Notable Events:
- OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below wins Grammys for Best Rap Album and Album of the Year on 2/8/2004
- Kanye West's The College Droput is released on 2/10/2004
- Chamilionaire's King Koopa: The Mixtape Messiah is released on 2/15/2004 
- Chappelle's Show airs the first Lil Jon skit on 2/25/2004 

After Jay-Z's "retirement" in 2003 with The Black Album, it was pretty clear that hip-hop was all over the place. Not that it was a bad thing: Rap was going through a serious wall-to-wall renovation thanks to the Internet. For example, there was once a time when mixtape output like Chamillionaire's King Koopa: The Mixtape Messiah (a triple album, the first third of which was almost entirely, obsessively dedicated to talking shit on Mike Jones) was a weird, outlying novelty. At the same time, mainstream music consumers increasingly embraced rap as they found themselves burned out on the boring, lukewarm rock pushed on them by major record companies.

So when Atlanta's greatest rap act went avant-garde pop, they were rewarded for it: OutKast won the Album of the Year for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below at the Grammys in 2004, and it was neither a surprise nor a tidal shift so much as a long time coming. Rap was a part of mainstream pop culture in a way it had never been before. For example, take Chapelle's Show airing the first Lil Jon skit, which resulted in people of all colors screaming Lil Jon's trademark "YEEEAH!" and "OKAAAYYYY!" across campuses, bars, and schoolyards all over the world (Lil Jon ended up on the show, in on the joke himself). But if the world thought it had seen rap's relationship to pop culture change dramatically after OutKast's creative victory, that seemingly loud moment in rap had nothing on what happened only two days later, when Kanye West's The College Dropout dropped, the first volley in a one-man assault on rap and pop culture that would dominate the next decade. —Foster Kamer