2002 was a great year for hip hop in both the US and the UK, with a lot happening on both sides of the pond. With so much to choose from, it was only right that we try to figure out the much-needed answer to the question that is: “What were the 20 best songs released in 2002?”
It’s not necessarily a question that will trouble this generation’s greatest minds, but it does provide a handy head-scratcher for any real hip hop heads out there. While 2002 was close to the epicentre of hip hop’s mainstream explosion, traversing its previous gangster image to infiltrate pop music more than ever before, it doesn’t mean all of the songs that came out that year were good.
In fact, much of the candy-infused hip hop that came out around this year was 24-karat gold trash. However, as you’ll see from the songs listed below, there was still some fire on the airwaves in 2002.
With two decades of hindsight, we’re going back and revisiting some of the most iconic and impactful songs of 2002. From the breadth of hip hop, we culled the hardest-hitting and most memorable songs from across the musical world. Break out your Canadian tuxedo and rewind Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, because we’re going back 20 years to the best songs of 2002.
So, without further ado, below we’ve got the 20 best songs fro 2002.
20 best songs released in 2002
20. ‘Eskimo’ – Wiley
This may seem like an odd choice. However, ‘Eskimo’ by Wiley has to fit somewhere in this top 20 as it laid the foundation for the genre of grime in the UK, a derivative of US hip hop.
With the instrumental spawning an entire scene that has evolved and spawned new genres, it is arguably one of the founding tracks of UK hip hop full stop, so ‘Eskimo’ has to land at number 20.
19. ‘React’ – Erick Sermon ft. Redman
A personal favourite, ‘React’ is a classic hip hop track from the green-eyed devil that is Erick Sermon. A legend in New York hip hop, this lyrical lord certainly hit gold with this Arabic-sounding track, and when listening to it, I always find myself just bobbing my head to the beat.
So with such an infectious sound, ‘React’ definitely has to be in the top 20 list.
18. ‘Hot in Herre’ – Nelly
2002 was undeniably a big year for early-noughties rapper Nelly, and with multiple entries on this list alone, he was one of the biggest rappers out at the time.
With that being said, ‘Hot in Herre’ (produced by The Neptunes) is a song known worldwide and considered an ultimate party jam (especially when it’s really hot), so of course, it had to feature on the list.
17. ‘Bump, Bump Bump’ – B2K ft. P Diddy
B2K was a big boy band in the early noughties, and with their lead vocalist Omarion considered (along with Usher) as one of the best black male vocalists in America, it is no surprise that when they released their lead single featuring Bad Boy Record’s P Diddy, it went straight to the top of the charts.
The group’s debut album peaked at number two on the Billboard Top 100 and was highly successful. However, the group disbanded in 2004 due to discordance. But, regardless of whether the group had long-term success, ‘Bump, Bump Bump’ was a classic R’n’B anthem and still gets played in clubs today.
16. ‘Dilemma’ – Nelly ft. Kelly Rowland
A slow jam classic that everybody knows, ‘Dilemma’ by Nelly is the ultimate love song. With a smooth beat and soulful melodies from Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child, ‘Dilemma’ was an instant hit. On the UK Singles Chart, ‘Dilemma’ went to number one, where it remained at the position for two weeks, and on the US Singles Chart, Nelly surpassed his previous single ‘Hot in Herre’ at number two to reach number one with ‘Dilemma’.
As of February 2021, the song has sold over 7 million copies worldwide and is pretty damn good, to say the least.
15. ‘Oi!’ – More Fire Crew
Another more UK-orientated entry, ‘Oi’ by Lethal B’s More Fire Crew, was groundbreaking as one of the first grime songs to ever hit the charts in the UK, peaking at number eight on the official UK Singles Chart.
Surprisingly, the crew even landed a live performance of the song on ‘Top Of The Pops’, a live music show dedicated to the charts that used to air on the BBC. The catchy song is (along with Eskimo) one of the quintessential early grime tracks and, as such, deserves a spot in the top 20.
14. ‘Nothin’ – NORE
Another Neptunes-produced song, ‘Nothin” by NORE, is one of those mysterious songs that everybody has heard before, but they never knew who it was by. It was the same with me.
With its famous exotic flute sound and skippy bongo drums, ‘Nothin” is a classic and another testament to the talented The Neptunes are.
13. ‘Foolish’ – Ashanti
Another classic R’n’B jam, ‘Foolish’ by Murder Inc’s Ashanti, is another one of those love songs that you just can’t hold back. Containing a sample of DeBarge’s song ‘Stay With Me’, ‘Foolish’ is almost an extension of the original.
With heartfelt lyrics and beautiful, ethereal harmonies ‘Foolish’ was a smash hit worldwide. The song spent a whopping ten weeks at number one in the US and is certified double platinum, having sold over two million units to date.
12. ‘Oh Boy’ – Cam’Ron ft. Juelz Santana
This classic hip hop anthem from Dipset crew member Cam’Ron is the sound of the early noughties in a song. Based around a sample from ‘Boy I Need You’ by Mariah Carey, ‘Oh Boy’ by Cam’Ron features fellow Harlem rapper Juelz Santana and is a New York hit.
Produced by Just Blaze of Roc-a-Fella Records, the song reached number 13 on the Billboard Top 100 the week of its release. It was such a hit Lil Wayne even freestyled over the instrumental for his 2002 mixtape, SQ1.
11. ‘Get Low’ – Lil Jon’ & The Eastside Boyz
Atlanta rapper Lil Jon is often referred to as the ‘King of Crunk’. Crunk, as a subgenre of hip hop ended up dominating much of the charts in the early noughties, with Southern artists such as Lil Jon, Ludacris, Petey Pablo and Lil Scrappy really thrusting crunk into the mainstream.
‘Get Low’ is the quintessential crunk song and is probably the most successful song to come from the genre. Released as the second single for Lil Jon & The East Boyz’ fourth album Kings of Crunk, ‘Get Low’ reach number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and even has a remix featuring Jamaican dancehall artist Elephant Man. A hip hop classic.
10. ‘I Luv U’ – Dizzee Rascal
This UK classic off Dizzee Rascal’s first album Boy In Da Corner was once described by James Hyman on Xfm as a “Heavy, pounding, ghetto Aphex Twin style” single and equated it (metaphorically) to hearing “crack on a record”. All perplexed, music journalists across the UK didn’t know what to call it because you can’t pigeonhole good music.
This single from Dizzee Rascal (real name Dylan Mills) set a new bar for music and undeniably encouraged more experimentation within music, especially for UK hip hop.
9. ‘Get By’ – Talib Kweli
Produced by Kanye West, this banger samples ‘Sinnerman’ by Nina Simone and is one of the best showcases of lyricism in hip-hop. Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli is a genius when it comes to wordplay and rhyme schemes, and ‘Get By’ is no different.
A soulful track with tongue-twisting conscious lyrics, Talib Kweli delivers some powerful lines such as, “They need somethin’ to rely on, we get high on all types of drug / When, all you really need is love”. With such a potent message behind the song and production from Yeezy, the song had to land somewhere in the top 20.
8. ‘Guess Who’s Back’ – Scarface ft Jay-Z & Beanie Sigel
This track, also produced by Kanye West, is a classic of Scarface’s 2002 album The Fix. Containing a sample from the song ‘Sunrise’ by The Originals, ‘Guess Who’s Back’ is really a testament to the quality of the Roc-a-Fella roster’s talent, being that three artists on the song, including the producer, were signed to Roc-a-Fella Records at the time.
The song was the lead single for Scarface’s album, with Pitchfork describing the song as a “blazing track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Blueprint, while Complex praised the song, calling it “a classic shit-talking, skill-flexing showdown”. A well-rounded amazing hip hop song that sits happily at number eight on the top 20.
7. ‘Without Me’ – Eminem
‘Without Me’ is a song known across the world for its funky beat and humorous lyrics. Released in 2002 as the lead single for Eminem’s fourth studio album, The Eminem Show, the song is also known for its absolutely crazy, demented music video.
When it was released, the single didn’t just sell, it shook up the whole of America, and with both black people and white people snatching it up off the shelves, it went seven times platinum in the United States. Ironically sitting at number seven, the song just had to be on the list.
6. ‘Work It’ – Missy Elliot
Undoubtedly the most well-known and beloved Missy Elliot song ‘Work It’ was the lead single for her 2002 album Under Construction. Produced by Timbaland, unbeknown to some, there is even a remix featuring 50 Cent. However, nothing compares to the original. Featuring a sample from Run DMC as the intro, ‘Work It’ has a basic yet impactful melody typical of Timbaland.
The song has been certified double platinum by the RIAA, with over two million units sold since its release. If you’re still not sure, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the track 25th on its list ‘100 Best Songs of the 2000s’ and 56th on its list ‘Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’. The song most definitely laid the foundation for Elliot upon which she built a career and a legacy. ‘Work It’ takes the number six spot comfortably.
5. ‘Grindin’ – Clipse
This song by The Clipse is iconic for its stripped-back minimalistic beat that had school kids across America banging on the lunch tables and slamming their metal lockers. Produced by The Neptunes, the beat is sparse and made history with its slamming sound. It was beyond catchy, and the way it was so easy to imitate made it fun for the youth.
Music magazine Pitchfork ranked the song at number 27 in their “Top 500 of the Tracks of the 2000s” list, and truthfully, it could have ranked even higher than that. The song is a classic, with Pusha T most definitely doing the beat justice.
4. ‘Beautiful’ – Snoop Dogg ft Pharrell & Charlie Wilson
Produced by The Neptunes, this track was the second single for Snoop’s 2002 album Paid Tha Cost To Be Tha Boss, which was certified platinum. The song is arguably one of Snoop’s best, being both soulful and hard-hitting.
The music video for the single was filmed in Rio De Janeiro across multiple locations, including Copacabana, Parque Lage and Escadaria Selarón and according to the rapper cost between $400k – $500k to make.
3. ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ – Jay-Z ft Beyoncé
Produced by Kanye West, ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ was a modernised and revamped version of a pre-existing song called ‘Me and My Girlfriend’ by 2pac. However, Jay-Z and Beyoncé took the song to a whole different level in 2002.
From Jay-Z’s album The Blueprint 2, ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Jay-Z’s second top ten single and Beyoncé’s first as a solo artist. Although there were originally complications surrounding sample clearance by Afeni Shakur (2pac’s mother) when the label eventually got clearance, the song was a smash and has been certified gold.
You can witness the iconic music video below.
2. ‘What’s Luv?’ – Fat Joe ft Ashanti
This song is a club anthem. There’s nothing more one can say, really. Everyone has heard it before. Whether you’re a fan of hip hop or not, you have definitely heard it. Why? Because it’s just that good!!
In the early noughties, a hip hop song with an accompanying R’n’B singer on the hook was a winning formula. Just like ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ and our number one spot you are about to see, a rap track with that smooth singer was just the sound of the early noughties, and it’s no different with this track here.
Produced by Irv Gotti of Murder Inc, the song has been certified platinum in the UK and US and is still in regular rotation on urban radio stations and in clubs. You could go out and hear it today it’s that popular. All of the above is why it has to enter the list right up here at number two.
1. ‘I Know What You Want’ – Busta Rhymes ft Flipmode & Mariah Carey
Yes, we’ve finally arrived at our destination and Busta, with his Flipmode Squad featuring Mariah Carey has snatched number one. A platinum record, this hip hop classic is undeniable and, when released, was unstoppable.
‘I Know What You Want’ stayed in the top ten for twenty-one weeks and helped revive Mariah Carey’s career. Produced by Rick Rock for Busta’s 2002 album It Ain’t Safe No More, Rock most definitely smashed it with this one as it has gone down in history.