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A Definitive Ranking Of The Best Hip-Hop Album Covers From The Early 2000s

Sourced from Billboard's Top 100 R&B and Hip-Hop Charts from the years 2000–2005.

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39. Chocolate Factory by R. Kelly (2003)

Jive

This album cover was inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, particularly the golden ticket. And while the gold background is cool, Kells' face is obstructed by the huge red bow. It really hides the mastery behind the drawing behind it.

37. Get Lifted by John Legend (2005)

http://G.O.O.D Music

John Legend's album covers have come a long way since his debut. While this one isn't anything fancy, the subtle framing is a nice touch. Legend probably didn't go all out with his artwork because his voice covered his bases.

36. Chris Brown by Chris Brown (2005)

Jive/CBE/Zomba

Chris Brown's debut album from 2005 is pretty...interesting. The oversize outfit, huge belt buckle, and repeated use of a microphones were relevant touches. Brown was still a young guy back then, so that explains the playfulness of this cover.

35. The Heat by Toni Braxton (2000)

LaFace

Toni Braxton's cover for The Heat is pretty basic, but it really turns up with the blurring of the lower portion, which is meant to represent the temperature. Creative for the times. This album was so hot that it must have also helped to hold Braxton's top up.

34. Nellyville by Nelly (2002)

Universal

Nelly's second studio album's cover was a little dry compared to his debut album. It still prominently featured the rapper's face and signature eye band-aid, but it tried to get a little too artsy with the sepia tone and intense look.

33. The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse by Jay Z (2002)

Roc-A-Fella

The Blueprint 2 cover follows Jay's trend of him being the center of attention. The raised pinkie in the air must be a shout-out to him moving into a higher class.

32. Destiny Fulfilled by Destiny's Child (2004)

Columbia/Sony Urban

Destiny's Child stripped down for the group's 2004 album Destiny Fulfilled. Everyone looks on point, Beyoncé opted to not be in the center, and overall this is a classic cover. It was super nice of the ladies to let Michelle be in the center for a change, too.

31. Ashanti by Ashanti (2002)

Murder Inc./Def Jam

This album cover was Ashanti's very first for her solo debut. It's simple, but highlights her natural beauty, and also distanced her from her record label Murda Inc.'s "hard" image.

30. Goodies by Ciara (2004)

Sho'nuff/LaFace/Zomba/Sony/BMG

Ciara's debut album cover represents everything from the time. The outfit choice is a shout-out to her easy, laid-back demeanor, and the pink is a shout-out to her girly side. Besides that, visually, she looks amazing.

29. Survivor by Destiny's Child (2001)

Columbia

Beyoncé as the center of attention, a nice fluffy rug, and custom metallic outfits. This album cover will go down as a classic. Extra points for Michelle's blank facial expression.

28. Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter by Jay Z (2000)

Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

Vol. 3's album cover is a hat tip to Jay's NYC roots. The iced-out jewelry and Rocawear jacket are the icing on the cake. Jay Z is the king of advertising for himself.

27. The Emancipation of Mimi by Mariah Carey (2005)

Island Def Jam

Photoshop to the nines, check. Killer outfit, check. Glitter, check. This album cover encompasses everything that a Mariah Carey album should.

26. ...And Then There Was X by DMX (2000)

Ruff Riders/Def Jam

This five-time platinum album's cover was the first time DMX strayed away from more graphic and shocking covers like his previous album Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, which depicted the rapper covered completely in blood. This cover kept it pretty simple but also contrasted the hardness of concrete and the softness of a written message.

25. J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez (2001)

Epic

Lopez's second album J. Lo introduced the world to her new name and personality: J.Lo. It was reported that she had more creative control over this album, which could be why her face is front and center on the album. As far as covers go, this one is pretty powerful, with Lopez looking straight ahead, making you feel some type of way. Quiet beauty.

24. Scorpion by Eve (2001)

Ruff Ryders/Interscope

With her second album, Eve, aka the "pit bull in a skirt," stuck to her Philly roots by rocking a du-rag on the cover. She mixed things up, though, by throwing in two additional images of herself, leaving us with a very dramatic but meaningful album cover but also, beautiful cover.

23. Songs in A Minor by Alicia Keys (2001)

J Records

Big green hat, black leather jacket, bare midriff, a hint of cleavage, and a crystal belt, all tied together perfectly with a black background. This is how you do a debut album cover. And of course Keys' signature braids were present.

22. Monkey Business by The Black Eyed Peas (2005)

http://will.i.am

The Black Eyed Peas are known for their ridiculously creative album covers, and 2005's Monkey Business was no different. The cover features all of the members equally, which is tricky when you have four faces on a cover, but they pulled it off, including an intricate background, and they even threw a monkey in there.

21. The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem (2000)

Aftermath/Interscope/Shady/Goliath

Eminem's second album, The Marshall Mathers LP, perfectly encapsulated his state of mind and feelings at the time. When the album was released, it featured two different covers. The above is the second cover art. According to VH1, "The original features Eminem sitting on the porch of the house he lived in during his teenage years." And critics praised the second album cover: "Will Hermes of Entertainment Weekly likened Eminem's appearance on the cover to a "dysfunctional Little Rascal", viewing the image as indicative of the rapper's musical evolution: "Easy to read, right? The debut: a violent fantasy, the acting-out of a persona. The follow-up: the vulnerable artist unmasked."

20. The Black Album by Jay Z (2003)

Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

Jay Z's Black Album cover is iconic because it was the first time the rapper claimed he was retiring. Today, we know that wasn't the case, but the artwork sticks to Jay Z's track record of featuring himself, but this time he's "blinded" by his hat. Maybe that was his way of saying he was on his way out (even though he wasn't). Points for minimalism with this one, though, and the color scheme is awesome.

19. The Diary of Alicia Keys by Alicia Keys (2003)

J Records

The Diary of Alicia Keys was Keys' second studio album. The look and feel of this cover still paid huge homage to her piano roots and her trademarked braids, but it classed things up a bit, and the color scheme with framing is easy on the eyes.

18. The Documentary by The Game (2005)

G-Unit/Aftermath/Interscope

The Game's debut album paid huge homage to the gangsta MC's Southern California roots with some sick rims from a lowrider, Chuck Taylor sneakers, and Dickies slacks. The simplicity of this album cover, with subtle Cali hints, looks great, but also helps the music speak for itself.

17. Tha Carter II by Lil Wayne (2005)

Cash Money/Young Money/Universal

Baggy pants with shorts underneath, a ridiculously expensive whip, and cursive script. This album cover includes everything that was 2005's rap opulence.

16. 2001 by Dr. Dre (2000)

Aftermath/Interscope

This is an instant classic album cover. Dr. Dre let his work speak for itself with a bare black background, his name, the year, and a weed leaf. Perfect simplicity.

15. The Neptunes Present... Clones by Various Artists (2003)

Star Trak/Arista

This album cover is further proof that Pharrell doesn't age, but it also represents the artistic style from early in the decade. Computers were getting much more advanced, and the Neptunes fully embraced their first production album with an out-of-this-world cover.

14. Beautifully Human: Words And Sounds Vol. 2 by Jill Scott (2004)

Hidden Beach

Old pictures of the artist always work better than current pictures. Jill Scott's follow-up album to her critically acclaimed debut shows Scott from her early years in what we assume is a school picture. It's cuteness overload — the missing tooth and pigtails just up the "awww" factor.

13. Confessions by Usher (2004)

Arista

Confessions' album cover perfectly matches with Usher's theme of confessing: If you look closely, he's in a confession box and is most likely repenting for the cardinal sin of cheating on Chilli.

12. Rule 3:36 by Ja Rule (2000)

Def Jam

Ah, 2000. The blessed time of Ja Rule and Ashanti, and Ja Rule and Christina Milian, and basically Ja Rule and every other popular R&B female who could hold a tune. This album cover was simple, but gave big shout-outs to Rule's gang affiliation at the time. But it also shows his religious side, with the script representing that of a handwritten "biblical note." The intense look Ja gives helps tie everything together and helps you feel the emotion in your soul.

11. No More Drama by Mary J. Blige (2001)

MCA

So. Much. Yes. Mary J. is never one to let us down when it comes to album covers, and this one with the jacket, the hair, the look, the font, it represents everything that was great about 2001. Oh yeah, the music was great too.

10. The Notorious K.I.M. by Lil' Kim (2000)

Atlantic/Queen Bee/Undeas/Big Beat

Lil' Kim gave so much for this album cover. First of all, it pays homage to Kim's infamous relationship with the late Notorious B.I.G. But the stomach tattoo, the RuPaul's Drag Race face, going topless, the pink background, the photoshopped jeans...so much yes. This one had to crack the top 10.

9. Suit by Nelly (2004)

Universal/Derrty/Fo' Reel/Islands Records

Nelly crushed 2004 and released two albums at the same damn time. The partly cloudy sky — a nice touch for this album — is meant to represent the "day" side of the double disc. The enormous diamond earing, subtle peek of necklace ice, and "spray on" round out this epic album cover nicely.

8. Encore by Eminem (2004)

Shady/Aftermath/Interscope/Goliath

Eminem put a lot of thought into this album cover. The front shows him bowing to an audience, but the back shows the MC holding a pistol. From Wikipedia you learn that "the inlay of the cover shows Eminem holding the pistol in his mouth without the jacket of his shirt and tie." Slim Shady's multidimensional aspect of the cover helped it to rank high.

7. Stillmatic by Nas (2002)

Ill Will/Columbia/SME

Stillmatic features incredible artwork that was light-years ahead of its time. Nas basically encapsulated New York City in a single iconic cover. Nuff said.

6. The Red Light District by Ludacris (2004)

Disturbing tha Peace/Def Jam

Ludacris is a creative genius. During the 2000s, and even to this day, he puts the most care and thought into his album covers. This one sticks perfectly with the "pimp" Red Light District theme, all the way down to the photoshopped red hat. And burning money, on an album cover, no more really needs to be said.

5. Get Rich or Die Tryin' by 50 Cent (2003)

Shady Records/Aftermath/Interscope

Gucci from head to toe. 50 Cent's debut album is not only a hip-hop classic, the cover pays homage to his bullet-riddled past with a fancy font to class things up a bit. 50's entrance into hip-hop history is one of the most creative and authentic.

4. The College Dropout by Kanye West (2004)

Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

The birth of the Kanye bear had to rank high. West's debut album hipped the world to the "sensitive"-style rapper and probably inspired many kids to drop out of college, too. That's a powerful cover. Notice the details in the framing with the cherubs, too: nice touch.

3. Miss E...So Addictive by Missy Elliot (2001)

Elektra

Missy Elliot's album covers, music, and music videos were always out of this world, and ...So Addictive was no exception. The spiked hair coupled with real spikes and an otherworldly background is one of the best ever.

2. Word of Mouf by Ludacris (2001)

Disturbing tha Peace/Def Jam South

Ludacris' album covers were the most creative. This cover was no exception. The cartoon-style Luda looks super-realistic, and there are just so many details to point out.

1. Chicken-n-Beer by Ludacris (2003)

Disturbing tha Peace/Def Jam

Chicken legs, real legs, beer, a salt shaker. Say no more. This is one of the most creative album covers of all time. Shout out to Ludacris for thinking outside the box when it comes to album art.

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