The ’00s weren’t a great decade. There was a lot of war and paranoia and debt, movies started to look the same, animation was presumed dead, and so forth. But there were some saving graces to this decade. Here’s thirty of them, playlist-style. Oh, and here’s a link to the actual playlist, in case you wanted to listen to them http://hypster.com/playlists/user/FreeJerm?7104737 . These are my 30 favorite songs from 2000-2009. Note: there are not, in fact, any songs from the year 2000. While I definitely considered including a few of them, none ultimately made the list. These songs are in chronological order, not in order of quality or popularity, but they were all on their respective years’ Billboard year-end Hot 100.
1. LADY MARMALADE – Christina Aguilera, Mya, Lil Kim, and P!nk (2001)
Released as a tie-in with the film Moulin Rouge!, this track brought together some of the biggest female artists of the time (only one of whom still has hits today) for an epic, flirty, theatrical track that stuck in the public consciousness way longer than the movie did.
2. SOUTHSIDE – Moby ft. Gwen Stefani (2001)
This song is really bizarre. I was actually kind of surprised to find it made the top 100, since I’ve never heard it until now, and I always saw Moby as someone who was just kind of there. Turns out, this song is easily his biggest hit, peaking at #14. And while that probably has more to do with featured guest Gwen Stefani, it’s still a really interesting track that’s captivating to listen to.
3. IZZO (H.O.V.A.) – Jay-Z (2001)
This was Kanye West’s first hit as a producer, and it was the one that made him a big name in the hip hop community. With his trademark soulful style, Kanye almost outshines Jigga on this track, and he’s not even on it. That being said, this song was also huge for Jay-Z, it being his first top ten hit, and it’s an admirable one at that. Jay and ‘Ye come together to make one of the more memorable songs of Jay-Z’s sterling career.
4. LOSE YOURSELF – Eminem (2002/2003)
This song is regularly cited as one of the most important songs of the decade, and often considered Eminem’s best. With an infectious guitar lick, impeccable flow, unparalleled rhyme scheme, and fascinating subject matter, this is one of the more personal songs in Em’s discography, and the public ate it up. It’s a great track, inspirational, heavy, aggressive, and fun all wrapped up in one.
5. THE WHOLE WORLD – Outkast ft. Killer Mike (2002)
After the tremendous acclaim for Run the Jewels 2 last year, the uninitiated may have thought that Killer Mike and El-P were little-known critical darlings, but not many remember this fanciful, eclectic hit off Outkast’s 2001 greatest hits album. Everyone brings their A game, including the then-little-known Killer Mike, and the track was tragically overshadowed by a somewhat more… substantial hit by Outkast a little while later. We’ll get to that in a bit.
6. IGNITION (REMIX) – R. Kelly (2003)
Now, I’m all about separating art from artist, but a lot of R. Kelly’s hits are pretty uncomfortable when you consider that he’s a legit pedophile. If you can get past that, though, this song is pretty great. It’s smooth and catchy, with lyrics just ridiculous enough to work. While the original “Ignition” is arguably the better song, it wasn’t a hit, so here we are.
7. CRAZY IN LOVE – Beyonce ft. Jay-Z (2003)
Recently, a bizarre remix of this song was created to tie in with the remarkably shitty film Fifty Shades of Grey. But what the producers of that movie seem to be missing (well, among other things) is that this song really isn’t that sexy or romantic. It’s a really fun, well-produced song with a memorable hook and solid performances from both artists. Producer Rich Harrison got the sour end of the deal and never had another hit, but his work on this song is pretty impressive.
8. GET LOW – Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz ft. Ying Yang Twins (2003)
What I love about this song is that there’s just so much happening. The beat has like, twenty layers to it. The verses are ridiculous. Lil Jon is shouting. Whistles are blowing. Deep-voiced dudes are humming. It’s just so over-the-top and it’s amazing.
9. YEAH! – Usher ft. Lil Jon and Ludacris (2004)
This triple-threat of a banger features three of the biggest artists in the country at the time coming together to make a mellifluous, irresistible party song that earns its place as the biggest hit of Usher’s long and prosperous career.
10. HEY YA! – Outkast (2004)
This song was an unprecedented success. Its video is considered an all-time great. The song was everywhere. Its lines entered the public lexicon. Polaroid had to issue a statement urging people not to shake their pictures because the song said “Shake it like a Polaroid picture”. But this song isn’t just another mindless banger. It has some real serious subject matter about crumbling relationships as well as a meta-commentary on how people will listen to anything with a catchy beat, a sort of “Prisencolinensinainciusol” for the modern age. Is it Outkast’s best? Not really, but it more than earns a spot on this list. 11.
JESUS WALKS – Kanye West (2004)
2004 was an amazing year for Kanye, to the extent that it was tough for me to narrow down his hits from this year. But ultimately, I decided on “Jesus Walks”, a dark, powerful, exquisitely-produced track that wouldn’t be out of place on 2013’s Yeezus. Kanye laments about his struggles with religion and fame in his own erratic style over an immaculate beat that only the Louis Vuitton Don himself could make.
12. TOXIC – Britney Spears (2004)
What is it about “Toxic”? It seems to be the one Britney song that just about everyone agrees is good. In 2005, a poll by Sony Ericsson put it at #2 on a list of the world’s favorite songs. In 2009, NPR argued that it changed the sound of dance-pop permanently, and that it still sounds fresh and futuristic to this day. To me, it seems to be a song that transcends genre boundaries, simultaneously different and familiar enough to be appealing to just about anyone. And even now, 11 years later, it’s still everyone’s jam.
13. FEEL GOOD INC – Gorillaz ft. De La Soul (2005)
“Feel Good Inc” is notable mainly for being Gorillaz’s biggest hit, but that’s worth more than you might think. Gorillaz is a bizarre sort of band where all the music is done by one guy, Damon Albarn, who plays four fictional band members illustrated by Jamie Hewlett. This song is an accurate representation of their unique, evolving style with killer verses by ’90s rap group De La Soul.
14. CRAZY – Gnarls Barkley (2006)
If I had to choose a #1 favorite song of the decade, this would be a likely contender. The fluid production, violin riff, pounding drum beat, and Cee Lo’s sporadic vocals all come together to make this masterpiece of a track, which questions our notions of sanity. Like the Rorschach tests that inspired its video, this song paints a beautiful picture that every person seems to interpret differently. But no matter how you slice it, it’s a great song.
15. SEXYBACK – Justin Timberlake ft. Timbaland (2006)
Ok, this song is technically terrible. It’s overproduced, oversexualized, and features ridiculous ad libs from Timbaland. But what makes it so noteworthy is that despite all the bad things I could say about the song, at the end of the day, it really works. This song is a jam, whether you like it or not, but chances are you do like it, even if you wouldn’t admit it. It’s a song only Timberlake could pull off. Or maybe like, Britney Spears. I don’t know. That would be weird, right?
16. DANCE, DANCE – Fall Out Boy (2006)
Fall Out Boy is a polarizing group. Some say they’re too poppy and overwritten, while others say they’re pop punk pioneers who are just talented and ridiculous enough to work. But regardless of how you feel about the band in general, most people seem to really like this song in particular. Maybe it’s the bass line. Maybe it’s the drums. Maybe it’s the lack of Fall Out Boy’s typical bafflingly overcomplicated lyrics. It’s also a really fun song, fast-paced but pop-y enough for even the softest to rock out to.
17. UMBRELLA – Rihanna ft. Jay-Z (2007)
Simply put, “Umbrella” is huge. It features Jay-Z returning from a minor dry spell by introducing his latest find, Rihanna, who while experiencing minor successes before this track, was not really a big name until this song became one of the decade’s biggest. The song also feels massive, thanks to an exquisitely-produced beat by Tricky Stewart and The-Dream. It went to #1 in 20 countries, sold triple platinum, and was named one of the best songs of all time by Rolling Stone. Basically, to paraphrase Kanye West, everyone knows it’s a motherfucking monster. Hey, speaking of Kanye…
18. STRONGER – Kanye West (2007)
One of Kanye’s greatest strengths is his adept use of samples. In this song, he chops and screws “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk into a powerful track about overcoming adversity. The song is believed to have inspired hip-hop artists to incorporate electronica into their music, a ubiquitous trend in hip hop today. I could go on about this song for a long time, but let’s just say it’s one of the most memorable, catchy, well-produced hits of the entire decade.
19. WELCOME TO THE BLACK PARADE – My Chemical Romance (2007)
I like songs that go in a lot of different directions. “Bohemian Rhapsody”. “Stairway to Heaven”. “Some Nights”. “L$D”. With an unmistakeable piano opener, fascinating verbal imagery, a killer guitar solo, and an over-the-top music video, this song is easily one of the best in MCR’s catalog.
20. LOLLIPOP – Lil Wayne ft. Static Major (2008)
Kendrick Lamar recently called Lil Wayne one of the most influential rappers. And he’s not wrong. Wayne pioneered Autotune as an art form, and up-and-coming rappers are constantly mimicking his style even as it evolves. This foray into techno off his critically lauded 2008 album Tha Carter III is a good example of Wayne being a better artist than a lot of people give him credit for. While he faced a tidal wave of backlash following his ill-advised rock album Rebirth, he has made a lot of positive contributions to pop and rap. This track’s masterful fusion of techno and hip-hop, with a dash of guitar for good measure, is one of the more unique songs of the decade. Tragically, featured guest Static Major died two weeks before the song was released, and it was his only hit. But what a hit it was.
21. DISTURBIA – Rihanna (2008)
Perhaps the spookiest hit song of the decade, this song is like “Crazy” in that it explores themes of mental anguish over a disturbingly catchy beat. The song has a really cool horror movie vibe, but like Rih’s recent (or Rihcent) Eminem collaboration “The Monster”, it’s a bit too fun for what it’s trying to do. Still, this one thrives in its ability to be both fascinating and enjoyable. Plus, it doesn’t have Eminem yodeling. This one’ll be stuck in your head for a while.
22. PAPER PLANES – M.I.A. (2008)
This song got big after it was featured in the Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, and it made M.I.A. one of the most sought-after names in pop and hip hop. While she’s since fallen out of the public eye (truly ahead of her time), those who can’t be bothered to look into her newer stuff will always have this song to remember her by. It’s catchy, it’s weird, it’s funny, it’s serious, it’s rapping, it’s singing, it’s a universally-loved hit that still comes up after the phrase “You know what’s a good song?” to this day.
23. AMERICAN BOY – Estelle ft. Kanye West (2008)
Estelle has recently gained a new following for her role as Garnet on Steven Universe, but in the last decade she gave Americans a taste of their own medicine by fetishizing their culture. The combination of Estelle’s vocals, the unique beat, and Kanye’s ruthless verse makes this song feel oddly refreshing. It’s less of a banger and more of a viber. It’s just a really nice song.
24. LOVE LOCKDOWN – Kanye West (2008)
This song shook up the whole game, as Kanye is wont to do. As the first single off 808’s and Heartbreak, it seemed to come out of left field. While it had the same production quality we’re used to from Kanye (hearbeat + piano + tribal drums + vocoder + Autotune), this one was different. It was all singing. It was a lot sadder than people are used to hearing from Kanye. But it was also super good. And it was just our first taste of one of the most influential albums of all time (but to be fair, the rest of the album is pretty much the same).
25. KNOCK YOU DOWN – Keri Hilson ft. Ne-Yo and Kanye West (2009)
If this song was just Keri Hilson, it would be terrible. Which isn’t to say that she doesn’t contribute to the song, but it’s Ne-Yo and Kanye that really make it worthwhile. Basically, this is a banger about the ups and downs of relationships, and how you shouldn’t let the rough patches get to you. I don’t know if that’s actually a good idea, but hey, no judging. Apparently, Kanye’s metaphor-heavy verse was actually his first love confession to Kim Kardashian, and it’s cool to know that it comes from a really personal place for him and isn’t just a song made for the purpose of being a love song.
26. DAY ‘N’ NITE – Kid Cudi (2009)
I’ve argued that Kid Cudi is this generation’s Bob Dylan, with his mediocre vocals, often simplistic genre-defying, drug-fueled songs, and important messages both positive and negative. Only time will tell, but this first hit of his isn’t a bad example. Cudi sing-raps about letting out his inner emotional anguish and keeping it in, creating a “day and night” contrast. A trippy, minimalist beat by frequent collaborator Dot da Genius help gives this song a pleasant-yet-sinister atmosphere that complements its lyrics nicely.
27. FIREFLIES – Owl City (2009)
Owl City is an artist (yes, it’s just one guy) who enjoyed a nice fifteen minutes of fame before sulking off quietly so he and his fanbase can enjoy weird dream pop together. The mainstream public is left with this bizarre speck on 2009’s hit list. As far as I can tell, and I’ll admit I haven’t tried very hard, this song isn’t really about anything (the fireflies represent dreams? maybe?). The lyrics simply serve as a mural-like motif to accompany the dreamy beat. But it works. And I like it.
28. EMPIRE STATE OF MIND – Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys (2009)
I don’t even feel like this one needs explaining. We all know this song. We all love it. We all love singing along to the chorus. We all recognize the beat instantly. It’s crazy how this song seemed to immediately become an institution within the year it came out. Like, by the end of 2009 they were playing it at baseball games. It never got old. It’s still as wonderful as ever, and it’s one of the most persuasive advertisements for New York City ever made.
29. FOREVER – Drake, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Eminem (2009)
I don’t think I’d be too far out of line to say this is the most important hip hop collaboration of all time. If not, then it’s the most important posse cut. The four artists were all at disparate points in their career, and for one reason or another, this song was important to all of them. First off, there’s Drake, the young up-and-comer who needed this song to prove that he could spit with the best of them. And up against three giants, he performs admirably. After that comes Kanye, who’s entered into an experimental phase in his career. He’s proving to his fans that no matter how avant-garde he gets, he’s still a rapper, and he can still pull a great verse out of his ass any day of the week. With this track, he wins back some of the fans he alienated in his 808s and Heartbreak days, blissfully unaware of the tidal wave of scandal that would soon wash over him and nearly kill his career. Lil Wayne, on the other hand, is in a downward spiral, drunk off his own fame. It’s clear from many of his ventures around his time that he’s just not trying as hard as he used to. But Wayne needs this verse because the fans demand it. He’s so scared of losing his massive fan base that he refuses to slow down. But more than anyone else, Eminem needs this song. He’s post-downward spiral at this point, but his rebound album still left most of his fans disappointed. He’s had enough of letting the people he loves down. This track is his opportunity to win back the people that used to love him. He’s got everything to prove and nothing to lose.
The tension on this song is palpable, thanks in part to an intense best by Boi-1da. Drake goes in, Kanye goes in, even Wayne does an admirable job, but ultimately Em bodies the entire track. His verse is fast and furious, and it’s regarded widely as one of Eminem’s best.
30. GREEN LIGHT – John Legend ft. Andre 3000 (2009)
Rounding up our list is this bouncy banger by R&B crooner John Legend and acclaimed rapper Andre 3000. It’s smooth, but not to the point of being boring. Honestly, I was a bit surprised that it made it onto the Hot 100, since I’d never heard it on the radio and I always kind of assumed it was one of those really good songs that just missed out on mainstream success, like last year’s “Good Kisser” by Usher. But, it turns out this song was a hit. Which is good, because it’s a really fun song.
I’ll have some other playlist-style articles coming out real soon, as well as reviews of Dope, Ted 2, Magic Mike XXL, and Free Weezy Album, assuming it actually drops on the 4th. Like this post if you like it, comment if you have something to say, follow my blog if you like it like it, you can also follow me on Twitter @BreakingPOORLY, and I’ll see you ’round.