10. Sean Price - Monkey Barz
Sean Price's everyman charm and self-deprecating taunts is fresh in a realm where every press photo is a mean mug. Price turned conventional thinking on its head and doesn't apologize for it.
9. Beanie Sigel - The B-Coming
Fresh off a stint in jail, Beans drops rhymes of unparalleled depths and emotions on this magnum opus. Further proof that rappers tend to write their best songs while locked up.
8. DJ Muggs vs. GZA - Grandmasters
The entirety of Grandmasters dances around the concept of chess as a metaphor for life. GZA's crisp rhymes and Muggs' haunting beats crystallize into one bold work of art.
7. Quasimoto - The Further Adventures of Lord Quas
Stoned out of his mind, adventurous sound architect experiments with winning curveballs and fallen feelings. The idea might seemed indulgent at the time of release but the music, which swoops in and out with graceful arcs, has withstood the test of time.
5. Cage - Hell's Winter
Cage exorcises an ocean of personal demons (drug addiction, label politics, and a lame father) on his sophomore effort, which featured production from heavyweights like RJD2, El-P, and Jello Biafra. Hell's Winter sports the fullest realization of his aesthetics.
4. Common - Be
The title track/opener is like the thesis of a crucial term paper, paving the path for the rest of the album and offering lyrical purity on the way: "The chosen one from the land of the frozen one/Where drunk nights get remembered more than sober ones." Elsewhere, he perches on “The Corner” with the Last Poets on his side, and observes street dreams over Kanye's hard-hitting percussion.
3. Little Brother - The Minstrel Show
After their remarkable debut, Little Brother expanded on their sound and returned with a clever eye over hip-hop culture. Their objective this time? Spell out out hip-hop's hypocrisy and then punch it in the mouth with ingenious satire.
1. Kanye West - Late Registration
When everyone wondered if Kanye could reenact the magic of his stellar debut, his response was a resounding yes. Late Registration not only built on his previous sound palette, it packed even more lyrical punch than his debut. West was rewarded with a Grammy for his effort.