Singles of the '00s, Part 5: Non-Southern Rap

A few weeks ago, when I posted the southern rap portion of this series, I mentioned that I was choosing to divide the rap lists into 50 southern rap hits and 50 non-southern rap hits because it made a certain sense, given that roughly half the most popular hip hop of the last decade was from the south. Of course, that doesn't take into account the 50 rap/R&B crossover singles I counted down over the summer, of which there was way more east coast rap than southern rap (because, well, east coast cats needed R&B singers to make hits more than southerners, let's face it). But I should say, this is not a strictly east coast or NYC list; only about half the songs are by New York rappers (the same way about half of the other list's songs came from Atlanta), you've also got Philly, Chicago, L.A., Detroit, and a whole lot of other towns and cities from the east coast, west coast and midwest represented. As with the other lists in this series, I'll be posting each of the 50 songs one at a time throughout this week, 10 a day, and you can follow me on Twitter as I unveil each choice:

50. Joe Budden - “Pump It Up” (2003)
#38 Hot 100, #16 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #10 Hot Rap Tracks

Just Blaze was the decade's best East coast producer, largely for his bombastic updates of classic boom bap and his shepherding of the oft-copied Roc-A-Fella helium soul sound, but occasionally demonstrated an ear for more overtly radio-friendly club bangers. And this was his most perfect pop jam, with the rising star Budden proving to be a great foil for the funky horn-driven beat, even if the single ultimately failed to delivery him to post-GRODT superstardom, which set him up for a long downward slide into internet stan pandering and an increasingly miserable discography of "serious" music that isn't a fraction as enjoyable as "Pump It Up."

49. The Clipse - "When The Last Time" (2002)
#19 Hot 100, #8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #7 Hot Rap Tracks

Like Budden, the Clipse rode great production and solid rhymes to a gold plaque, and then spent the next few years acting all pissy and entitled that they didn't quite hit platinum and actually had to work to keep people's attention and couldn't quite hack it making radio jams anymore after their producers fell off and/or stopped giving them heat. Perhaps the greatest PR coup of the decade was the Clipse convincing Pitchfork readers that making mixtapes and jacking industry beats when the label wouldn’t give them a release date was the slightest bit bold or innovative. But also like Budden, their brief flirtation with stardom produced a deathless club rocker. And as I made clear in the previous rap list, I don’t really consider the Neptunes/Timbaland VA Beach scene part of the south, at least as far as southern rap is concerned.

48. Lupe Fiasco - “Kick, Push” (2006)
#78 Hot 100, #56 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, # Hot Rap Tracks

Lupe isn’t quite there yet, but with his fans petitioning his label to release his almost certainly terrible 3rd album, he’s clearly on the Budden/Clipse path right now. This is the secret history of mainstream rap over the past decade: the south keeps winning, while everyone develops a persecution complex to cope with their inability to make more than a couple hits. But again, Lupe at least came out the gate strong with a good record before he got all insufferable and Kid Lupi with his new shit.

47. Da Brat - "That's What I'm Looking For" (2000)
#56 Hot 100, #18 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #11 Hot Rap Tracks

Where Lupe at least at first fit the Common/Kanye mold of Chicago hip hop’s most well known tradition of conscious boom bap, Da Brat is part of the other tradition of midwest hip hop of Twista and Bone Thugs, doubletime flows and deep bass that ended up defining the sound of the south more than any other region, and of course she blew up on Atlanta’s So So Def Records. She’s also part of the lineage of super animated raging id female rappers like Missy and Left Eye that had been pretty much dormant until the recent rise of Nicki Minaj. But oh yeah: how fucking sick is this beat?

46. Coo Coo Cal - "My Projects" (2001)
#81 Hot 100, #22 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

And it just underlines my point about midwestern rap not being too different from southern rap that one of the rawest regional rap anthems of the earlier part of the decade came out of motherfuckin’ Wisconsin.

45. Nelly f/ the St. Lunatics - "Air Force Ones" (2002)
#3 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

Of course, Nelly and his crew out of St. Louis were the guys that really made people start thinking about the midwest as a fertile rap region in and of itself with its own sound, although that was kind of short-lived and mainly has a legacy today in the form of an endless parade of one hit wonders that could’ve come from anywhere like Jibbs and Huey. This song, however, is a Nelly classic produced by the TrackBoyz, who helped kind of fashion their own distinctive twist on the St. Louis sound with a bunch of other productions including their own one hit wonder, J-Kwon. The Lunatics may have never been stars in their own right, but they were pretty entertaining guys when they got their hands on a goofy concept like this.

44. Jay-Z f/ Memphis Bleek and Amil - "Hey Papi" (2000)
#73 Hot 100, #16 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

In the pantheon of Jay/Timbaland collaborations, this is a pretty minor one, nowhere near as popular oe revered as megahits “Big Pimpin’” and “Jigga What, Jigga Who,” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” or even the deep cuts from Volume 3. But yo, this song is the shit. Listen to the way Jay’s flow hits all those offbeat rhythmic accents, and all those gnarly textures Tim hides in there. 2000 Jay is probably my favorite era just for back to back classic radio jams, shit like “Change The Game” and “Do My” and the “Best Of Me” and “Fiesta” remixes.

43. The Diplomats f/ Juelz Santana and Cam’ron – “Dipset Anthem” (2003)
#64 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

In the summer of ‘03, the platinum afterglow of Come Home With Me gave Cam’ron an opportunity to give his crew some shine, and while the Diplomats didn’t possess any particularly obvious star power or talent that other rap star vanity crew projects of the era like D12 or the St. Lunatics didn’t, there was immediately something winning and entertaining about Dipset and the way they brought a new type of swagger to the Roc-A-Fella stable and the Heatmakerz put their own twist on the Roc soul beat sound. Within the next couple of years, though, those qualities made the Diplomats the rap crew of choice for all sorts of semi-ironic douchebaggy casual rap fans, Juelz and Jim Jones ended up being pretty miserable mid-level solo stars, and it all got old quick. But still, back in ‘03 they were the shit. At the time, I preferred the more aggressively goofy and over the top Juelz solo single that came out the same summer, “Dipset (Santana’s Town),” but clearly “Dipset Anthem” has aged into more of a classic over the years.

42. Audio Push - “Teach Me How To Jerk” (2009)
There have been a lot of bubbling regional scenes and trends in rap outside of the south the last few years, and for the most part it's not clear which ones may or may not turn out huge or start cranking out major hits at some point. The jerk music scene of L.A. has already yielded a couple big singles, but I kind of hate "You're A Jerk" and "Teach Me How To Dougie" -- instead it's the latter's original reference point, which didn't even chart last year but got a lot of play on MTV Jams, that's kind of become my token favorite jerk song. Is there any more stuff out of that scene that sounds like this? Everything else I've heard sounds so lethargic by comparison.

41. Snoop Dogg f/ Too $hort and Mistah F.A.B. - "Life Of Da Party" (2008)
#105 Hot 100, #48 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #14 Hot Rap Tracks

Even though Snoop came up in the ‘90s and made most of his best music then, he’s still pretty much west coast rap’s biggest and most consistent hitmaker of the ‘00s, by virtue of his ceaseless ability to coast and make music just good enough to keep him in the spotlight. But I had a hard time figuring out how to represent him on this list, since he was already on the rap/R&B list with some of his crossover rap & bullshit(I mean, uh, rhythm & gangsta) hits, and I have to admit I’ve just never been into his biggest latter day straight up rap hit, “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” So yeah, this random minor hit from Ego Trippin’, which features a slightly older west coast vet and a much younger Cali rapper who looks like he’s 55, I like this more than “Drop It LIke It’s Hot,” so sue me, I think this is a fuckin’ jam.

40. Kanye West – “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” (2005)
#43 Hot 100, #21 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #11 Hot Rap Tracks

It feels weird to have only one single by one of the biggest rap stars of the decade so low on the list, but really Kanye features R&B singers on so many of his best singles that I already listed a lot of my favorites on the other list (“Slow Jamz,” “All Falls Down,” “Flashing LIghts,” “The Good Life,” several more not on that list like “Gold Digger,” etc.). And this song still has a big old Shirley Bassey hook, although I’m not counting samples as guest singers. But really this whole track is just ill, I know not everyone loves it or holds Late Registration in as high esteem as I do, but that album and this single really to me represent one of his peaks as a producer and probably the best rapping he’s ever done (although Jay still slaughtered him on the remix).

39. B. Rich - “Whoa Now” (2002)
#98 Hot 100, #53 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

I've spent hundreds and hundreds of hours listening to Baltimore hip hop over the past decade, and I can assure you, "Whoa Now" is not remotely the best song I've heard from that scene. But it's pretty much the only one that got within shouting distance of the Billboard charts, and it is pretty fun, B. Rich's rubbery delivery doing a hop skotch over a "Movin' On Up" theme sample by Baltimore club producer Dukeyman. I've already started having some mild arguments about this list having Virginia artists like the Clipse, and Baltimore is further north but still below the Mason-Dixon line, but I think there should be less argument here, nobody who's aware of Baltimore hip hop thinks of it as a southern hip hop scene.

38. Ghostface Killah f/ Jadakiss - "Run" (2004)
When “Run” first dropped, I thought it would be the next little step into the mainstream for my beloved poor downtrodden Baltimore rap scene, because the original 12” and video version featured a new Def Jam signee named Comp who I was really excited about at the time and was the first local rapper I ever interviewed. But then, DJs started cutting the record off after the Kiss verse to make it more of a straight up duo of two New York powerhouses, and by the time the album dropped Comp’s verse, which is pretty great by the way, had been entirely erased from history. Still, pretty awesome song either way.

37. Ma$e - “Welcome Back” (2004)
#32 Hot 100, #17 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #8 Hot Rap Tracks

I remember when I first heard "Welcome Back" on the radio, it was so nice to have Ma$e back, I welcomed him.

36. Hotstylz f/ Yung Joc - “Lookin’ Boy” (2008)
#47 Hot 100, #11 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #9 Hot Rap Tracks

Once again blurring the lines between southern rap and other regions is this Chicago group, who blew up on YouTube with a track that basically sounds like “Laffy Taffy” but has way better jokes in the verses, and then got signed and threw a mid-level Atlanta star on it to help it get big. Thing is, Joc’s jokes on this are pretty good too, so I’ll give him props.

35. Ray Cash f/ Scarface - "Bumpin' My Music" (2006)
#56 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Another midwest act whose only hit featured a more popular southern rapper, in this case a barely known Cleveland cat who somehow got a Houston legend on the track. A lot of rap songs celebrate rap and pay homage to other artists, but few capture the actually joy of listening to it as well and as cleverly as this song. Fun fact: Ray Cash’s real last name is Cheeks. Ray Cheeks! I copped his album, it was pretty decent.

34. N.O.R.E. - “Grimey” (2001)
#62 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

The Neptunes foreshadowed their 2000’s dominance with 1998’s “Superthug,” and N.O.R.E.’s luck at having gotten with them on the way up resulted in a number of later collaborations of varying quality, from the somewhat generic banger “Oh No” to the absolutely flaccid accordian loop dud “I’m A G.” Even after N.O.R.E.’s infamous “straight flagrino” interview, circa 2000 but circulated on the internet as if new several years later, wherein he speculated on Pharrell’s sexual orientation and cited it as the reason he’d never work with the Neptunes again, N.O.R.E. realized how much he needed their beats and went back for his biggest hit, “Nothin’.” I never got to into that one, though, the beat and the hook just sound a little clunky to me, whereas the street single that preceded by a few months, “Grimey,” was the Neps at their ugliest and meanest, with an unnerving tambourine rattle, halting snares and searing lazer beam synths.

33. Jay-Z - "99 Problems" (2004)
#30 Hot 100, #26 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #10 Hot Rap Tracks

The Black Album and this song in particular, kind of mark the beginning of the everything to everyone Jay, the guy constantly expanding his cultural portfolio to be the rapper everyone can agree on, as opposed to the guy who was just happy being the king of New York and the idol of every mainstream rap fan up until that point. On some level I do admire what he’s become since then, but let’s face it: his musical choices have been mostly shitty, and he plain can’t rap that well anymore. But this Rick Rubin collab is one of those kind of shrewdly ‘bold’ choices he made back when he still could rap, and it resulted in a classic song. I remember braving the Black Friday traffic to cop the album, and all the rap stations were banging this one over and over, and it just felt like a special moment, even if non-singles like “P.S.A.” and “Encore” have kinda become more iconic songs from that album for Jay fans over the ensuing years.

32. Freeway f/ Peedi Crakk - “Flipsides” (2003)
#95 Hot 100, #40 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Another Roc classic from the last era where the label really had their whole movement in full swing, and another one that I remember just being blown away by the day the album dropped, and was overjoyed when I found out it was gonna be a single. State Prop generally was not a crew that turned out a lot of club bangers, but they hit on something with “Rock The Mic,” and then Free and Just Blaze just kind of amped it up tenfold on this song.

31. Missy Elliott f/ Ludacris - “Gossip Folks” (2003)
#8 Hot 100, #5 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

Speaking of Luda, I almost thought about cutting this from the top 50 because I didn’t want to load the list up too much with tracks featuring southern rappers, but then I saw the video on Fuse the other day and remembered that this song is pretty much undeniable. I’m not the biggest fan of “Work It” or the Under Construction album in general, but I fuckin’ love this song. More rappers who want to complain about the rumor mill should take a cue from Missy and just make the song as weird and warped and fun as possible so that it doesn’t just sound whiny.

30. E-40 f/ Keak Da Sneak - "Tell Me When To Go" (2006)
#35 Hot 100, #37 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #8 Hot Rap Tracks

There was something admirable, but also kind of contrived and forced, about the way Lil Jon, having made crunk a household word, turned his eye towards the Bay area and decided to do the same for hyphy. So it was kind of appropriate that this song totally failed to do what it aimed to commercially, and the terrible follow-up single featuring T-Pain ended up being a much bigger hit and a more accurate prediction of the future of mainstream rap. Still, this song was pretty great and should have been bigger.

29. Busta Rhymes - “Break Ya Neck” (2001)
#26 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #9 Hot Rap Tracks

Similar to what I was saying about Snoop earlier, Busta is another guy who left most of his indisputable classic songs back in the ‘90s, and has kind of coasted along for the past decade doing guest verses on everything, chasing trends and landing the occasional fluke hit. For a while I hemmed and hawed about whether this or the later minor Neptunes collaboration “Light Your Ass On Fire” was my favorite, but really this was a pretty great combination of Busta’s doubletime and the Dre/Storch sound before it got too stale and predictable. This is what Busta on Aftermath should’ve sounded like, not that Big Bang bullshit.

28. Prodigy - “Keep It Thoro” (2000)
#97 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #17 Hot Rap Tracks

One of Ballerina P’s last popularly acknowledged moments of greatness before Jay put him on the Summer Jam screen, Mobb’s output completely fell off, and he started turning out good but increasingly uncommercial solo albums. Also one of the Alchemist’s first popularly acknowledged moments of greatness.

27. Lloyd Banks f/ 50 Cent - "On Fire" (2004)
#8 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

Generally speaking, in terms of quality if not popular success, 50 had a much better batting average making singles for the other members of G-Unit than for himself for a while there, and this is a prime example. Banks is just a great effortless punchline artist and this was a great foot for him to put forward, that one quick moment where he seemed like maybe a real star and not just a cog in 50’s at the time very effective assembly line of readymade G-Unit minions. And don’t let anyone tell you this is Eminem’s beat, Kwame produced it and Em probably just added some horns and shit.

26. Fabolous - "Breathe" (2004)
#10 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

Fab, like Banks, is a specialist at perfect monotone punchlines and little else who’s shown a pretty remarkable tenacity over the years as far as staying on the radio and staying in the game even though he’ll simply never be looked at as one of the greats or even a serious A-lister. This song, virtually the only hardheaded straight up rap song in his R&B-heavy catalog of hits, has a lot to do with why he still gets just enough respect to keep making goofy sellout jams with almost disconcertingly clever lyrics.

25. Da Band - “Bad Boy This, Bad Boy That” (2003)
#50 Hot 100, #15 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #13 Hot Rap Tracks

The motley crew of rappers plus a singer and a faux dancehall guy that Diddy assembled for his hip hop version of television’s “Making The Band” was such a hysterical trainwreck that it’s totally appropriate that most people remember them via a “Chappelle’s Show” sketch. That said, they did manage to score a #1 album, and their lead single improbably turned out kind of great, with a relentless beat, great posse cut energy, and a clever trick of having the hook kind of overlap the verses.

24. Shyne f/ Barrington Levy - “Bonnie & Shyne” (2001)
#57 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

One of Puff’s other infamously abortive attempts at starmaking in the 21st century was the skinny guy who kinda sounded like Biggie and ended up being such a loyal Bad Boy soldier that he did a few years for his boss. Before the “just put Lil Wayne on everything” A&R approach of recent years, it was kind of bizarre and unheard of for a new artist to randomly have dancehall star Barrington Levy on both the first and third singles from his debut album, but hey, it worked out pretty well. I thought about putting this on the rap/R&B crossover list, but dancehall isn’t really R&B and even though it’s kind of a loverman track it’s also just a great rap song.

23. Swizz Beatz - "It's Me, Bitches" (2007)
#83 Hot 100, #30 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #17 Hot Rap Tracks

Few rap super-producers have ever seemed less adaptable or more indebted to their personal ties to an already successful artist or label than Swizz Beatz, who got in on the ground floor of the Ruff Ryders movement through straight up nepotism and seemed like he won the lottery when some of his DMX productions hit and every other star in rap wanted some of his brittle bangers. And then, improbably he ended up being kind of a chameleonic journeyman whose career’s second wind has lasted far longer than the first. Sure, he’s kind of a caricature and he brings a similar energy to almost every track even when the sounds get more varied and weird pretty much every year, but I really have come to respect the guy as kind of a genius, even if he’s the kind of genius who makes a dumbass song like “It’s Me, Bitches,” which has the great idea to repeat its one verse twice, and get in and out in just 2 minutes, an editorial savvy and appreciation for brevity that almost every other contemporary 4 1/2-minute drag of a rap hit lacks.

22. Memphis Bleek f/ Jay-Z and Missy Elliott - "Is That Your Chick?" (2000)
#68 Hot 100, #19 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #7 Hot Rap Tracks

Jay-Z singlehandedly willed Roc-A-Fella into brand name status long before anyone really gave much of a shit about anyone else on the roster, and during that period he’d often keep the other artists on the label afloat in some pretty transparent ways. When he had hits to spare on 1999’s Vol. 3, he set aside songs for the other guys – this one for Memphis Bleek’s album, “Anything” for Beanie Sigel’s album even though Beanie wasn’t on it at all. The Vol. 3 ‘lost verses’ version of “Is That Your Bitch?” is inherently better because of the Twista verse that was excised from the Bleek single mix, but this is still a massive song from the Jay/Missy/Timbo triumvirate. Bleek’s follow-up, “Do My,” which of course also featured Jay, was pretty great too.

21. Eminem - "Without Me" (2002)
#2 Hot 100, #13 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #5 Hot Rap Tracks

I’ve always been kind of the odd man out in relation to Eminem. He’s obviously good at his style of rapping, but his subject matter and the kind of showoffy internal rhyme style have never appealed to me that much, and he’s always been most likeable to me when he’s basically admitted that he loves Redman and Pharcyde and that he’d probably sell no more than them if he wasn’t white. So it’s kind of funny that one of my favorite songs of his is this kind of obvious “The Real Slim Shady” knockoff that leans even harder on his ability to spark lame media controversies and goes a little nuts with overly clever rhymes. But it’s just so playful and loose about it all that it really works for me, and I’ll take the total not-giving-a-fuck silliness of “My Band” or “Ass Like That” any day over the bland pap he’s got on the charts these days.

20. Nelly - "E.I." (2000)
#15 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Nelly had a gang of hits back when he first came out, and a lot of them were pretty huge anthems. But since I never totally warmed up to “Country Grammar” and “Hot In Herre” hasn’t aged especially for me, I unexpectly ended up picking this as his highest ranking song on the list. Part of it’s just that it’s a great beat, part of it’s my amusement at nobody at any point during the making of this record pointing out to Nelly that the Speedy Gonzales catchphrase he was quoting was in fact the Spanish word “arriba” and not the nonsensical acronym “E.I.”

19. J-Kwon - "Hood Hop" (2004)
#101 Hot 100, #52 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

But you know what I like more than any Nelly hit? This middling later St. Louis rapper’s follow up to his one hit, “Tipsy,” which made me briefly obsessed with the production of the TrackBoyz. I mean listen to this beat, it is just one of the nastiest most awesome things I’ve ever heard on the radio, and J-Kwon’s bizarre crumpled up voice just makes it sound all the more subtly alien.

18. Cam'ron f/ Juelz Santana - "Hey Ma" (2002)
#3 Hot 100, #7 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #4 Hot Rap Tracks

A goofy, relaxed summer jam that samples the Commodores’ “Easy,” improbably one of the songs that helped launch maybe the biggest street rap movement of the decade and produced by the guy that did “Ante Up” (although really, if you listen to both songs, D.R. Period used pretty much the same drums on both, which would never occur to you if you didn’t know it was the same guy).

17. Twista - "Overnight Celebrity" (2004)
#6 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

In the wake of "Slow Jamz" and all the College Dropout hits, I feel like it sometimes gets forgotten or lost in the shuffle just how awesome this song is, and it remains one of my favorite Kanye beats, as well as a great performance from Twista, complete with the sleazy "let me be your manager" ad lib. The way the violin creeps in and adds a little counter melody to the beat during that short verse is such a perfect detail that helps elevate this song just a little more.

16. Cassidy - "I'm A Hustla" (2005)
#34 Hot 100, #8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #5 Hot Rap Tracks

Cassidy got his buzz up initially as the Philly battle rapper than embarrassed Freeway, then sold out big time with the debut single "Hotel" and didn't end up with much in the way of sales to show for it all. So this song was a pretty calculated attempt to win back the fans he'd started alienating before his career even got off the ground, and it only worked at all because "I'm A Hustla" is pretty fucking great. The Jay sample made a nice hook, but the novelty value had already worn off a few months after "Bring Em Out," and Swizz just went in and filled the thing out with drums that were hard as fuck and a ton of great little synth and piano lines.

15. 50 Cent - "I Get Money" (2007)
#20 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #4 Hot Rap Tracks

A couple years after 50 and Cassidy briefly sneered at each other without quite getting into an all-out beef, 50 grabbed a track by some random producer off the internet that happened to wholesale bite the "I'm A Hustla" drums, and made an eleventh hour bid for the street anthem that his faltering advance singles campaign for Curtis so desperately needed. I'll go ahead and say that this is kind of weirdly 50's only solo single on this list, but really all my favorite Get Rich Or Die Tryin' tracks were just non-singles.

14. Freeway f/ Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel - "What We Do" (2002)
#97 Hot 100, #47 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, # Hot Rap Tracks

his song is just a fucking masterpiece, one of Just Blaze's most urgent bangers with Free doing the relentless histrionics that became his trademark while Jay leans over his shoulder and mutter "keep flowing" between bars, before stepping into to do a verse himself (that's honestly a little subpar for Jay in that era but still pretty good) and Beanie batting cleanup.

13. Eminem - "Lose Yourself" (2002)
#1 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

After "Without Me" started to win me over to goofy Eminem in a big way, even the earnest Eminem I hated so much on "The Way I Am" started to grow on me with this song, which is more than a little bit corny but still really rousing and effective, and to date still his biggest urban radio hit. The seriousness with which Em says "mom's spaghetti" and "there's no Mekhi Phifer" makes me laugh than most of the actual jokes in his discography.

12. Nas - "Made You Look" (2002)
#32 Hot 100, #12 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #9 Hot Rap Tracks

It’s funny but mostly sad that people still use Salaam Remi’s name as shorthand for weak production on later Nas albums when he made this fucking song. I remember when I first heard it on the radio, I hadn’t heard most of his ‘90s stuff yet (since I was a loyal Jay-Z stan when that beef first fired up), and I thought this had to be some raw old shit and was kind of shocked when I realized it was new. Probably the only thing keeping this out of the top 10 was that the a cappella finish feels kind of awkward to me, doesn’t have nearly as much energy as it would’ve needed to work well.

11. The Clipse f/ Pharrell - "Grindin'" (2002)
#30 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #8 Hot Rap Tracks

I remember spring break ‘02, watching “Rap City” and kind of rolling my eyes at Pharrell’s whole “THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO FEEL SOMETHING IT’S NEVER FELT BEFORE” speech preceding this weird, stilted song with too loud drums and a kind of goofy hook while these two interchangeable, kind of anonymous guys rapped in these small voices. At the time it just felt like Pharrell’s hubris catching up with him. And then, by the time the summer rolled around, that shit was blasting out of every car and it just felt perfect, and it seemed like the Neptunes hit parade would never slow down. And then it did, but not because of anything that sounded like “Grindin’.”

10. Jadakiss f/ Styles P. - "We Gonna Make It" (2001)
#103 Hot 100, #62 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #5 Hot Rap Tracks

After the LOX escaped Bad Boy and the shiny suit ‘90s, Kiss started to emerge as the group’s default breakout star, but he never really lived up to his own “top 5 dead or alive” hype and given that most of his best moments came on guest verses, or on records like this, trading lines back and forth with Styles, over an Alchemist beat originally given to Ras Kass so thunderous that it’s one of the rare instances of rappers fighting over a beat where the fuss was maybe kind of warranted.

9. Method Man & Redman - "Da Rockwilder" (2000)
# Hot 100, #51 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #14 Hot Rap Tracks

Another iconic east coast duo’s arguable best track together, over a beat so sick they had to name the song after the producer. A lot of these songs are from very early in the decade, but this is the one song where I kind of stretched the chronology, since it was on a 1999 album, and was probably released as a single very late that year, but peaked on the R&B chart on January 15th, 2000 and kind of slowly became a classic club rocker over the course of the decade.

8. Cam'ron f/ Juelz Santana - "Oh Boy" (2002)
#4 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

Even though Cam’s first music on Roc-A-Fella was clearly working from the same blueprint that Just Blaze and the label’s other producers set in place on The Blueprint the year before, I feel like in some ways this was the song that really set off the helium soul trend, and in particular the style of having one vocal loop go through the whole song and get used as part of the verses, which hadn’t really been done on any of the big Jay singles at the time.

7. Talib Kweli - “Get By” (2003)
#77 Hot 100, #29 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #16 Hot Rap Tracks

I was one of the few weird people who liked Kweli more than Mos in Black Star, and I'd just started getting really obsessed with Kanye productions around 2002, so I was kind of ridiculously hyped about the idea of them working together before I even heard this song, and somehow it absolutely surpassed my expectations. The remix with Jay and Busta cemented the vague auspicious "backpack going mainstream in the best possible way" vibe this song carried with it, although the remix itself was a total letdown and Pitchfork was ridiculous for listing it instead of the original in their end-of-decade list. Can you believe Kanye wanted to give this track to Mariah instead? I wish he still used drums that knocked this hard.

6. Nas - "One Mic" (2002)
#43 Hot 100, #14 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #7 Hot Rap Tracks

Hip hop production, by and large, is about static repetition, giving the vocals a solid bedrock so you can focus on the words, and I know that’s the name of the game. But as production and songwriting techniques have progressed and diversified over the years, I’ve always been kind of bummed that more people don’t put the work into making the verses and the hook more musically distinct. And that’s the main reason why this song has always been so arresting to me, the way it’s so immaculately structured to rise and fall in intensity, almost more of the soft/loud contrast more common in modern rock songwriting than anything else. But beyond all that, it’s just a great rap song.

5. Terror Squad f/ Fat Joe and Remy Ma - "Lean Back" (2004)
#1 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

It's kind of crazy to think that a song this hard by a group, where the biggest star is an eternal B-lister, climbed to #1 just by being awesome and vaguely spawning a dance trend (or anti-dance trend). I mean, Fat Joe calls Lil Bow Wow and B2K faggots on this! Remy Ma hearing this song, deleting Fat Joe's 2nd verse while he was out of the studio and tracking her own before he got back, and basically muscling her way onto a #1 hit with an absolutely flawless verse is probably the single greatest female rap moment of the past 10 years, fuck Minaj.

4. The Game f/ 50 Cent- "Hate It Or Love It" (2005)
#2 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

Sometimes I think of all the great joints 50 gave away to other G-Unit artists in this period, and imagine how The Massacre coulda been a classic if he'd just saved those for himself instead of making "Candy Shop." But really, as much as I can't stand Game, this song does really work well for him and his verses fit it perfectly, even if 50 is totally the guy that makes this song as great as it is.

3. Jay-Z - “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” (2000)
#11 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #4 Hot Rap Tracks

Just one of the all-time great club bangers, every second of this song is killer and has something memorable about it. It always kind of drove me nuts that there are 3 voices on the chorus, 2 of which are clearly Jay and Pharrell, and the whole last decade I'd wonder the other guy is saying the "gimme that sweet, that nasty, that gushy stuff" part. Then I finally just looked at the Dynasty liner notes, and they say “additional vocals by Sparks,” presumably Omillio Sparks from State Property.

2. M.O.P. - "Ante Up (Robbing-Hoodz Theory)" (2000)
#74 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

As bangers go, good old fashioned mean aggressive New York hip hop bangers, there's probably nothing in the world more perfect that this song, not even in DJ Premier's discography. I'm not even sure what else to say about this, it's just that beloved and undeniable. East coast rappers on the whole probably would've had a better decade if they just screamed more.

1. Missy Elliott - "Get Ur Freak On" (2001)
#7 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #7 Hot Rap Tracks

While New York has dominated a lot of the upper reaches of this list, including the whole rest of the top 10, I thought it seemed right to put some of that Virginia Beach alien funk at the top. This is one of those songs that sounded kind of minor and unexciting the first few weeks that it started bubbling up radio playlists, but by the time the video dropped it just felt like an event, far more than the bigger "Work It," which felt a little more forced with its weirdness and not remotely as musically rewarding.
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Can't wait for the top 10, Al. This is great stuff.
damn dude, this is REALLY early-decade heavy. i want to say non-southern rap didn't fall off that hard but at the same time i can't back that up with examples
yeah, all of these lists have more from the first half of the decade than the last, but this one is by far the heaviest on earlier years. I'd be interested to see if people can even come up with a good number of (good AND popular) singles from 05-09 that I could've included.
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