Y2K culture is back, and – of course – that means the music is back too. With the turn of the millennium only a measly 22 years ago, the evolution of hip-hop and its respected subgenres has been fun to watch. In a year where Eminem made it cool for most kids to like hip-hop with the film 8 Mile, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez of TLC’s tragically died and LL Cool J broke records for the most consecutive albums released under Def Jam (10, to be exact), 2002 was a great year for hip-hop. Especially if you were in need for a powerful love song, or an epic party anthem. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Eve featuring Alicia Keys, ‘Gangsta Lovin’’
The early 2000s hip-hop scene was run by Philadelphia’s Ruff Ryder Eve. In 2001, the cocksure First Lady had a massive hit on her hands with her debut album, ‘Scorpion’. Just like the iconic multi-generational hit ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind’ with ex-No Doubt frontwoman-turned-pop star Gwen Stefani, ‘Gangsta Lovin’’, with pop’s newest R&B diva Alicia Keys, recreates the same magic of Eve’s slick rhymes with vivacious melodies courtesy of her guest singer.
Why it still slaps: On the typical R&B-heavy track, the two beast coast musicians create the perfect blend of swaggered-out love music the streets still love decades later.
Eminem, ‘Without Me’
‘Without Me’ has that wheeze signature to that of the West Coast (thanks to his mentor in hip-hop legend Dr. Dre) and nasally ad libs that made this song super-fun. Under constant scrutiny by the press due to his alternative approach to hip-hop, Eminem – as a byproduct of simply standing up for himself – made an anthem for the underdog as we remind the world (and ourselves) that life would be so boring if we weren’t around.
Why it still slaps: Obviously the opening adlibs: “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah / Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah”
Blazin’ Squad, ‘Crossroads’
Many Gen-Z kids may only know Blazin’ Squad to be the band Love Island contestant Marcel Somerville was a part of, but the Londoners briefly reigned over pop music in their day. They were a huge collective of guys rapping about how cool they are and the stylish things they have, but on ‘Crossroads’, Blazin’ Squad decided to take the boyband ballad route to Number one. Two decades on, it’s still incredibly cheesy but also deeply nostalgic.
Why it still slaps: There’s this sentimental feel to the track that takes it away from being just a cheesy Blue knock-off ballad.
The proclaimed princess of hip-hop soul, Ashanti’s most known hit is still as great as it was when it came out. Sampling Notorious B.I.G’s interpolation of DeBarge’s ‘Stay With Me’, ‘Foolish’ shot the Murda Inc. singer to new heights. Able to sound comfortable on the slowed-down hip-hop beats of that era, Ashanti was able to inspire R&B forever by perfectly setting the formula straight for girls like SZA and Summer Walker’s music to thrive.
Why it still slaps: Whether you were a millennial or a Gen-Z child, we’ve all had an imaginary breakup to this song.
Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz featuring Ying Yang Twins, ‘Get Low’
Coincidentally, while it celebrates its 20th birthday this year, ‘Get Low’’s reemergence on TikTok shows that crunk music has never died – and never will. Lil Jon’s non-waiving energy has always been infectious, and the Ying Yang Twins have been, too, with their salaciously cheeky lyrics. As Y2K continues to become ever-so-popular again, party anthems like this will find their way back into the hearts of young fans as well.
Why it still slaps: The Ying Yang Twins always bring the hype you need to act a fool on the dance floor.
Nelly, ‘Hot In Herre’
Another floor-filler, the St. Louis rap star was catapulted to new heights with this song. Now known as his signature track, ‘Hot In Herre’ makes you feel just like it says on the tin when it comes on in the club, or in your shower sing-a-long. Inspiring you to dance furiously like the video vixens of the ‘00s, the song is the ultimate feel-good tune in your times of need. The Neptunes produced another hit with this one.
Why it still slaps: R&B vocalist Dani Stevenson singing on the hook: “I am getting so hot, I wanna take my clothes off”.
Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland, ‘Dilemma’
With an iconic music video to match, there was always undeniable chemistry between the ‘Country Grammar’ rapper and Destiny’s Child. And its heart-fluttering production was perfect for those romantic mixtapes you made for your crush. ‘Dilemma’ became the go-to song for when you wanted to be in your feels a little bit, while having the upbeat style of the ‘00s rap around at the time.
Why it still slaps: Nelly’s soft side makes all his verses great – especially the outro as he sings with Kelly Rowland in his arms.
Cam’ron featuring Juelz Santana, ‘Oh Boy’
In his era of fuzzy pink mink coats and huge diamond earrings, the suavest rapper of the ‘00s could easily be New York’s own, Cam’ron. This Grammy-nominated track lives on in the head of many Gen-Z kids who have either heard the song in passing, or are simply in love with one of its many interpolations of the song in recent years, like UK R&B queens Mahalia and Ella Mai’s 2019 hit ‘What You Did’. ‘Oh Boy’ is a great reference point for New York’s rap scene at the time; playful yet street.
Why it still slaps: The memorable charming sampled vocals of Rose Royce’s ‘I’m Going Down’ punch in at just the right time.
Missy Elliott, ‘Work It’
Missy Elliott and Timbaland’s otherworldly production and songwriting skills have become synonymous with the ‘00s pop scene. After their run writing some of the best hits around the turn of the millennium, Missy Elliott came into her stride with her commanding presence and overwhelming confidence. Utilising her androgynous style and image that’s far from the likes of Lil Kim, ‘Work It’ is a high-octane track to indulge your salacious side to.
Why it still slaps: The gargling bassline is amazing, but the fact that Missy Elliott had everyone singing the reversed sounds of the chorus is quite a flex.
‘Grindin’ is a track that is well-remembered by those who were (and still are) die-hard Pharrell fans. In the ‘00s – taking over from Missy Elliott and Timbaland’s reign over hip-hop and R&B production at the time – Pharrell made timeless classics with his producing bud, Chad Hugo, as The Neptunes. Heavily influencing the music we still hear today, ‘Grindin’s production has become quite a seminal artefact in the hi-hat-loving producer’s discography. Not to mention it’s probably the only song many remember from Pusha T’s early rap career in the group.
Why it still slaps: A simple, impaling beat with effortlessly delivered bars? Yes please!
Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell, ‘Beautiful’
Talking of Pharrell: while The Neptunes (and their band N.E.R.D) were flourishing at the end of the millennium, he tried his hand as a solo artist. Lending his lucrative croons to popular hip-hop juggernauts, he has helped create more multigenerational bops, but with his own name attached to it – and in plain sight. Featuring the suave and laidback West Coast star Snoop Dogg, ‘Beautiful’ is an affirming love track to make you feel good about yourself or your most recent crush.
Why it still slaps: Pharrell’s chorus is just to die for: “Beautiful, I just want you to know…”
Erykah Badu, ‘Love Of My Life’
The soulful Texan made addictive neo-soul, and ‘Love Of My Life’ blended her almost spiritual sound with the hip-hop she loved and surrounded by (coincidently, Badu was in a public relationship with Common around this time as well). ‘Love Of My Life’ – Like ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’ – helped pave away for the conscious woman trope in music, where clever storytellers like today’s Enny could be well-received.
Why it still slaps: The earnest deep dive into Badu’s heart can still be felt today.
Ja Rule featuring Ashanti, ‘Mesmerize’
Murder Inc. Records in their heyday had Ja Rule and Ashanti shifting the musical landscape. With Rule’s deep gruff and Ashanti’s sweet singing skills, they were the perfect yin and yang. There were a bunch of great, aforementioned lovey-dovey rap songs at the time, but what makes ‘Mesmerize’ different is the cadence and timeless narrative of bad boy, good girl that’s perfectly executed on this track.
Why it still slaps: The playful strings make the song feel larger-than-life.
Common featuring Mary J Blige, ‘Come Close’
It’s a more obscure choice than others on this list, but if you love the neo-soul influence on Badu’s ‘Love Of My Life’, you’d love this track. Much slower to the popular songs of the era, ‘Come Close’ is a serene, lo-fi take to what would have been boom-bap rapping Common rose up in. Just as conscious as you’d expect a Common song to be, it’s a great predecessor to today’s ethereal acts like Mick Jenkins and Phony Ppl, with a side of powerful Mary J. Blige vocals too.
Why it still slaps: Common’s storytelling in this song – and most of his work – has hardly been toppled in later years.
Trina featuring Rick Ross, ‘Told Y’all’
The ‘Diamond Princess’ – just like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and more – walked so sex-positive rap queens like Megan The Stallion and Cardi B could run. And when it came to the raunchiest lyrics, quite often the Florida girl topped her competition. One of her most conservative songs, ‘Told Y’all’ embodies the cockiness of the southern rappers rising through the ‘00s, as Trina asserts dominance over whichever guy wants her.
Why it still slaps: Its super upbeat nature and thrilling drums is a genuine pick-me-up.
Lil Romeo featuring Solange, ‘True Love’
Considering his father was the polymath Master P, the No Limit Record heir had a stint in the rap game as well. Solange – then known as Beyoncé’s little sister and not the genre-defying alt-R&B maker she is today – leant her vocals to this cheesy love song, which is not to be taken too seriously but exudes the juvenile feel of pure, spirited puppy love – and that why it’s still golden today.
Why it still slaps: Solange’s vocals on the hook could still be reprised today.
Jay-Z and Beyoncé, ‘’03 Bonnie and Clyde’
Listen back to the plucks of Spanish guitar that open this track, and ‘’03 Bonnie And Clyde’ feels like a real foreshadowing of just how musically powerful this duo is today. Putting that ying-yang, bad-boy-good-girl to good use, Jay-Z and Bey’s light up a soothing track that succeeds due to the understated delivery of their perfect love story.
Why it still slaps: The call-and-response chorus is nothing short of iconic.
Khia, ‘My Neck, My Back’
Crazily, this overtly sexual track has never left – the borderline comical song is still sung in playgrounds and played at parties today. Whereas Trina, Lil Kim and such used their sexual prowess to dominate or prove how cool they are, Khia’s only hit is simply a celebration of sex. And she made it ever-so catchy.
Why it still slaps: The intro to this song will forever be one of the most iconic lines rapped in the ‘00. No, we’re not going to quote it.
50 Cent, ‘Wanksta’
Included on the 8 Mile soundtrack (what a movie that was) and 50 Cent’s debut single on Eminem’s Shady Records, the jumpy flutes were enough to make anyone want to break their legs to this beat. Full of the cocksure braggadocio typical to the street rap that was then emerging into the mainstream, this is a quintessential track to big up yourself to.
Why it still slaps: The melody of the flutes and the hook just sticks in your head: “You say you a gangsta, but you never pop nothin’ / We say you a wanksta and you need to stop frontin’”.
Busta Rhymes, ‘Make It Clap’
This track, and its remix featuring Jamaican heavyweight Sean Paul, is an expert blend of the energetic sounds of the time and Busta Rhymes’ legendary flows. Rhymes is able to show off, never disappointing his loyal fans, with such tongue-twisters that are always fun to try and repeat. Filled with repetitive yet simple melodies to create infectious hip-hop sounds, this was yet another great Busta Rhymes single.
Why it still slaps: The simple claps would prick up any ear.
LL Cool J, ‘Luv U Better’
The absolutely serene ‘Luv U Better’ represents an attempt to get your golden partner back after doing them dirty. With beautifully passionate vocals from R&B legend Marc Dorsey, this Neptunes-produced track is what you’d imagine a child, standing beneath their love’s window with a boombox, would play to try to woo them. The astral track that solidified LL Cool J, who had been around for nearly 20 years at this point, as having remained the cool dude he was when he started.
Why it still slaps: The bridge, which features vocals from Pharrell, is a delightful to belt out when you need a pick me up: “Do you think I meant to hurt you? No / So let’s laugh together, cry together”.
Ms Dynamite, ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’
While fun party tracks from the US defined the popular hip-hop sound at the time, the UK underground was busy cultivating the rise of garage and grime. Look no further than this absolute subdued garage track from an iconic MC. Descending on the scene like confetti, the track is evocative for a whole generation of rap fans, an indelible soundtrack to the new millennium.
Why it still slaps: Ms Dynamite has always had one of the most unique voices in music today, and this song introduced many to her unique, indelible talent.