DAR Hip Hop: The 10 Greatest Roc-A-Fella Albums From 2000-2004

By @TrueGodImmortal

We all loved The Roc. We watched as Jay-Z and company took over the game shortly after 1999, and they had a strong grip on hip hop up until the official separation in 2004, when everyone went their separate ways. Today, I wanted to talk about that period of time and the albums that came during that historic run. There were tons of releases from Jay-Z, multiple from Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek, and much more. Not included here are the Diplomats and State Property group albums because they are more so entities on their own outside of just Roc-A-Fella (though technically still signed to the label). With that in mind, how do these albums stack up to each other? Which album is no. 1? Let's take a look at the 10 best albums from The Roc during 2000-2004.

10. Memphis Bleek- The Understanding (2000)

-This album was criminally slept on, and while it didn't showcase anything special from Bleek lyrically, I always thought this album didn't get enough credit. It features concise hits, street bangers, and the type of music that made Bleek a fan favorite for many. While his debut album and his third album were solid as well, he reached his apex here with tracks like "Is That Your Chick", "My Mind Right (Remix)", "Hustlers", "Everyday", and "In My Life". While choosing this album over other releases like The Blueprint 2, Amil's album (ha!), the Juelz solo album and M.A.D.E. might seem like a stretch, I thoroughly enjoyed this album and didn't want to make this list without including at least one release from the man who set to be the next one up in The Roc.

9. Young Gunz- Tough Luv (2004)

-I debated putting this album slightly higher. In essence, this is a shockingly poised debut from a duo that many didn't think would step up and become as popular as they did. State Property represented the next wave of The Roc and after both Beans and Freeway made their mark, the Young Gunz stepped up to the challenge as well. Production was a highlight similar to many other Roc releases, as Bink!, Just Blaze, Kanye, Chad Hamilton, and Scott Storch provided some intense sounds for the duo to spit their best over. The features include Beans, Cam'ron, Juelz Santana, Freeway, Rell, Sparks, and Jay-Z, as they all contribute to standout tracks. Some of the best songs here are "$$$ Girlz", "Never Take Me Alive", the hit single "No Better Love", and the honest title track. All in all, Young Gunz delivered on an album that naturally exceeded most expectations.

8. Beanie Sigel- The Reason (2001)

-I know a lot of people love this album and while I did enjoy it, I do think this album was a slight step down from his near flawless debut. Production was solid for the sophomore effort from the Philly legend, as Kanye West and Just Blaze contribute multiple beats to the project alongside other notable names like Rick Rock and No I.D. as well. The production is what essentially carries this album, as Kanye and Just are magnificent here, but the features are also mostly well placed, with Daz Dillinger, Kurupt, Freeway, Jay-Z, and more complementing Beans well. The standout tracks on the album to me are "Man's World", "Nothing Like It", "Mom Praying", and "Still Got Love For You", but I could have done without a few tracks here like "Watch Your Bitches", "I Don't Do Much", and surprisingly, the lead single "Beanie (Mack Bitch)", which explains why this album did not crack the top 5 of this list. Still, a very solid album from start to finish with only a few skips.

7. Jay-Z- The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)

-If I was being biased, I would put this album at no. 4. However, in all fairness, this album wasn't as well received as some of the other Roc releases, though I'm not sure why that was the case. This is a great album, one that allows Jay's proteges to shine, while also making sure his own stature in the game goes unquestioned. To me, this album provides a glimpse of the direction Jay was going to go in for his future albums following, as there is a bit of maturation heard in numerous tracks here. To me, The Dynasty was a perfect blend of styles for Jay, as we hear the West Coast style production on "Parking Lot Pimpin" and "Change The Game" from Rick Rock, the heart wrenching soul production from Kanye and Just Blaze respectively on "This Can't Be Life" and "Soon You'll Understand", or even the resounding triumphant production of Bink! on both "1-900-Hustler" and "You, Me, Him, and Her". This was a slight precursor to The Blueprint that still allowed Beans and Bleek to showcase themselves as the next ones up on The Roc and even gave Freeway a chance to shine. How real is that?

6. Cam'ron- Come Home With Me (2002)

-So, in fairness, I always thought the first two albums from Cam were pretty solid, though nothing entirely special. Cam had yet to find his lane or a label that had his best interest at heart, but that all changed when The Roc signed him. Cam would shake up the game with his successful third album, his first on The Roc, and he sounded reinvigorated following his issues with Epic Records. With production from Ty Fyffe, DR Period, Rsonist (Heatmakerz), and others outside the Roc camp, Cam showed he can always hold his own without the in house Roc assistance. However, it would be the Just Blaze contributions that stick out the most, as "Oh Boy", "The Roc (Just Fire) featuring Beans and Bleek, and "Welcome To New York City" featuring Jigga were probably the three most important songs on the album, minus the DR Period produced classic "Hey Ma". Make no mistake about it, Cam has and always will be a legend, but once he got to The Roc, he found his highest form musically.

5. Freeway- Philadelphia Freeway (2003)

-Freeway is the most underrated artist from The Roc with an unorthodox style that delighted many listeners. His interesting rhyme pattern, along with the booming production he selected helped to push his debut album to a debatable classic status. This album aged very well some 15 years later and it is still one of my favorite Roc albums. The production is the highlight, as Freeway sticks to the Roc script and utilizes the two essential in house guys in Just Blaze and Kanye, along with the frequent Roc producer Bink as well. Just handles most of the production, handling over half of the beats and the results are nearly perfect. Tracks like the Beans and Jay assisted classic "What We Do", the banger "Flipside", the Nate Dogg assisted "All My Life", the smooth "Alright", and "Hear The Song" helped round out an album that should have at least gone double platinum. That's how good this debut was from Freeway and there was no question that this was making the top 5 of this list.

4. Beanie Sigel- The Truth (2000)

-The debut from Beans is one of the best Roc albums period. He was in a different zone at the time of the release, showcasing his Philly style with the straightforward hardcore rhymes that depicted the street life with more sincerity. After a ton of classic guest spots from Beans, he would now have his chance to showcase his solo skill and album making abilities. Working with some big producers before they were popular like Just Blaze, Bink!, and Kanye West, as well as slept on production legends like Rockwilder, Prestige, and Buckwild, Beans delivers one of the most cohesive albums in the history of The Roc. Tracks like the hard hitting "Die", the Scarface collab "Mac and Brad", the title track, and the raw "What Ya Life Like" show Beans doing what he does best and to the highest power. I would almost put The Truth over The Black Album, as it might be a slightly more cohesive album, but Jay had bigger moments with that album than Beans had with this one. Still, this is a near classic.

3. Jay-Z- The Black Album (2003)

-I know many people love The Black Album. I really enjoy it. It just isn't my favorite album from Jay. Top 5 maybe, but not my favorite. Yet, when we look back on this time period, it is certainly within the upper echelon of Jay albums. Jay was crafting his swan song, announcing his retirement was imminent from the game, and as a result, we see Jay super motivated on the album. At times, we get the best work of his career like on the Just Blaze produced "Public Service Announcement", the Neptunes produced gem "Allure", the Rick Rubin produced classic "99 Problems", as well as the Kanye produced "Lucifer". For the most part, Jay seems comfortable in his position on the album, walking into retirement with a near classic, but songs like "Change Clothes" and "Justify My Thug" stop this from being a flawless album, though it is truly great.

2. Kanye West- The College Dropout (2004)

-Of course. This album could be no. 1 honestly, as it has aged pretty well IMO. Kanye was a game changer in 2004, giving life to a new wave in music with this triple platinum debut. The album was self produced, with the chipmunk soul sound alive and well on this project. The features were honestly top notch as well, with Jay-Z providing two amazing verses on "Never Let Me Down", Mos Def and Freeway contributing solid verses to "Two Words", a banger with Talib Kweli and Common on "Get Em High", and Twista and Jamie Foxx assisting on the huge hit single "Slow Jamz". Kanye crafted a timeless piece of art here with The College Dropout and it stands as one of the most impactful debut albums ever.

1. Jay-Z- The Blueprint (2001)

-When I look back on the albums that changed my life musically, the list isn't extremely long. One of those albums is The Blueprint, widely seen as the second best and even the best Jay-Z album ever. It would be seen as a game changer, as this album led to a large amount of artists utilizing soulful production on their projects. Kanye West, Just Blaze, and Bink! handle the bulk of the sounds here, as Jay delivers some of the most poignant and real rhymes in his career. The only mishaps on this album could be considered the Trackmasters produced "Jigga That Nigga" and the Timbaland produced "Hola Hovito", but only because they sound slightly out of place in terms of sequencing. Regardless, Jay definitely doesn't disappoint on tracks like the classic diss "Takeover", "Girls, Girls, Girls", "U Don't Know", "Never Change", and of course "Song Cry". This is perhaps the most concise and cohesive Jay album and for that, it easily tops this list.



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