Hip Hop Turns 50: Essential Hip Hop Vinyl Records of the 2000s and 2010s

Hip Hop Turns 50: Essential Hip Hop Vinyl Records of the 2000s and 2010s

We've covered the '80s, moved onto the '90s, and now it's time for the new millennium. The 1990s saw hip hop grow tremendously in popularity, with the genre seeing major radio play and rappers receiving major critical accolades. In fact, it could be argued that by the time the mid 2000s rolled around, hip hop was the dominant musical genre in the United States. 

The 2000s were a sort of full-circle moment for hip hop. The gangsta rap subgenre had largely faded and with commercial popularity came, well, commercialization. Many hip hop tracks began to take on pop elements, with sung bars and electronic beats. Melody was more prevalent and production values of music videos skyrocketed. The 2010s saw hip hop maintain its popularity, but also had a renewed focus on lyrical content and songwriting. Social consciousness and politics had made their way back into the music and the genre became friendlier to women artists. As we continue to celebrate hip hop's 50th birthday, here are some essential hip hop records of the 2000s and 2010s. 

The Black Album (2003) — Jay-Z

Originally intended as a farewell record, The Black Album instead launched the second phase of Jay-Z's career. Having already achieved success in the late '90s, Black served as something of a bridge between eras, turning Jay-Z from a chart-topper to a hip hop legend. Jay, always known for his rhythmic delivery, wrote some of the best lyrics of his career to complement, particularly on now-iconic tracks like "99 Problems" and "Encore." The success of Black led to the release of several more albums and a sprawling business empire.

Under Construction (2002) — Missy Elliott

Like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott had also achieved success in the late '90s, with her first few albums establishing her as an exciting new MC. Under Construction was Missy at her peak, incorporating more R&B elements, and allowing her to show off her eccentricities as an artist, most notably with her fashion sense. Long before Billie Eilish, Missy was taking the stage in baggy streetwear and unique costuming. Under Construction features one of her biggest hits in "Work It" and helped lead to her reputation as one of hip hop's finest songwriters and performers. 

The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) — Eminem

While Eminem would later become known for his unique brand of humor and bombastic personality, The Marshall Mathers LP was a look at Eminem as he was just breaking into mainstream hip hop. He focused on his songwriting, telling stories of his rise to the forefront of hip hop and satirical looks at how critics received his music. MMLP is a controversial work to this day, meant to offend audience sensibilities with violent, hardcore lyrics, but delivered lasting cultural impact, particularly with tracks like "Stan" and "The Real Slim Shady."

Tha Carter III (2008) — Lil Wayne

Lil Wayne is perhaps the best example of the state of hip hop through the 2000s. Hip hop was arguably the biggest genre in the country and had regained popularity as club music. Tha Carter III is an excellent look at Wayne is able to combine his talent as a rapper with his ability as a songwriter, writing songs that brilliantly encapsulate the fusion of hip hop with mainstream pop music of the time. "Lollipop," the record's most popular single, captured Best Rap Song at the Grammy Awards and remains a club staple. 

Take Care (2011) — Drake

As Jay-Z served as something of a gap-bridger from the '90s to the '00s, the same could be said for Drake as we move into the 2010s. Drake included the pop elements present in many 2000s tracks, but his focus on lyricism and romantic tone quickly earned him a bit of reputation as hip hop's most sensitive soul. Take Care established Drake as the face of hip hop in the early 2010s, and his success hasn't slowed, winning awards and accolades with each subsequent release. 

Victory Lap (2018) — Nipsey Hussle

The lone album released by Nipsey Hussle before his tragic murder, Victory Lap listens like a throwback to the '90s. It's funky, it's got swagger, and its beats stay with you long after you put the needle up. Nipsey raps like a West Coast OG, with socially conscious lyrics that hadn't been the norm for hip hop in nearly 25 years. Victory Lap should have been just that, a crowning achievement for one of the most exciting new voices in hip hop, but instead serves as a reminder of an incredible talent lost far too soon. 

Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012) — Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj exploded onto the scene in 2010 with Pink Friday and followed it up with a sequel two years later. Nicki countered hip hop and the music industry at-large's issues with misogyny and masculinity with an unabashedly feminine record, dripping in pink and rife with poppy undertones. Nicki's flamboyant style, humorous lyrics, and use of alter-egos set her apart from her contemporaries as she dropped a record, in her words, "just about having fun." Nicki's reputation as one of the premier voices in hip-hop has endured, as we await the long-teased Pink Friday 2 in 2023. 

The Money Store (2012) — Death Grips

If there's one thing we can promise you, it's that Death Grips is unlike any other rapper or group on this list. The trio of MC Ride, Zach Hill, and Andy Morin has an energetic, in-your-face style all their own. Elements of hardcore punk, electronica, and even doom metal show themselves in their work, with lyrical themes critiquing capitalism and social structures. Their live shows have become legendary, an aggressive, adrenaline inducing experience that shouldn't be missed.

Igor (2019) — Tyler, the Creator

The de facto leader of alt-hip hop group Odd Future, Tyler, the Creator's rise was inevitable. Igor is arguably his finest work, a jazz-drenched hip hop record that includes spoken word, R&B, and soul. Igor is a concept-album, telling the story of a queer love triangle in the style of a gothic romance. Tyler's unique sense of dark humor, eclectic fashion sense, and lyrical flow make him one of the most interesting rappers of the last two decades, and the awards have followed, nabbing two wins for Best Rap Album at the 2020 and 2022 Grammy Awards.

To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) — Kendrick Lamar

Without any hyperbole, To Pimp a Butterfly is one of the greatest musical accomplishments of all-time. Kendrick Lamar used the entirety of African-American musical history to craft his masterpiece and featured legends like George Clinton, Ronald Isley, and Snoop Dogg. Kendrick combines funk and soul with avant-garde forms of music like acid jazz and spoken word. His lyrics are socially and politically conscious, unafraid to confront themes like racism, police brutality, and his own experiences with societal oppression. To Pimp a Butterfly is a record that will be studied for years, an album that is reverent of the past and sure to influence virtually everything that will come after.

Swimming (2018) — Mac Miller

Before his tragic, untimely death in 2018, Mac Miller's career trajectory seemed unstoppable. He had just released Swimming, his most personal, intricate work yet, dealing largely with his recent high-profile breakup and his struggles with substance abuse and sobriety. Swimming incorporates many of Miller's greatest influences, from the neo-soul movement of the '90s to jazzy '70s grooves, resulting in an instant classic of the era. Miller's career may have been short, but the mark he left on hip hop will endure for years to come.