Here Are 30 Things That Prove Hip-Hop in the 2000s Was Wildly Different
If the 2000s feel like a long time ago, it’s because at this point, they are. Twenty years is a lifetime, especially in hip-hop years.
While most popular music videos of the era can be found on YouTube within minutes, a good amount are grainy and distorted, robbed of a quality that was usually pristine. But based on the technology of the era, those videos were probably not in HD in the first place.
While you might not be able to watch a crystal clear version of your favorite Ja Rule and Lil Mo collab, you’re still in a much better place than you might have been in 2004. That was just one year before YouTube was officially launched, so seeing a music video in any form at all online was never a guarantee. If you didn’t have the song on a CD or you didn’t download it from iTunes because you didn’t have a debit car or an iTunes gift card, you might just have to hope the song plays on the radio as part of some semi-throwback lineup. In other words, readily getting access to your favorite music videos or favorite songs could be kind of slow—sort of like that dial-up internet you used to download music from Limewire.
These little hassles and music consumption logistics were just part of the 2000s, an era that largely unfolded before the instant gratification that accompanied a proliferation of smartphones and social media platforms. There were also a lot of dope things, too. Characterized by everything from transformational rap stars to innovative fashion choices to explosive rap trends, the 2000s were a great time.
During the early aughts, a young Chicago producer named Kanye Omari West popularized an innovative sampling technique that soon took over the industry. A bit later, he dropped off his debut solo album, The College Dropout, and promptly shot up to superstar status. Around that same time, he helped push rappers away from wearing jerseys as often as he became one of the first mainstream rappers to rock preppy gear.
Furs were worn, Pelle Pelle belts rocked, jerseys flaunted and iPods were clutched. Punchline rap flourished and Crunk exploded. The 2000s were a movie, and now, we revisit. Today, XXL takes a look at 30 things that remind you of hip-hop in the 2000s.
Chipmunk Soul Sampling
In the late 1990s and 2000s, the chipmunk soul sound became a common tool in a producer’s utility belt. The sound was popularized by Kanye West, whose debut single as a solo artist, “Through the Wire,” featured a sped-up sample from Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire.” That sped-up sample defines chipmunk soul, and Kanye pioneered it as it exploded in popularity after 2001.
Rappers Saying Hip-Hop Was Dead
The idea of rap music being watered down by external commercial forces has been floating around for over 20 years. That sentiment began to crystallize as crunk, snap rap and miscellaneous other rap sub-genres seemingly became the most immediate avenues to commercial viability. That’s when you started hearing rappers complaining about dance songs and how they’d bring real hip-hop back. In December of 2006, Nas cosigned that notion when he dropped his Hip-Hop Is Dead album. In 2016, Nas admitted that he missed the mark with that entire concept.
Before websites like SoundCloud existed or mixtape streaming platform Dat Piff really took off, fans would have to cop mixtapes either from street vendors, their local barbershop or bodega. These days, physical mixtape copies feel like antiques.
Portable CD Players
Before iPhones, iPods or even MP3 players were en vogue, portable CD players were one of the most common ways to hear your music on the go. While they weren’t sleek at all and could scarcely be called portable when compared to our devices today, the audio was a notch up, so you could hear 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in HD—while on the go.
Dance Song Mania
Rappers make dance songs now, but in the mid-2000s, they were as ubiquitous as they’d ever be. The most famous one is Soulja Boy‘s “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy),” which sparked a nationwide phenomenon that saw fans of all ages trying to do the dance.
Rap City Freestyles
The idea of rap superstars pulling up to a set for a daytime TV show now feels borderline impossible unless there’s serious crossover potential. But back in the 2000s, artists like Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and other artists of that ilk would pull up for Rap City, a series that aired every weekday afternoon. Most of the time, they’d join show host Big Tigger in the “basement” and deliver a freestyle over a popular contemporary beat. Jay-Z even spit lyrics from his The Black Album cut “Public Service Announcement” for one particular 2003 Rap City appearance. What a time.
Back in the 2000s, tall white tees were a go-to fashion staple for hip-hop superstars. People still wear white tees, but the tall variety hasn’t been seen too much since around 2008 or so.
You don’t see them worn as much now, but make no mistake, sports jerseys were an indispensable fashion staple during the 2000s. Rappers would throw on jerseys that matched their kicks and hit up a pool party—or a music video—to get their ’fits off.
Duets With R&B Stars
Sure, rappers still do songs with R&B singers, but the days of Ja Rule-style rap&B duets are long gone. Any time between 2001 and 2005, you could expect to see your favorite East Coast rapper team up with a female R&B superstar for a song that would invariably live on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Ja Rule, who famously teamed with Lil Mo (“Put It on Me (Remix)”), Ashanti (“Mesmerize”) and more, pretty much laid out the formula for these duets in the 2000s. People get these jokes off now, but Ja was winning.
Back in the 2000s, the web was still very much the Wild Wild West, and Limewire was kind of like a buffalo ranch. There was no Spotify or Apple Music, so if you wanted MP3s, you had to either purchase them individually from iTunes or another online music service. If not that, then Limewire, which was an illegal music provider where you could download music, videos and damn near anything else for free, was your go-to.
Durags Under Fitted Caps
On their own, durags are enough to be a self-contained piece of head gear, but in the 2000s, artists like 50 Cent, Cam’ron, Juelz Santana and more regularly rocked them underneath their fitted caps.
Throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, baggy jeans were the predominant style of choice in the hip-hop world. Skinny jeans didn’t really slide into hip-hop until the very end of the 2000s and into the beginning of the 2010s.
Rappers Rapping About Rapping
It’s only natural for MCs to rap about their mic skills and rappers from across eras and continents have done the same. However, in the mid-2000s, a bunch of artists made the topic of their pen game the basis for entire songs. Everyone from Cassidy to every member of Slaughterhouse was in on the fun.
With its bits of pirate iconography and colorful designs, Ed Hardy was popular among rappers in the mid-2000s.
Kids Singing on Hooks
One of the more common song flourishes of the mid-2000s involved young children singing hooks that could be anything from fun to aspirational to mortally serious. Think Nas’ “I Know I Can” or Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug” as a quick snapshot of those two ideas. When pairing the callowness of a child’s voice with gangsterdom, songs became jarring in an ironic way and helped add to replay value.
In hip-hop—and possibly mainstream culture in general—jean shorts are all but extinct. But as evidence in part by this Fat Joe picture taken in 2006, they were a very valid way to help get ’fits off in the 2000s.
Rapper Clothing Brands
Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Wear, Diddy’s Sean John, 50 Cent’s G-Unit Clothing Company, Nelly’s Apple Bottoms and T.I.’s Akoo (A King of Oneself) all enjoyed their heyday during the 2000s.
Rappers in Video Games
In the early part of hip-hop history, rap was seen as a risky experiment for record labels to conduct. By the 2000s, the genre was so big that rappers were sometimes featured in own video games. Remember Def Jam Vendetta? 50 Cent also had his own game.
Once upon a time, YouTube didn’t exist, and if you wanted a snapshot of what was going on in the world of street rap, hip-hop DVDs were your only portal. For these DVDs, the most notable of which was the S.M.A.C.K. series, rappers would give interviews on new music, rap beefs and more. There would even be rap battles, many of which became classic.
T.I.’s breakout single, “24s,” was all about living large and riding high, with the riding part involving 24-inch rims on flossy whips. Rims were a big part of mid-2000s rap culture, but these days you don’t see rappers with them nearly as much.
Before the iPhone, T-Mobile’s Sidekick—1 and 2—were a preferred rap game accessory. With a video game controller-like anatomy and a nifty QWERTY keyboard that was cutting edge at the time, it was a low-key tech miracle. AOL Instant messenger? Check. Internet? Check. You could see these bad boys in��everything from music videos to the sideline at the NBA All-Star game because they were so damn nifty. Before iPhones, SideKicks were the prime rapper accessory.
Bapestas are a shoe launched by Bape founder Nigo, and they were popularized in part by Pharrell and Soulja Boy. With their often primary-colored designs and an anatomy that resembled the Nike Air Force 1, they were definitely a look, and they helped rappers color coordinate their outfits.
It might be hard for someone born after 1999 to believe, but at one point, iPods didn’t exist, and listening to your favorite music on the go was kind of difficult. Before iPods came around and became synonymous with MP3 players, you’d have to use a cassette player or a portable CD player to listen to your favorite songs in transit. With its sleek, intuitive design and seemingly endless storage—the first 2001 model of the iPod was 10 gigabytes and could hold up to 2,000 songs. The iPod quickly became a staple for rap fans and rappers.
Mixtapes Featuring Freestyles Over Other Artists’ Beats
Rappers have and always will use the beats of other artists to deliver epic freestyles. But 2020 is nothing like 2002-2009, when artists like 50 Cent, Fabolous and Lil Wayne would unload mixtapes comprised mostly of beats other rappers had already used. 50 was perhaps the first rapper to popularize this, but Lil Wayne took the torch and delivered immortal freestyles for nearly 10 whole years. It’s rare that these freestyles surpass the original versions of the songs, but Weezy came close many times. His 2007 Da Drought 3 freestyle, “Sky Is the Limit,” actually uses the beat for Mike Jones’ song “Mr. Jones” of the same year. While Mike’s version was solid, Weezy’s iteration essentially led to the beat being credited as his.
When she rocked the University of North Carolina’s signature powder blue basketball jersey as a skirt in the video for her Jay-Z-featured song “Best of Me (Remix),” Mya helped popularize the trend of women turning jerseys into examples of sporty chic.
Snap rap is a rap sub-genre that popped after the year 2000. It originated in Atlanta, where people like Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz and Dem Franchize Boyz made music designed to twist your feet, roll your shoulders and snap.
Between 2000 and 2004, music videos weren’t nearly as available online as they are now. YouTube was founded in 2005. Before you could watch your favorite Jay-Z video at will, you’d usually have to hope you caught it on shows like BET’s 106 & Park or MTV’s TRL. If not that, then you could watch the videos during one of BET, MTV or VH1’s video programming blocks. But those were pretty much the only way to do so, and things were very much slow for your favorite rap videos.
With customizable backgrounds, songs you could add to your profile and more, Myspace used to be a whole vibe for rap fans. If you wanted, you could have a Dipset background and have “Oh Boy” act as the song you had playing when people visited your profile. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram succeeded the platform, but it definitely had its moment, and as it was unfolding, rappers were a big part of it.
Punchline rap was as big as it would ever be in the 2000s. Punchline rappers were to hip-hop what shooting guards were to the NBA during the same time. Off top, artists like Cassidy, Lloyd Banks and Fabolous standout as artists who made their name off slick, quote-worthy punchlines before 2005. After that point, people like Lil Wayne and others filled their verses with as many similes as they possibly could. Jae Hood, JR Writer and countless more also started to build names for themselves using this style at the time.
Big-Word Rap Names
Rappers with names like Termanology, Verbal and more were really popular in the 2000s. The names evoked images of the type of lyrical craftsmanship they wanted to promote or they just thought it looked cool on paper. Either way, you won’t see this as much today, but many of the artists with these names are still going strong to this day.