Let's clear a thing or two up before I start. These are certainly NOT my favorite songs of the decade, just the best rap instrumentals since the year 2000... in one man's eyes. Debate is welcome - encouraged, in fact. Also, I should point out that this was an incredibly difficult task. I could have listed 200 and been content. I went with 10 though... first, the honorable mentions:
Dirt Off Ya Shoulder - Timbaland (Jay-Z) - 2004
I Got My Locs On - JR Rotem (Ice Cube and Young Jeezy) - 2008
'Till I Collapse - Eminem (Eminem) - 2001
Chevy Ridin' High - Dre (Rick Ross, The Game) - 2005
Draped Up - Messy Marv (Bun B) - 2004
Higher - Dr. Dre (The Game) - 2004
Brooklyn (We Go Hard) - Kanye West (Jay-Z and Santogold) - 2008
Swagger Like Us - Kanye West (T.I., Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil' Wayne) - 2007
Dreams - Kanye West (The Game) - 2004
We Major - Kanye West (Kanye West, Nas) - 2005
Black Republican - L.E.S. (Nas, Jay-Z) - 2005
So Fresh, So Clean - Organized Noize (OutKast) - 2000
Won't Let You Down - Kane Beatz (Chamillionaire) - 2007
Gone - Kanye West (Kanye West, Cam'Ron and Consequence) - 2005
What Up, What's Haapnin' - Drumma Boy (T.I.) - 2008
My Block - Nashiem Myrick and Lee Stone (Scarface) - 2003
Get You Some - Dr. Dre (Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Marsha Ambrosius) - 2006
Dope Boys - 1500 or Nothin', DJ Quik (Game and Travis Barker) - 2008
Now, the top 10:
10. B.O.B. - Earthtone III (OutKast) - 2000
Please let there be another OutKast album. Soon. Please. It's probably the greatest shit ever. Seriously. Thanks.
9. 99 Problems - Rick Rubin (Jay-Z) 2004
The guitar riff is unbelievable, and 500 times better in concert, when Jay does his big boy shows with a real band, than in digital/disc form. The scratching is a perfect accent to the drums and guitar riff, making this a beat you'll hear for 50 years.
8. Jesus Walks - Kanye West (Kanye West) - 2004
It might be the best rap song of all-time. If you can make a song questioning the philosophical approach to religion... and have PEOPLE PLAY IT IN CLUBS... you've made a fucking incredible song. The choral backdrop is perfectly executed, the drums aren't so fierce that they overpower the lyrics, and the layered secondary drum loop accents the entire track perfectly.
7. Cannon - Don Cannon (T.I. and Lil' Wayne) - 2006
Don Cannon's beats have giant titanium balls that graze the pavement when they walk through the gates of Hell. This song samples Tecmo Super Bowl for God's sake. How fucking awesome is that?
6. Made You Look - Salaam Remi (Nas) - 2002
BOOM! A gunshot, and you're off. The echoing "Bravehearts" grows into a roar before Nasir Jones destroys this ridiculous beat. Once again, an echo on a synth used to perfection. The nuances of sound are accentuated perfectly by Salaam Remi on this beat -- the scratches that have a gradually ascending volume are awesome, the reverse-action after the gunshots in the hook, etc. Timeless hip-hop.
5. Breathe - Just Blaze (Fabolous) - 2004
Just Blaze continues to have some of the sickest keys in the world, and this may be the best example of that. The echo of the vocal sample is flawless, and provides an eerie depth that gives the MC an accent to his lyrics, but not a dominating voice he has to work to overcome. The first time I heard this song, I think I listened to it a dozen times. And I can't stand Fabolous.
4. What You Know - Wonder (T.I.) - 2006
This song is fucking brilliant. There's a reason why it was played to death - the combination of the rumbling bass that reverberates throughout the track, flawless synths and sick hook made it one of my favorite rap singles of all-time. This song also reminds me of about 75 fantastic, friend-and-female-filled, inebriated nights in college.
3. Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix) - Kanye West (Kanye West, Jay-Z) - 2005
The first time I heard the OG version of this, I think I hit repeat a dozen times. The sample at the beginning is the perfect tease for the horns and synths that 'Ye drops before letting the drums do their work. The song sounds fit for a concert hall in a genre of strip club producers. The "Hold One Up" sample cut into the verses is brilliantly executed, as well. Lupe Fiasco's version of this song is one of my favorite songs of all-time.
2. It's Okay (One Blood) - Reefa (The Game) - 2005
The best sample of the decade, HANDS DOWN. Maybe the best bass line, too. This shit was so gruesome, it made your speakers bleed melted plastic, and you didn't mind the smell. Anytime a beat doesn't need a hook because the sample is so vicious, it really doesn't matter what is rapped over it. And Game didn't disrespect it, either - it's probably his best song.
1. Grindin' - The Neptunes (Clipse) - 2002
The sheer brilliance... is in its simplicity. The crispness of the drums, simple bass pattern, and incessant resonating clap provide the quintessential backdrop for a verse. The basic instrumental addition in the hook is just enough to put it over the top. It's the rare beat that gets rapped over 10 million times by 10 million different emcees, and one never gets sick of hearing it. My number 1.