Albums Released Between 2000-2009: S.D.E. (2000), Come Home with Me (2002), Purple Haze (2004), Killa Season (2006), Crime Pays (2009)
Classic Mixtape: The Diplomats, Vol. 1 (2002)
Group Albums: Diplomatic Immunity (2003), Diplomatic Immunity 2 (2004)
Biggest Billboard Hits Between 2000-2009: "Hey Ma," "Oh Boy," "Down and Out,"
If this list was based on three-year stretches, you could make a strong case that Cam'ron belongs at the very top.
Some background: After dropping the under-promoted S.D.E. in September 2000, Cam "ran in the Sony building" and "smacked grown folks around like they were only children" to force a move to Roc-A-Fella Records in 2001.
What followed was an incredible run of albums: In May of 2002, Cam dropped his Roc-A-Fella debut, Come Home with Me, which, on the strength of monster singles "Oh Boy" and "Hey Ma," hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart and effectively launched the solo careers of his cohorts Juelz Santana and Jim Jones. That million-selling effort was followed by the crew album, Diplomatic Immunity, another smash hit that solidified Dipset as hip-hop's preeminent "movement." (A powerful word that quickly became ubiquitous, and soon after, meaningless.) At the end of 2004, Cam's critically acclaimed solo follow-up, Purple Haze, got "computers 'putin'" and became one of the decade's most quotable albums. Three years, three certified classics.
Like all competitors, rappers are at their best when they're at their most confident. Emboldened by his affiliation with rap's hottest label, Cam was unf**kwittable during his Roc years. While his penchant for drama kept rap blogs buzzing, it was his intricate rhyme schemes that made The New York Times and Pitchfork take notice.
But you can't gauge Cam's career by albums alone—it'd be like judging one of his songs by just the hook. Consider what else happened between 2002 and 2004: Cam'ron introduced the Diplomats on a series of legendary mixtapes; put Harlem back on the hip-hop map; took some not-so-subliminal shots at labelmate Jay Z, instigating the rift that would eventually break up Roc-A-Fella Records; dissed Nas in the most flagrant way possible; coined the phrase "U Mad?" on, of all places, The O'Reilly Factor; murdered freestyles on the reg; and single-handedly made the color pink and Grandma-style earrings de riguer for male rap stars.
Like all competitors, rappers are at their best when they're at their most confident. Emboldened by his affiliation with rap's hottest label, Cam was unfuckwittable during his Roc years. While his penchant for drama kept rap blogs buzzing, it was his intricate rhyme schemes that made The New York Times and Pitchfork take notice. From 2004's "Down and Out," for example: "Street mergers I legislated/The nerve, I never hated/On murders, premeditated/Absurd, I hesitated/Observe, cock and spray/Hit you from a block away/Drinking sake on a Suzuki, we in Osaka Bay." This was gangsta rap from a different planet.
A decade, of course, lasts longer than three years. Post 2004, as 50 Cent and Jay Z graduated into moguldom, Cam'ron was like the kid who just can't get out of high school. In the span of a few years, he left Roc-A-Fella, got shot at in D.C., beefed unnecessarily with 50, appeared on 60 Minutes to muse on snitching, and then promptly disappeared for a long hiatus. By 2009, the Diplomats were a memory and "Where's Cam'ron?" was a popular meme.
Still, even in his leaner years, Cam always had joints. "Wet Wipes" and "Touch It or Not," off of 2006's Killa Season, are two of his best songs, as is "Get It in Ohio," from his underrated comeback album, 2009's Crime Pays. Though his popularity peaked in the first half of the decade, his skills—and his smug confidence in them—never waned. Cam'ron may have disappeared, but he never fell off. — Donnie Kwak