The Best Rapper Alive, Every Year Since 1979 Eminem

2002: Eminem

Credentials: The Eminem Show, 8 Mile Soundtrack, three Top 5 hits, had the best selling album of the year across all genres. 

Everything you need to know about where Eminem was in 2002 you can hear in the second verse of "Till I Collapse." He hit the scene in 1999 and became the illest rapper to hold the cordless, so by 2002 his tremendous talent was unquestionable ("You're real and you spit and people are feeling your shit"). So much so he realized he was living through his prime ("This is your moment and every single minute you spend trying to hold onto it 'cause you may never get it again") and began thinking about his place in hip-hop's pantheon, worried he'd never get the props he felt he deserved. People tend to get caught up in the fact Em named Redman (Reggie) ahead of Jay and Biggie in his infamous list, but really the most crucial detail is that Em lists himself last. He was as high as he'd ever get, but still looking for another hit, on top but still unsatisfied. 

Regardless of what ideas were floating around Em's head, he dropped another monster album that year with The Eminem Show. The record didn't top his previous effort creatively but still managed to be one of his more accessible albums (at least for hip-hop heads), which for once pitted his lyrics against a backdrop closer to hip-hop's sonic center—laying bare just how many light years ahead of the average rapper he was. 

Yet, that album might not have even been his greatest achievement that year. With the release of the loose biopic, 8 Mile, Slim Shady became an unlikely people's champ, the rap Rocky. The first single to the film's soundtrack "Lose Yourself" became Eminem's biggest hit ever and one of his best songs. "Lose Yourself" encapsulated what made Em so special. It was a rap song about the physical act of rapping, proving that Eminem was and would always be a rapper's rapper, a true student of Rakim. Yet, thanks to his songwriting skills it was also a massive pop hit and had middle Americans who would otherwise never interact with rap chanting along. There may be unwelcome side effects to that (as seen by the burgeoning number of white rappers), but Em still spread the gospel of hip-hop and did it in the most authentic way possible. 

It was only a short while after this would Chris Rock point out that the best golfer was black, the tallest basketball player was Chinese, and the best rapper was indeed white. 

Honorable Mentions: 50 Cent, Cam'ron, Nas

2002 can also be remembered as the last truly great year for New York hip-hop since all the honorable mentions hail from the Big Apple. After ingesting nine slugs from a 9mm, Curtis Jackson licked his wounds and hit the streets to redefine what a mixtape could be. He became the first rapper to flood the market in a modern way that wasn't really possible (or expected) previously. By the end of the year, he was signed with the Best Rapper alive, the best thing to ever happen to bootleggers, and he had already proved his soon to be unstoppable Billboard prowess with "Wanksta." Suddenly, the title of his mixtape, 50 Cent Is The Future, wasn't posturing. It was prophecy. 

Yet the early part of the year belonged to a Harlem rapper known for his unusual affinity for the color pink. Cam'ron joined the Roc and didn't disappoint when he made two huge hits, first "Oh Boy," and then "Hey Ma." The songs gave Cam national exposure, helped score him a platinum plaque for Come Home With Me, and jump started the Dipset movement. (In between he also wrote Purple Haze, as the intro to that album points out). Finally, following the personal hardship after the loss of his mother and a moment of clarity after beefing with Jay-Z, Nas regained the visceral firepower to bring it back to the streets of New York. He continued his path as one of New York's finest with the release of God's Son and its top-notch single, "Made You Look." — Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)

RELATED: 50 Things You Didn't Know About Eminem

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