Stay tuned. Very shortly, we’ll post the entire Top 100 (maybe even with some extras!); both as links back to the original entries and as a full-on list. At any rate, the wait is over. Check out what made the Top Ten.
We’ll start with the same guy who ended our last installment.
10. Kanye West Late Registration (2005)
While true hip hop heads may not like Kanye’s flow and diss his rhyme skills, you have to respect his dedication to his craft. He has improved as a rapper, but he’s grown by leaps and bounds as a producer. His early productions leaned heavily on digging in the crates, finding lost soul classics to flesh out his beats. As he grew, his influences changed, and that’s probably why Late Registration is my favorite album of his. He reached out to Jon Brion to co-produce this album after growing out of his signature style of production. Brion helped West by adding strings and actual orchestral style instrumentation.
No matter how much l love the sound of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, this is his real sonic masterpiece. Each song sounds like it was hand-crafted with a crochet needle. If you listen for the subtleties, you’ll hear Kanye’s dedication to his craft. Rhyme-wise, Kanye isn’t bad, but he’s much better as someone who can emote. Songs like “Roses” and “Hey Mama” (which grew by leaps and bounds as a special song when his mother passed) showcase West waxing his feelings, not really caring about whether or not his lyrics are cutting. He just wants to get his message out.
“Gold Digger” is a huge song. Just massive. “Heard ‘Em Say” is a fantastic collaboration with Kanye and Adam Levine from Maroon 5, which started as a Maroon 5 song, but is better known as Kanye’s song. “Gone” and “Late” lean toward West’s more soulful style, but work perfectly as closers. And you can argue that Kanye let Jay-Z steal the remix to “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” since Jay was coming back from his hiatus disguised as a retirement. It’s probably Jay-Z’s finest non-Jay-Z song verse. GG
9. Beck Sea Change (2002)
By now almost everybody knows the story behind Sea Change: Beck loses fiancée, cuts powerful singer-songwriter album with Nigel Godrich, scores near universal acclaim etc. etc. There isn’t much I can add to it, to be perfectly honest. It’s one of those albums that if you’re going to talk about, you should probably begin with a personal recollection: about how you were twenty-three years-old when it dropped, working some shitty retail or office job and living in a ramshackle flat with your dog and girlfriend. And then you lost your job and your girlfriend left and your dog was hit by a bus and there was an eviction notice taped to your door a week later. So you lived in a van for three months while you searched for another job and apartment, and this album was the only companionship you had all the while. You nodded along to “The Golden Age” as you drove from one nonexistent job opportunity to the other, hummed out the lyrics to “Paper Tiger” with a cigarette clenched in your teeth, awkwardly drummed to the bossa nova catharsis of “Sunday Sun” and stared dismally into a cup of ninety-nine cent chili you stole from CVS as “Round the Bound” sludged its way through your headphones. Because while the world had turned its back on you, Beck Hansen hadn’t—he fucking knew, man. And at some point the fog cleared.
But that never actually happened to me. So…sorry? Greg
8. Jay-Z The Blueprint (2001)
I was in Houston, Texas on a business trip on September 11, 2001. I was away from my two little kids and was just brokenhearted to be so far away without an idea of when I was going to be home. That is a memory that will never leave me. On that same day, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint dropped. I got my first real listen to the album on the flight home several days later. There are just some albums that stay with you for certain reasons, and this one will always stay with me for that plane ride home.
The album came on the heels of his worst album, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia and was a much needed comeback album of sorts. Amil anyone? It also came shortly after Jay-Z’s stabbing incident with Lance “Un” Rivera, which was definitely not a highlight of his career, and sort of comical in a way because if you only knew the Jay-Z of today, you probably wouldn’t think he’d stab someone with a small blade for perceived bootlegging of one of his albums.
The album’s heartbeat is old soul. Kanye West and Just Blaze produced 9 out of the 15 tracks, giving it a much needed throwback nod. Many of Jay-Z’s singles from his previous albums were all about getting played in the club. While there wasn’t really anything inherently wrong with that strategy, it was a strong creative move to be different from what the pop norm was. The Jackson 5 were sampled for “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” and others such as Al Green, David Ruffin, and Natalie Cole were also sampled. Bobby Blue Band’s “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” was sampled (or interpolated?) for maybe Jay-Z’s greatest work ever, “Heart Of The City.” If you want one track that describes this album, it’s this one. While most will remember “Takeover” because of the Nas diss and the Doors sample, that song lost its touch the second Jay and Nas recorded together again. “Heart Of The City” is all about Jay-Z dusting off other rappers. But that sample kills everything. “First the Fat Boys break up and every day I wake up …” GG
7. Green Day American Idiot (2004)
Being Green Day’s most ambitious album and all, it’s tempting to overrate American Idiot; seeing these pop-punk maestros evolve from writing songs about cranking it in the basement into full-blown, Pete Townsend-style rock opera is a pretty huge leap upward in scope, after all, and the sheer magnitude of the whole thing could have easily been another case of the gullible listening public mistaking ambition for quality. But all these years later, American Idiot still holds up as a work of pure rock music: strip away the fluid way the songs bleed seamlessly, The Wall-style, into one another, and St. Jimmy’s well-travelled story arc, and you’re left with a series of epic classic-rock tracks, drawing heartily from a deep well of Kinks, The Who, and Queen, massive drums and beefy guitars, and soaring vocal harmonies. Re-insert the track bleeds and the concept, and American Idiot remains a full, audacious work of art; each melody is emotionally accessible on a primal level, and Billie Joe Armstrong’s lyrics poignantly capture the ennui and reignited activism of post-9/11, Bush-era Americans. The massive, stunning song suite “Jesus of Suburbia” is the track here most deserving of being placed in a time capsule, but don’t ignore the gallows humor and seething rage of the heavier, faster “American Idiot” and “Holiday” either; each song functions on its own, and even better as a piece of a larger puzzle. – Drew
6. Common Be (2005)
2005’s Be may just be the jewel in Common’s musical crown. With Kanye at the boards, Common perfected his sound on the album, blending laid back r&b grooves with his brand of “conscious” hip hop, which did not necessarily rule out a confrontational tone. Be is ultimately about struggle – personal, emotional, social, political, economic. Throughout the album’s eleven tracks, Common spares no expense at depicting the less salient elements of life in America – infidelity, paternal responsibility, political corruption, racism, and poverty to name a but a few. Yet as bleak as this picture may be, Common presents it though a lens of of hope. But that hope can only be realized via individuals taking personal initiative – and this to me is the overarching theme of the album. Having knowledge, love and ambition of the self as a means to propel society past the systemic problems facing many of its members. With J Dilla onboard, the albums closing track, “It’s Your World” makes this point explicit, underscoring that the the youth are the literal embodiment of this hope, and is is our responsibility to assist them in its realization. Dr. Gonzo
5. Radiohead In Rainbows (2007)
I’ve said it here on Popblerd before, and I’ll say it again: Radiohead’s In Rainbows is my favorite album, period. There are a combination of things that make this album for me, perhaps starting with the time period in which it was released. Radiohead released the album in the fall of 2007 as a digital download, and let users purchase it for whatever price they saw fit. A friend of mine passed the mp3s down to me a few months later, and I listened to every song pretty much non-stop for most of the spring of ’08. That was a very happy time in my life, and as music so often does, each time I hear one of those songs I’m transported back to that time and I feel happy again. Throughout the years since, I’ve subconsciously put this album back on rotation on my iPod during other happier times in my life, so I can scarcely listen to any of the tracks without a whiff of nostalgia and a smile on my face. Then, there’s the music itself. Radiohead returns to a more experimental sound on this album, and the result is a varying collection of ballads, mid-tempo tracks, and heavy rock songs. The disc’s opener, “15 Steps” is about as “classic Radiohead” as you’ll find on this album (and check out Phil Selway on those drums!); meanwhile, “Bodysnatchers” sticks to a more traditional rock sound with lots of riffs and a guitar-heavy chorus. The sound immediately changes with “Nude”, an ethereal-sounding number in which lead vocalist, Thom Yorke, harmonizes with himself in a number of layered tracks. The backing music is minimal, allowing for more focus to be paid to the beautiful melody and Yorke’s lovely falsetto. Songs like “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “Faust Arp” again flirt with a more experimental sound- though traditional instruments like violin and piano are used in both, the sound and vocals are light and atmospheric; the music almost seems to float in a haze around you while you listen. “All I Need” is a favorite of mine because of the lyrics (“I’m the next act, waiting in the wings. I’m an animal, trapped in your hot car. I am all the days that you chose to ignore. You are all I need.“) and Yorke sings them with such desperate longing that you can’t help but relate, even if you’ve never been a victim of unrequited love. “Reckoner” has always reminded me of a tribal chant of some sort- it’s loud, with clashing symbols and tambourines, but Yorke’s falsetto returns, and the combination of the busy backing music and the soft vocals are a great combination. Both “House of Cards” and “Jigsaws Falling Into Place” are a bit understated, compared to some of the standouts on the album, but neither song should be discredited; the former, again, features superb vocals from Yorke and raw lyrics (“I don’t wanna be your friend, I just wanna be your lover. No matter how it ends, no matter how it starts”), while the latter is really highlighted by incredible guitar work from Jonny Greenwood, and basist, Ed O’Brien. The album comes to a close with “Videotape”, a song I have already chosen to be played at my funeral someday. That might sound morbid, but it’s really the perfect track; the piano and drums already sound like a funeral procession and Yorke’s delivery is appropriately somber, but it’s the lyrics that I want everyone to take note of while mourning, particularly the final lines: “This is my way of saying goodbye, ’cause I can’t do it face to face/… No matter what happens now, I shouldn’t be afraid, because I know today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen.” Simply put, this is the most perfect album I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Brittany
4. Queens of the Stone Age Songs For The Deaf (2002)
Josh Homme’s band of merry men churned out some excellent albums in the last decade, but none more powerful than 2002’s Songs for the Deaf. Joining then-QOTSA mainstays Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri was Dave Grohl, a drummer who had played in a few other bands over the previous decade. In addition, Mark Lanegan contributed vocals to several songs. The loose concept of the album is driving through the California desert listening to radio stations along the way and there are several interstitial tracks featuring fake radio DJs (played by the likes of Lux Interior, Blag Dahlia and Natasha Shneider) introducing the songs. Grohl’s ass-kicking drums propel the album along, especially the devastating “Song for the Dead,” which features an incredible stuttering drum intro before launching into a howling vocal performance by Lanegan. The song ranks in my top songs to play air drums to, right up there with “Kashmir,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Tom Sawyer.” In addition to Grohl, another key reason the last few QOTSA albums haven’t been able to match Songs for the Deaf is the sheer manic energy of Oliveri, whose over-the-top vocals blast through “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” and “Six Shooter.” (Oliveri was booted in 2004.) The proceedings are held together by Homme, the mastermind and guitar god who makes Songs for the Deaf a prototype of how modern hard rock should be done. Homme’s trademark falsetto vocals show up on “No One Knows,” which became a hit for the band on actual rock radio, and “The Sky is Falling” and “First It Giveth,” among others. I look forward to the day when Homme gets the guys who made this album back in the studio for another session. This album’s too good not to try it again. Koomdogg
3. Amy Winehouse Back To Black (2007)
This is no post-mortem elevation here. When I completed a similar list for our sister site Popdose in 2009, Back To Black was at the top, and my stance has not changed. With equal amounts of class, cheekiness and grit, Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi created a soul masterpiece. Amy’s voice recalled Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill as well as the jazz and soul greats of old, and The Dap-Kings provided spirited accompaniment to a set of impeccably written songs, such as the now-classic “Rehab.” Beyond that hit, which some saw as prophetic in light of Amy’s death, there were other gems including the “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”-sampling “Tears Dry On Their Own,” the bumping “You Know I’m No Good” (the remix of which features a more-unhinged-than-usual Ghostface Killah,) and the positively heartbreaking “Love Is A Losing Game.” From start to end, this intensely personal album is a winner. It would be pure fuckery if you couldn’t look past Amy’s personal demons and realize that Back To Black is a work of true genius. Big Money
2. The Roots Phrenology (2002)
Following their commercial breakthrough with Things Fall Apart, The Roots got prog on that ass. Phrenology is a mess, and I say that in the most loving way possible. Not to say you won’t find your typical funky hip-hop jams on here-by the way, the best of those is “Rollin’ With Heat,” which finds Talib Kweli annihilating the mic-but you’ll also find a minute-long punk raveup, a bluesy adaptation of a Cody ChesnuTT song (“The Seed 2.0,” still probably The Roots’ best known song,) a smooth slow jam (“Break You Off”,) and a 10-minute track about drug addiction that, halfway through, morphs into a weird performance-art sound collage that literally makes you feel like you’ve just shot up. The Roots’ eclecticism wasn’t so surprising; the fact that they pulled each of these disparate sounds off is. Somewhat. Phrenology is not a casual listen, it requires active participating. However, if you devote the time, you will be rewarded beyond belief. Big Money
I promise I won’t wind you up too much before we get to the #1 record. I will say that we weren’t even 9 months into the decade before the album that the Popblerd staff is holding as the standard bearer for ’00s music was released. I don’t know if that says more for the album itself or the quality of the music that followed it–personally, I’d lean more towards the former. Anyhow, with any further ado…
1. OutKast Stankonia (2000)
Eclectic. Groundbreaking. Versatile. Funky. Dope. Just a few words you could use to describe ATL’s finest, Outkast. These terms may well describe the group, but its the name Stankonia that may best elucidate where it is they come from. Stankonia conjures up images of a planet where the indigenous people look and dress like Bootsy Collins and George Clinton, the national song is “Not Just Knee Deep” and peace is the priority and order of the day. OK, back to earth. The album Stankonia was released Halloween Day, 2000, fittingly scaring the competition as it debuted at #2 on the Billboard Chart. Anchored by singles that are diverse as they are dope, Stankonia is truly out of this world. From “Ms. Jackson”, which still gets heavy air play even today, and brought Outkast fans from nearly every demographic, to the heart stopping “B.O.B.,” a fast paced, high energy track built for the dance floor and the jeeps, Andre 3000 and Big Boi showed that they can continue to keep it both rough and smooth with tracks that mirror their different personalities. Rounding out the edges is the classic, “So Fresh, So Clean”, a shout out to staying freshly dipped and on point with the gear game, to me the yin to “Players Ball”‘s yang. Whatever planet it comes from or plays on, Stankonia fits right in among those who celebrate dope, versatile and eclectic tracks that aim to unite through the beauty of music. I’m booking my ticket aboard the mothership as we speak. Chuck
Whew. That was a trip and a half!!
Thanks to you for reading, and thanks to the team of 15 Popblerd writers who compiled this list and wrote up blurbs for the entries. Till the next bLISTerd, see ya!