The Top 100 Singles of 2000-04 (2023)

We don't know whether it's due to the holy triptych of mp3, file-sharing, and Steve Jobs' little iPod, or to hip-hop sending both pop radio back to the drawing board and Celine Dion-esque adult contemporary pop to the dustbin, or to the overall genius of producers like Timbaland, the DFA, and the Neptunes, or hell, to the entire indie rock community seemingly rediscovering that EPs are a pretty damn good way to enter the public consciousness, but the 2000s have been an abnormally healthy time for singles.

This week, Pitchfork celebrates this era by selecting our 100 favorite singles of the past five years-- a group that includes everyone from a pair of French robot rockers and at least three former TV stars to about three dozen Southern hip-hop MCs and nearly four dozen groups of New Yorkers with guitars, all communicating unimpeachable wisdom: It's getting hot in here so take off all your clothes, shake it like a polaroid picture, move your feet and feel united, I'm like so what I'm drunk, fire in the disco, harder better faster stronger, the subway is a porno, fo sheezy my neezy, galang-a-lang-a-lang, ga-donk-a-donk-donk, uh oh uh oh uh oh oh-no-no, the sonics the sonics the sonics the sonics... What a time to be alive.

Check out the songs on our Spotify playlist.

The Top 100 Singles of 2000-04 (1)

100: Fischerspooner
[International Deejay Gigolo; 2003]

Electroclash seemed like a great idea in late 2001; there was a reason for this, and that reason was "Emerge". Before we found out that Fischerspooner looked like Cirque du Soleil rejects in greasepaint and silver bodysuits-- when all we heard was that decadent, shiny bump-- Casey Spooner's mantra of "Feels good/ Looks good/ Sounds good, too/ Feels good, too" made perfect sense. "Emerge" announces its presence with a low drum boom and a gleaming, oscillating two-note synth riff. It builds and builds: tick-tock drum machines, ethereal synth flourishes, howling house divas. Spooner's eerily placid, arch, bitchy Euro-glam monotone floats above the track. The music holds back, not really kicking in until the song is nearly finished, slowly swirling up and up until that berserk climax when the computer shrieks and eats itself and the drums roil like jackhammers. If more electroclash had sounded like this, electroclash might still exist. --Tom Breihan

099: T.I.
"Rubber Band Man"
[Atlantic; 2004]

Ladies and gentleman, here he is: Nine in his right, 45 in his other hand, children's choir with the Master P "na na na"s on lock in his back pocket, and a hooptie calliope kicking off steam like a smoke machine-- all courtesy of David Banner. Even when he's talking about some heavy shit-- "My cousin used to tell me/ Take this shit a day at a time/ And told me Friday, died Sunday/ We a day in the ground"-- T.I. sells it to listeners the same way P.T. Barnum sold rubes on the mystery and wonder of the egress.

In fact, T.I.'s going that extra mile to make "Rubber Band Man" the Greatest Show On Earth, with multiple versions of himself stumbling over each other like clowns deliriously tumbling out of a Beetle. And, of course, there's no better way to win over a crowd than with Southern charm. T.I. effortlessly slides over syllables like a boy trying to barehand a greased pig, and everything out of his mouth-- be it shout-outs to homies all over or professing he's got the "soul of an old man"-- drips with an "aw, shucks" charm that's tough to resist. Come one, come all. --David Raposa

The Top 100 Singles of 2000-04 (3)

098: Fabolous
[Desert Storm/Atlantic; 2004]

On Fabolous' "Breathe", knob-twiddling whiz Just Blaze gives Supertramp a post- Magnolia makeover, nipping and tucking "Crime of the Century" into appealingly harried falsetto exaltations. But x-out the onomatopoetic piano ripples/asthmatic gasps and Fabolous' asphyxiated a capella becomes a lung-drunk slow jam. The bland libretto is a gangsta's checklist of un-slick metaphors, but somewhere after the midway point the laidback Brooklyn emcee spits "I see 'em on the block when I passes/ Lookin' like they need oxygen mask-es" and that extra syllable feels so exceedingly Ogden Nash deft for its winded interlocution, casting a backward glance on the bazillion wheezy details before it. --Brandon Stosuy

The Top 100 Singles of 2000-04 (4)

097: White Stripes
"Seven Nation Army"
[XL; 2003]

This one's a uniter not a divider, agreed upon by both my redneck cousin (who is "proud to be an ugly American") and by my local guerilla gardener (converted from his skinhead ways upon hearing Oasis). Females reportedly dig this track despite its blustery man-drama about some stoic, cloudy, lone-hero quest. Just as Wilco's "Jesus, Etc." preemptively echoed elements of 9/11, this song presciently soundtracked Decision 04: the "seven nations" might as well be our coalition in Iraq, the people "taking their time right behind my back" could be how U.S. soldiers see the Halliburton contractors, and the line about the Queen of England and the hounds of hell = self explanatory. "I'm going to Wichita", presages Thomas Frank's incisive book about Kansas voting. (Though some exegesists believe it's a hundred-years-later comment on the political satire in The Wizard of Oz , as if the whole song were penned by a labor-movement-oriented Black Sabbath.) The end verse about "bleeding before the Lord" obviously anticipated the political impact of Mel Gibson's messiah-snuff flick. Oh well, whatever, nevermind, because THAT DUMB RIFF PERFECTLY OUTFORBODES THE DARTH VADER THEME MUSIC. If the Stripes can cross over with their punk brio intact, then Scout Niblett is probably the next Kylie Minogue. --William Bowers

096: Eminem
"The Real Slim Shady"
[Interscope; 2000]

Before "The Real Slim Shady", Eminem was just another successful (albeit white) rapper. He'd sold a lot of records, but he was a world away from the cover of Time or the Oscar acceptance podium. But when he said, "There's a million of us just like me/ Who cuss like me/ Who just don't give a fuck like me" over Dr. Dre's ADD cartoon bounce, all of a sudden it became truth-- which of course led to him being The Voice of a Generation and making a boring movie and churning out dark, ponderous, self-involved music. And so "The Real Slim Shady" would be one of our last glimpses at the Eminem who loved making music, who used his lightspeed nasal bleat to hammer sounds until he'd hit every last possible rhyming variation, whose gleefully dumb, goofy jokes were like presents to anyone listening to the radio. He may be a cultural institution now, but he still sounds like a rapper when this track plays. --Tom Breihan

The Top 100 Singles of 2000-04 (6)

095: Johnny Boy
"You Are the Generation Who Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve"
[Vertigo; 2004]

It kicks off with a twinkling version of the "Be My Baby" drum break, the launching pad for a compact extravaganza that old gun-totin' Phil would have messed himself with pride over. "And I just can't help believin'/ Though believin' sees me cursed" they sing to start the buildup to the title refrain. On the way, there's a ghostly "woooooooo!" in the background and the drums kick it up a notch and we're off into some kind of stratosphere that sounds like every Christmas carol ever recorded all at once, only better. The glockenspiels are glockenspieling with glee, this dude is walloping his drums like they stole money from his mama, the melody spirals and climbs and you can't really tell what she's saying but who cares because-- Biff! Bang! Pow!-- we're flying even higher, borne on the trumpets of revolting angels into the ionosphere and saying "hello" to the satellites before coming back down into the last verse, replete with whooshing rocket noises and heavenly fanfare. The feeling by that point is hard to describe, so I'll just quote the final lyrics: "Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah!" --Joe Tangari

The Top 100 Singles of 2000-04 (7)

094: Basement Jaxx
"Where's Your Head At?"
[XL; 2001]

I don't know if it's those man-faced monkeys eating vinyl in the video, or that descending three-note synth line, but there's something about this track that's just beautifully evil and devious. The way the titular question is barked-- "WHERE'S! YOUR! HEAD! AT! AT! AT! AT!"-- is unnerving, and the mix of whiplash synth whines and round robin growling doesn't do much to settle me down.

Wes Craven (a filmmaker known for giving folks a bit of a fright, intentionally and otherwise) has said a film is scariest when the filmmaker has no scruples as to what they will and will not show on screen. The Jaxx are equally unscrupulous, as dayglo kitchen-sink works like Rooty can attest-- any and all genres are just dollops of color on a pallette to be applied liberally and shamelessly in ways that make Kindergarten finger painting look like works by Mark Rothko.

So, yeah, it's on Astralwerks, and it has a good beat, but it's infused and informed by so many other things that classifying "Where's Your Head At?" simply as "house" does the Jaxx a grave disservice. And this glorious piece of music-- a crowning achievement for most acts-- is just the Jaxx getting warmed up. Now that's scary. --David Raposa

The Top 100 Singles of 2000-04 (8)

093: Usher [ft. Ludacris and Lil Jon]
[LaFace; 2004]

I gave in. After three years of cellphone ownership and scoffing at what I perceived to be a contemptible tributary of our culture's frivolous spending habits, I bought a ring tone, and this track was it. The telltale flute perk that rolls into the chorus made an irresistible MIDI rendering, and Lil' Jon's whizzing synth line sealed the deal. On an album full of great singles, "Yeah" was the catalyst. It's how Usher salvaged himself and gave a superfluous push to a man who was going places regardless. Like "Cry Me a River" before it, "Yeah" reprimanded us for our instinctual skepticism of teen idols. Now that we're a safe distance from the first-wave of late 90s boy bands and puerile sensations, I almost wish more artists would trigger incredulous responses of, "This... from him?" But that would only take the spotlight off Usher's talents. --Sam Ubl

The Top 100 Singles of 2000-04 (9)

092: Clipse
[Arista; 2002]

The Neptunes quietly blew the roof off with this one, a stripped-down stomp of syncopation-and-fingersnaps marching into a signature low-gravity melody that sounded like a popcorn maker on Mars. "The world is about to feel something they never felt before," Pharrell announced, followed by a chorus of silky "uh-ah"s and "woofs," making "Grindin'" possibly the most sensual track about drug-dealing ever produced. Like Pusha T said, "I'm the neighborhood pusha/ Call me subwoofer/ 'Cause I push 'base' like that, jack."

This was Clipse's first hit, with Pusha T and Malice justifying the dirt-life corner-hustle because, when you come from nothing, why quit a job that keeps you in Gucci Chuck Taylors? It glides along, tunnel-visioned, as though in the throes of a cocaine dream, from Pusha's intro verse to Malice's tantalizing picture of wealth: "Cocky, something that I just can't help/ 'Specially when them 20s is spinning like windmills/ And the ice 32 below minus the wind chill." Finally, Pusha clears away the dazzle and cuts to the grit: "Kids call me Mr. Sniffles/ Other hand on my nickel-plated whistle/ One eye closed, I'll hit you." There's no 'caine hustle without the streets; and when you're steady on the grind, the glitter gets ugly-- quick. --Julianne Shepherd

The Top 100 Singles of 2000-04 (10)

091: Cam'ron [ft. Juelz Santana]
"Hey Ma"
[Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam; 2003]

After two albums that garnered street buzz but didn't exactly put the Diplomats' Cam'ron over the top like Sly Stallone, he appeared in 2002 wielding a fresh contract with Roc-a-Fella and the ill-mannered "courtship" single "Hey Ma". Over a loping piano sampled from the Commodores' "Easy Like Sunday Morning", his Dipset cronie, Mr. Congeniality Juelz Santana, opens with a pick-up line to a club-going Mrs. Robinson. And though it's Cam's track, Santana steals the song with his inimitably charming/condescending game: "I'm 18 and live a crazy life/ Plus I tell you what the 80s like." In other words: "come home with me...even though you old."

Backhanded non-compliments are a Dipset crew forte, but because this is a fantasy of the boys' own composition, even Cam's skeptical ex-girlfriend lets him "hit, plus dome." It's amazing anyone in the Diplomats can get a date after this song-- but its ridorkulously simplistic chorus ("Hey ma." "What's up?" "Let's slide." "All right." "All right." "We gon' get it on tonight.") sounded terrific over summertime airwaves. To further prove Cam would most definitely go there with his impressively syntactical but jugheaded lyricism, the song following this one on Come Home With Me is a pained public service announcement on the perils of STDs. Cam'ron tracks are a lot like watching "Jackass"-- they're absurd and endlessly fascinating, especially if you could never try this at home. And "Hey Ma" set the stage for the purple street-worship Cam currently enjoys. --Julianne Shepherd

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