10. Aesop Rock - Labor Days
Aesop is one of the best rapping white boys not named Marshall. The dictionary-toting MC/producer Aesop Rock made his presence known by creating an album that was sonically and thematically superior to hip-hop's bland parity of the time.
9. N.E.R.D. - In Search Of...
When childhood pals Pharrell, Chad, Shay decided to explore their nerdy tendencies on In Search Of..., they were taking a road less traveled. But people didn't embrace In Search Of... because it was different. They embraced this album because it signalled a new wave of alt-rap culture that would prove influential down the road.
7. Missy Elliott - Miss E...
As if real life didn't already offer enough opportunities to hang out with weirdos, Missy Elliott decides to explore the full range of role-playing. One minute she's trying her hand at bhangra. Another minute she's frolicking with zombies in the jungle. Get your freak on, indeed.
3. Masta Ace - Disposable Arts
Like a film-noir hero who knows he's capable of outsmarting his nemesis, Ace boldly flaunts his cerebral rap pedigree, wagging his finger at your rap idols along the way.
2. Nas - Stillmatic
As the title suggests, Stillmatic was Nas' attempt to recapture the spirit of Illmatic. It arrived at the height of the legendary Nas vs. Jay-Z rivalry, so a few lines were devoted to that matter, notably the vicious "Ether."
1. Jay-Z - The Blueprint
It's impossible to exaggerate The Blueprint's cultural relevance -- an album so powerful not even Osama bin Laden could stop its flight to the top when it arrived on 9/11/01. The Blueprint launched Just Blaze and Kanye West into the spotlight, made Nas relevant again, and solidified Jay's place as a contender for the crown. From power pop ("Izzo (H.O.V.A.)") to vulnerability ("Song Cry"), Jay demonstrated range and versatility throughout the album. Undoubtedly the best hip-hop album of the 2000s.