Palindromes have a certain appeal to linguists, mathematicians, and even mystics and cult members. Even the lay person can find a sentence or number which reads the same forwards or backwards to be fascinating. 2002 is such a year, and we won’t see another palindrome like it for 110 years – far beyond the lifespan most of us will live. Even if you don’t ascribed to a Judeo-Christianic system of calendar years, it’s still an interesting place to draw a line in the sand at opposite ends of 365 and 1/4th days and see what noteworthy rap albums fell in between. With the help of the RapReviews staff, we’ve compiled a list of 15 albums that seemed to be the best that 2002 had to offer. In all likelihood we will be accused of overlooking some albums and leaving out some others, but when you pare a list of hundreds of releases down to 15 that’s what you’re going to get. Please bear in mind that because this article polls the entire staff for their opinion, some albums which received higher review scores may actually end up lower in the top 15 and vice versa; it’s a group effort and not one man’s opinion. However, the editor would like to personally mention the following five 2002 albums which didn’t make the cut of the staff’s poll, but still deserve to be recognized:

* Canibus: “Mic Club – The Curriculum”
* DJ Quik: “Under Tha Influence”
* E-40: “Grit & Grind”
* GZA: “Legend of the Liquid Sword”
* Nas: “The Lost Tapes”

#15. Nappy Roots: “Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz”

This group could arguably win “best newcomer of 2002” award, even though they first appeared on a South Park soundtrack several years prior to this release. With the release of the singles “Awnaw” and “Po’ Folks” this group shot into the mainstream, but even before that in March we had this to say about the squad: “Like a good plate of cajun food, every bite reveals more of the flavor you just can’t get enough of even when your mouth is burning and the glass of water is bone dry!”

#14. Jean Grae: “Attack of the Attacking Things”

A lot of great female artists released albums this year: Eve, Heather B and Floetry to name a few. Jean Grae was one of only the two though who received votes in the staff poll. Actually, perhaps it’s not so surprising if you listen to her CD or if you read what we said about it: “In the murky world of female MC’s she offers brilliant clarity; in the tired world of misogynistic raps and bra straps she offers the empowered speech of someone who doesn’t need to be sexual to achieve her liberation. Jean Grae most of all is a rapper’s rapper – the kind who can belittle inferior competitors and spit dope phrases that amaze at the SAME TIME as she drops knowledge.”

#13. Atmosphere: “God Loves Ugly”

2002 welcomed A. Knoxx as a new writer and contributor to, and to his credit he made sure this album was not overlooked in our weekly updates. It’s a strong album which may be a little too harsh or bitter for pop music fans, but there’s smooth satisfaction to be found if you enjoy fresh flavors. Knoxx put it best: “If at this point, you aren’t convinced that Slug is one of the greatest emcees this generation has ever seen, then this album won’t convince you. However, if you do recognize the indelible imprint that Slug will surely leave when he eventually stops emceeing, then God Loves Ugly will not disappoint.”

#12. The Roots: “Phrenology”

After listening to this album, you TOO might need your brain examined. It’s dense. Black Thought, ?uestlove and their bandmates have never been slackers in the art of crafting music or putting ink to paper, but this album as much as any in their catalogue has fans nodding their heads and scratching them at the same time. In other words: “This set definitely gives full value, because from casual hip-hop fans to Okayplayers “Phrenology” is the highly anticipated set of material that makes the closing of 2002 that much sweeter. It’s not always an easy listen, but it’s definitely worth the effort.”

#11. Xzibit: “Man vs Machine”

Some people expected “Restless Pt. II” and didn’t get it. Some people expected “40 Dayz and 40 Nightz Pt. II” and didn’t get it either. What they got instead was an album that was the best of both worlds – commercially friendly and yet ruggedly underground at the same time. Steve ‘Flash’ Juon had this to say: “The only changes one could ask for are to bring E-Swift, J-Ro and Tash into the mix on a track or two, but X is still an Alkaholik whether or not he throws the bottle up – so take a drink and intoxicate yourself on the West coast’s finest.”

#10. Cage: “Movies for the Blind”

Jayson Young may have been worried the whole rap industry had become “six degrees of Eminem” at the start of his review, but by the end of it he clearly thought there was more to this LP than their mutual skin color and a mutual connection with The High & Mighty. Young sums up his thoughts about the album this way: “Is Cage really a more talented MC than Eminem after all? Nah. I still say Marshall’s one of the best MCs alive – very few can best him in a rhyming contest. But I also say that, ironically, “Movies for the Blind” is much more entertaining pound for pound than “The Eminem Show”. Hard for you to swallow? It might be, but then, so is “Movies for the Blind” itself. Looks like the debate continues.”

#9. Missy Elliott: “Under Construction”

She put her thang down flipped it and reversed it. In fact a lot of people are still second guessing what she said, but there’s no question about what she did — release another banger of an LP. Too saccahrin sweet for some, but then Missy has never feared critics who accused her of being pop since she’s just out to have some fun. From our review: “Ms. Elliott makes the music her fans and hip-hop heads like, and Timmy provides the fuel for her fire. It ain’t really changed for Missy, except maybe to get just a little bit better.”

#8. Eminem: “The Eminem Show”

Is he controversial? Yes. Is he a highly skilled rapper? Yes. Is he a movie star as well as an underground hip-hop icon? Yes, yes and yes. Eminem is so many things to so many people you may have thought he would flop under the strain, but on “The Eminem Show” he held his ground strong. The review on the site leaves little doubt: “It’s not the epic album that Eminem hasn’t yet and may still write, but for the summer of 2002 it’s good enough to keep his name and fame alive. Bootleggers be damned, because “The Eminem Show” bonus DVD definitely makes this album nice for the price, whether the release date was a gimmick or not. If you’re already a fan or just a casual listener who still appreciates good hip-hop lyrics and beats, it’s a must buy.”

#7. Talib Kweli: “Quality”

Few albums have been so aptly named in hip-hop history. It may have seemed egotistical for Kweli to say it, but in his own words you can’t say “quality” without putting the Kweli in it. His goal was to live up to that mantra, and he succeeded with a brilliantly written and well produced album WITHOUT much influence from previous partner in crime Hi-Tek. From the review: “Kweli at his best combines humerous snaps, well-constructed raps, and can even get you to groove a little bit when all you’d rather do is stand on the wall mean-mugging and actin’ hard. Those people who used to perceive Talib Kweli as the “smart nerd” of hip-hop they liked but would rather turn off to play some danceable Fabolous songs may finally have their eyes opened by these gems and jams.”

#6. Cee-Lo: “Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections”

He’s known as the funky, spiritual, highly vocal and undeniably FRESH lead MC of the Goodie Mob; but this album gave us an even fuller and deeper understanding of one of the South’s AND hip-hop’s most important MC’s. Not afraid to be critical of himself, his own genre, and even his own writing ability, his honesty was both refreshing and absolutely necessary in 2002. Flash had this to say: “By openly defying an attempt to be pigeonholed as just a rapper or just a singer, as just a thug or as just a righteous man, Cee-Lo Green gives an eclectic performance that is the best of ALL worlds. For the open-minded and the musically adventureous, hop on board for a ride with “Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections” and enjoy the trip.”

#5. Jurassic 5: “Power in Numbers”

They may be as well known for their incredible live show as they are for any individual songs they release, but this album aimed to expand their audience with guest appearances from Big Daddy Kane to Nelly Furtado, and judging by the fact almost all staffers polled picked this album they obviously succeeded. Damon Brown submitted a special commentary on his reasons for the choice: “‘We might be humble, but don’t mistake us for some corny-ass crew’ should have been the name of this album. The ‘Quality Control’ party is obviously over – crybabies go home. This includes glam flossers (‘One of Them’), lazy motherfuckers (‘Sum of Us’) and studio gangstas (‘DDT’). They’re dead serious like Das, as evident by their 2004 black president campaign song ‘I Am Somebody.’ Proof you can dance and do the knowledge at the same time.”

#4. Nas: “God’s Son”

Hold it! I don’t want to hear from Nas fans yelling that this album should have gotten a higher score. Nas has nobody to blame but himself for that since “The Lost Tapes” split the voting among staffers polled; combined his two albums would easily have put him at #1. Still it’s a good showing for a strong album and as the review itself says, “It’s clear now that the Nasty is back in Nas, and it’s here to stay for good. Years later, these beats will still carry his stamp.”

#3. J-Live: “All of the Above”

Undoubtedly some people will also cry foul about this choice, given that his unreleased “The Best Part” is considered to be a superior album. Still, you can’t argue with the fact that J-Live even on an off day is a better lyricist and linguist than 99% of rappers put together, and the good production of this album showcased those exceptional skills. Take our word for it: “Suffering only by comparison to his legendary unreleased classic, this is in all other respects a brilliant album miles above and beyond what any of his contemporaries are doing now OR far into the foreseeable future.”

#2. Jay-Z: “The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse”

It’s quite a run for Shawn Carter, considering that last year his “Blueprint” album finished at #1 in our review, in a year in which his album was released the same day the Twin Towers fell. He’s obviously got no quit in him, putting out a live album, a duet album with R. Kelly, and this DOUBLE album all in the year that followed. A. Knoxx submitted these special comments about the release: “Whether Jay decided on a double album to rank himself alongside 2 of hip hop’s favorite martyrs, or because he actually felt that he had a quality product may remain unknown. Nonetheless, the album was still dope track-laden, and showcased one of raps finest emcees delivering some very impressive performances.”

#1: Scarface: “The Fix”

This ranking will probably come as a suprise to anybody except those who bought “The Fix” when it was released; an album which was not only among 2002’s finest but will probably go down as an all-time hip-hop classic. The title itself mocked Mr. Brad’s long-running feud with the DEA and FBI, and even the liner notes for the album came in a little plastic bag. Gimmicks aside, the proof of this album is in the music itself; which undoubtedly made it the reason a majority of the staffers polled gave it a high ranking among the year’s best. Flash summarized it this way: “By the end of this much too short 48-minute long album, you’ll already want another hit of the Southen rap impresario. Fortunately unlike the china white, “The Fix” is not gone after your first hit. Pony up ten to fifteen for this dope, and you can get as many doses of the real as you like. Best believe, it’s a good investment.”