Cam’ron is an extraordinary writer. There are the sly, knotty word games that eventually became his trademark (“beige coupes, suede roofs, send him up to Jesús”), the wrenching realism (“I ain’t have no fresh clothes, or jewelry with the XOs/my house had asbestos”), the scathing asides (“It’s hot here—ask Mase, he ran to Atlanta”). Beyond the acute tricks, he’s a master of tone: in his raps, the second person might be you or a plump executive or Stephon Marbury or a rival dealer or Jay-Z, but whatever the case, Cam conjures the atmosphere in mere seconds. He’s an auteur—that is, when he’s not an All-American basketball recruit or a Technicolor fashion plate.
You’ve seen the pink Ranges, the goofy Instagram videos, the finger-wagging in Bill O’Reilly’s face. But in truth, Cam’ron was one of the most important stylists of the 2000s. His work dates back further—if you’re unfamiliar, you should lose an afternoon wading through the Children of the Corn vaults and associated radio freestyles on YouTube—but by the time of the Iraq War (well, that Iraq War), Cam and Dipset were at the height of their commercial and cultural power, crafting molds that would be filled in New York and online for the decade to come. (His influence can be seen especially in the work of Lil Wayne, undoubtedly the most consequential rapper of the 2000s.)
While this list is not comprehensive—no list could be, given the breadth and depth of Cam’s work from 1997 through the present—it's a succinct sampling of his best material, pulling from his various solo albums, his work with Dipset on the Diplomatic Immunity series, and a handful of collaborations rarities. It reveals not only a supremely gifted rapper, but someone whose work has endured sea changes in hip-hop and stood the critical and popular tests of time. —Paul Thompson