10. Masta Killah - No Said Date
The spectacle of in-fighting will never tarnish the fearsome intensity of Wu-Tang Clan. This wasn't quite the collective effort a la Only Cuban Linx, but it was a stunningly impressive debut by the Clan's most underrated lyricist.
9. Brother Ali - Champion Sound EP
"There’s a thin line between anger and hunger, my man, and I ride a unicycle down the middle," Ali proclaims on Champion Sound's "Self Taught." That's Brother Ali in a nutshell -- cautiously passionate yet unmistakably vicious.
8. Masta Ace - A Long Hot Summer
Tired of being overlooked, Ace cranked up the intensity on his movie-like narratives, making this weightier than earlier albums. The skits became irritating after 3 go-rounds, but the music aged well.
7. Murs - Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition
Nothing better illustrates the nature of Murs' appeal than this 9th Wonder-helmed album. The west coast rhymelord brought smoky, dreary, hauntingly introspective hip-hop to the forefront with Murs 3:16.
6. Royce da 5'9" - Death Is Certain
On the heels of his fallout with Eminem, Nickle Nine went into the lab and came out with an album so dark most people simply avoided it. It's an indestructible document of human emotion gone wild.
2. MF Doom - Mm..Food
In a year that saw Daniel Dumile drop three stellar albums under three different monikers. Mm...Food was the star of the show. Doom employed food metaphors almost as wildly as he employed samples, cribbing everything from Mashmakhan to the Sesame Street closing credits theme.
1. Kanye West - College Dropout
This was one of the decade's most anxiously anticipated debut albums and Kanye delivered one for the ages. His warm and witty storytelling made College Dropout an all-round favorite that appealed to both mainstream and underground ears.