Ya – DMX
Release Year: 2003
“X Gon’ Give It To Ya” oozes cool. With booming bass, blaring horns, and DMX’s trademark “What’s” looming throughout, this single showcases the rapper at his prime. X barks dominance over his enemies, spitting threats to those who challenge him. Claiming a monopoly over the hip-hop genre, DMX certainly isn’t bluffing with this anthem.
Peaking at #46 on the Billboard Hot 100, the track remained on the charts for a total of 17 weeks, becoming his most successful single internationally. It is repeatedly referenced and used in pop culture throughout the years, from video games and commercials, as well as countless films and television shows. Finding a resurgence in 2016 with the release of the film “Deadpool”, the track’s sales rose 403 percent and has been certified platinum in 2017 by the RIAA.
Trivia: A parody of the track was feature in the Resident Evil 2 remake, which coincidentally came out the same day DMX was released from prison: January 25, 2019. The single is also one of the songs played at Yankee Stadium following a Yankee batter’s home run.
#8 Crank That (Soulja Boy) – Soulja Boy
Release Year: 2007
While “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” has scant influence on today’s music, it was undeniably massive in 2007. The song is deceptively intricate, with hypnotic steelpan and percussive finger-snaps carrying the song forward, while a hidden bassline holds everything together. With shameless brags and references to Superman, the artist riffs dance instructions that contributed to the song’s success.
Inspiring millions during its reign atop the Billboard Hot 100, “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” fueled the biggest dance craze since the Macarena. Soulja Boy’s career is also a testament to the power of the internet, being the first rapper to go viral and get signed to a major label due to the medium. A record breaker, the song also became the first track in the U.S. to ever sell three million digital copies.
Trivia: Having created the track in an hour, Soulja Boy had no idea “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” would become a sleeper hit. As of 2014, the single has sold over five million downloads in the United States alone. Nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Song, the tune lost to Ye’s (Kanye West) single “Good Life”.
#7 Paper Planes – M.I.A.
Release Year: 2007
M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” is the only alternative banger on this list. Highly political, it’s fitting that the main melody is based off the introduction to the Clash’s “Straight To Hell”. Comprising a calming flow over violin-like guitar, the controversial chorus utilizes children wishing to steal money over gunshot and cash register sound effects. With satirical lyrics about a stereotypical “unsatisfactory” immigrant set on corruption and chaos, the infectious yet unruly number inspires civil disobedience.
Peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Paper Planes” proves that deep themes and sophisticated subject matter can translate to mainstream success. Culturally significant, the track has been used in such movies, video games, and TV shows as “Slumdog Millionaire”, Far Cry 3, and “The Last Man on Earth”. Critically exalted, this anthem remains appreciated, being ranked #46 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
Trivia: A collaboration with DJ and musician Diplo, “Paper Planes” almost didn’t see the light of day. After recording the demo for the single, the two artists got into an argument, leaving M.I.A. to throw the hard drive, which contained the track, outside the top floor of her apartment. Had it not landed on the trunk of a taxi, we probably would never have experienced such a stellar anthem.
#6 Get Ur Freak On – Missy Elliott
Release Year: 2001
Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On” would make any person stand up and bust a move. Blending her sweet vocals with scat-like raps, the artist creates incredible rhymes that work phenomenally well with the borrowed Punjabi instrumental. Known as bhangra, this Indian dance music staple incorporates a tumbi melody and complex tabla rhythms into the track’s mix. With self-aware lyrics that celebrate good times, living life, and dancing, this banger was destined to be a standout hit.
Though only peaking at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Get Ur Freak On” was acclaimed by critics who pointed to how differently the track was sonically to its contemporaries. While Missy was popular with R&B audiences, thanks to her group Sista, “Get Ur Freak On” brought Elliott to the mainstream. Fearless in its innovation, the track cemented itself as an ageless alternative approach to hip hop, crossing the pond to find success in the U.K. and other international hot spots.
Trivia: “Get Ur Freak On” placed eighth on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, beating out iconic songs such as “A Day In the Life” by the Beatles. Definitely worth your time is the remix done in April 2014 to include the Black Keys’ “Keep Me” and create an iconic rap-rock collage in the process.
#5 Ridin’ – Chamillionaire (featuring Krayzie Bone)
Release Year: 2005
An instantly identifiable song, thanks to the main vocal hook, “Ridin’” earns its place on this list because of its catchy nature and relevance today. The jam’s genius lies in its ability to meld police brutality and racial profiling with an unforgettable melodic synth, a simple yet effective beat, and wicked-smooth bars as fast as Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone’s getaway car.
A massive hit, the anthem reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, and stayed on the charts for a total of 31 weeks. Boasting a Best Rap Performance by a Duo win at the 49th annual Grammys, the track also made history by becoming the bestselling ringtone of 2006 with a shocking 3.2 million sales. The subject of numerous parodies, “Ridin’” has reached meme status with humorous videos and image macros placing the single over outlandish circumstances and settings. Of the most famous are “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy” music video and countless Luigi Death stare memes.
Trivia: The expression “ridin’ dirty” is a slang term for driving while in possession of contraband. Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone lament being stereotyped by police. Lauded by Rolling Stone, the track was ranked #3 on the publication’s “100 Best Songs of 2006” list. The track remains Chamillionaire’s only tune to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100
#4 In Da Club – 50 Cent
Release Year: 2003
This song is the reason why we here at Ledger Note have an article on 50 Cent’s net worth. The quintessential single from the rap artist, the track boasts swagger and confidence. Carrying substantial weight, thanks to the tune’s producer Dr Dre, “In Da Club” comprises a simple adagio beat, rich low-end, a spacious mix, and a memorable string section. Praised by critics, it was the feel-good hit of 2003, even ranked #1 by Billboard for that year.
Shamelessly fun, 50 Cent’s magnum opus broke the charts. Debuting at #67 on US Billboard, the party banger went on to #1 and stayed at the top for a total of nine weeks. A testament to his brilliance, Curtis Jackson (50 Cent) purposely wrote light lyrics detailing a birthday in the club. With patrons celebrating their special day each and every year at outings, the musician knew the track would prove timeless, an anthem for the nightlife.
Trivia: 50 Cent drops a few iconic names in hip hop throughout the song. A total of five rappers are mentioned: Eminem, Dr. Dre, Tupac, Lloyd Banks and Xzibit. The number also won at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards for Best Rap Video.
#3 Stronger – Ye (Kanye West)
Release Year: 2007
One of the artist’s biggest hits, the single samples electronic dance duo Daft Punk and their track “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”. Merging house/dance music and rap, Ye creates a catchy number about overcoming adversity. With a pulsating beat, staccato pauses, an ultra-smooth delivery, and electrifying synths, “Stronger” is truly revolutionary. But that revolution did not come without an army, as “Stronger” required 11 mixing engineers and eight audio engineers to complete, showing the dedication to bring the perfectionist’s vision to life.
The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Top 100 for one week while also remaining on charts for a staggering six months. To top it off, the track still remains a staple on the rapper’s set list, being his third-most performed song at concerts, played a total 209 times as of 2022. Considered Ye’s most radio-friendly single, “Stronger” is the reason Daft Punk enjoyed a resurgence in the United States and is also the reason why rap evolved to incorporate sequencing and synthesizers.
Trivia: The lyrics in “Stronger” take inspiration from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his famous quote: “What does not kill me, makes me stronger,” appearing in the father of nihilism’s 1889 book Twilight Of The Idols. The single also ranked #1 in a 2011 poll by Gold’s Gym to determine the greatest workout song of all time. As well, the track ranked at #500 on Rolling Stone’s 2021 list “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
#2 Hey Ya – OutKast
Release Year: 2003
Named after the single’s irresistible vocal hook, “Hey Ya!” has to be this list’s most bubbly anthem. Full of spastic bars, an in-your-face synth, as well as a fusion of different styles, the track showcases Andre 3000 at his songwriting best. Fun to a T, the jam is also considered by OutKast to be “one-fifth ‘a bop’ and four-fifths ‘the saddest song ever written.’” The song is truly complex, being a mix of somber lyrics about love and loss with delightful music you can dance to. It is deceptive, as we’re sure many didn’t catch on to the gravity of the song’s words until long after they fell in love with its melody.
Considered one of the greatest songs of the 2000s, OutKast’s pop sensation consistently ranks high on lists by websites such as Blender, Pitchfork, NME and Rolling Stone, which placed “Hey Ya!” in the #10 spot on its 2021 “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. The song hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for nine weeks.
Trivia: The first guitar chords Andre 3000 ever learned formed the basis of “Hey Ya!”, which was inspired by indie legends the Ramones, the Smiths, and the Buzzcocks. Also, all vocals were performed by just two people: Andre 3000 and Rabeka Tuinei (the song’s assistant audio engineer).
#1 – Lose Yourself – Eminem
Release Year: 2002
Oh, come on. This one was a given. Arguably the single-greatest rap song ever created, “Lose Yourself” has the staying power to transcend the 2000s and remain relevant for many years to come. Gritty, raw and real, the aggressive tones found on this track help serve the anxiety-ridden narrative about seizing an opportunity that only “comes once in a lifetime.” Much like the music of the bands listed here, “Lose Yourself”’s main melody is guitar-oriented, with synths providing texture and layered piano forming the hook. Following his “Slim Shady” efforts, Eminem underwent thematic growth, evolving from lyrics dealing with celebrity and censorship to the challenges of the everyday person. Full of conviction, this emotional roller-coaster inspires the listener to be the best version of themselves and never settle for less.
Not only did the song stay at #1 for 12 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, in 2003, it became the first rap single to win an Oscar, at the 75th Academy Awards for Best Song for the film “8 Mile”. The Marshall Mathers masterpiece is now regarded as his signature song despite other massive hits, such as “Without Me” and “My Name Is”.
Trivia: The track has been downloaded in the United States more than 10 million times and as of October 2022, its YouTube video has been watched over 1.2 billion times. President Joe Biden also used “Lose Yourself” during his 2020 presidential campaign.
2000s Best Hip Hop Songs
|Rank||Singer / Band||Song||Release Year|
|3||Ye (Kanye West)||Stronger||2007|
|4||50 Cent||In Da Club||2003|
|6||Missy Eliot||Get your Freak On||2001|
|8||Soulja Boy||Crank That||2007|
|9||DMX||Gon’ Give It To Ya||2003|