Top 10 Hip-Hop/R&B Songs of the ’00s

Our highly opinionated take on the best of the best.

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  • 1. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"

    1. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"

    “Umbrella”? Ella ella eh. This three-minute blast of pop brilliance is the best ubiquitous single of the aughts, with Cee-Lo rocking that shower-singer warble over Danger Mouse’s warped, wicked studio alchemy. Fitting that it’s an ode to mental illness, as it sounds something like a funked-up Ennio Morricone song on speed, as sung by a deranged Al Green impersonator. Utterly intoxicating and singular stuff. The sheer number of “Crazy” covers speaks to the song’s incredible appeal, but there’s nothing better than the real thing.

    CAPTIONS BY J. FREEDOM DU LAC

  • 2. Beyoncé, "Crazy in Love"

    2. Beyoncé, "Crazy in Love"

    Beyoncé’s Rhythm Nation 2003 was THE dance floor-detonating banger of the decade, thanks largely to Rich Harrison, who plays Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to Bey’s Janet. In creating a rhythmic-pop masterwork that heralded Beyoncé’s arrival as a solo star, Harrison matches a fiery Chi-Lites horn break with an explosion of funk percussion that hinted at go-go. (D.C., represent.) The irresistible “uh-oh uh-oh” etc. vocal hook is catchier than H1N1, and Bey’s gale-force vocals blow the roof off. Jay-Z’s icy-cool cameo? Just gravy spilled all over the blazing dance floor.

  • 3. Kanye West, "Jesus Walks"

    3. Kanye West, "Jesus Walks"

    West cast himself as a megalomaniac from the very first. And yet here he is, on one of his earliest singles, basically bowing in the presence of greatness. Course, Ye never plays anything straight; so his spiritual exultation is also a commentary on war, culture and the culture wars, along with his own wavering faith. The conceptually complex hip-hop hymn is elevated by West’s cinematic production, in which the strings, the potent martial beat and the kids’ choir are outdone by the most mesmerizing chain-gang chant in pop.

  • 4. John Legend, "Ordinary People"

    4. John Legend, "Ordinary People"

    It’s a beat-driven, digitized world, and we’re just dancing in it. So how the hell did an anachronistic acoustic ballad that features no bells, whistles or (gasp!) drums become a commercial hit? Sharply written (with will.i.am, if you can believe it) and gorgeously rendered, the elegiac “Ordinary People” is a mature, beautifully simple-sounding song about the complexities and challenges of relationships. That it basically consists of Legend’s unprocessed voice and graceful piano work makes it one of the most audacious hits of the decade.

  • 5. OutKast, "Ms. Jackson"

    5. OutKast, "Ms. Jackson"

    A heartfelt broken-relationship song addressed to baby mama’s mama? With a “Strawberry Letter 23” sample? And an interpolation of Wagner’s wedding march? And high-level lyrics, even for OutKast, whose baseline is exponentially better than most? Damn. You can argue for any number of brilliant OutKast songs to be included on a Best-of-the-’00s list, “Hey Ya!” and “B.O.B.” among them. And you’ll probably be right. So draw straws, then press play. As Andre 3000 says here: “One can’t be/Mad.”

  • 6. Amerie, "1 Thing"

    6. Amerie, "1 Thing"

    If “Crazy in Love” is the decade’s top club jam (and it is), then “1 Thing” is, like, No. 1a-and it makes you wonder why Rich Harrison, who crafted both monster jams, didn’t completely own the rest of the ’00s. Must’ve stepped on Jimmy Iovine’s loafers or something. Anyway, Amerie’s alluring voice soars over a thundering Meters drum-and-guitar break to supernatural effect. But it’s that beat that stars, as Harrison flips and fattens Zigaboo Modeliste’s insanely funky drumming to jaw- (and that-ass-) dropping effect.

  • 7. Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"

    7. Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"

    Booze is to Winehouse’s music and public persona what sex is to R. Kelly’s, right? The celeb-trainwreck A-lister put her impending self-destruction on the world’s radar with this introductory stateside single, a swaggering, shimmering Phil Spector flashback about refusing to heed an ex-manager’s sobering advice. Superlative, soulful stuff that showcase the wispy Jewish Brit’s unlikely powerhouse pipes (so raw, so deeply emotional, so REAL), along with a knack for writing blunt confessionals filled with ache, attitude and humor. Can she pull herself together for a comeback? I’d drink to that.

  • 8. M.I.A., "Paper Planes"

    8. M.I.A., "Paper Planes"

    Oscar nominee Maya Arulpragasam is a London-born Sri Lankan rapper-singer-political firebrand who specializes in a new kind of global music-a grimy sound clash that’s equal parts imagination, appropriation and agitpop. “Paper Planes” (featured in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire) samples British punks the Clash; includes a children’s choir, gunshots and a cash register’s ring in the chorus; and features ambiguous lyrical commentary on violence, poverty and Third World swagger. An unlikely formula for commercial success; but thanks to Pineapple Express, “Paper Planes” became a Top 5 hit and landed M.I.A. on the Grammys. “Swagga Like Us,” indeed.

  • 9. Young Jeezy, "My President"

    9. Young Jeezy, "My President"

    A historic moment documented with inimitable hip-hop swagger: “My president is black/My Lambo’s blue/And I’ll be goddamned if my rims ain’t, too.” But the epic track isn’t just hubris and hosannas, even if Nas does drop by to nominate Obama’s face for the $5,000 bill. There’s only so much political change Jeezy can believe in, so he spikes the celebratory punch with reality, noting that he’s still gotta do dirt to get his, even with the White House having been painted black. Jeezy for Treasury?

  • 10. Willie Isz, "In the Red"

    10. Willie Isz, "In the Red"

    The recession cold-cocked us during the last third of the decade, and no genre responded quite like hip-hop. Not for nothing did the Dutty Artz bloggers create a “Recession Rap Jams” category, which is how/where I first heard this track, an idealistic ATL obscurity that sounds positively monumental to me-like a Southern-rap update of the Carter Family’s epochal Great Depression anthem, “No Depression in Heaven.” An instant classic, so spare me the “What about ’99 Problems’/’Get Ur Freak On’/’Ignition (Remix)’/etc.” e-mails.

Saaret Yoseph is a writer and Assistant Editor at TheRoot.com. She manages and blogs for "Their Eyes Were Watching ..."

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