Music Rewind: 20 Iconic Early Noughties Albums Turning 20 in 2023
So, what happened in 2003? Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, American singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo, and Australian artiste The Kid Laroi were born that year.
Feeling old yet? We’re only getting started.
The music from the noughties felt almost brand new as it was going through an update after an incredible 90s run. New Y2K-esque sounds were introduced, and artistes were taking risks with the new millennium, which resulted in many iconic albums being released in 2003.
R&B and pop were dominating the charts, but pop rock was also following close-by too.
From singing along to “Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, shorty, it's your birthday”, to doing the “uh-oh” dance, there are so much to unpack and reminisce about music from two decades ago.
Here, we present to you the 20 albums that turn 20 in 2023 in the order of the release dates.
Let’s find out if your favourite album of 2003 is on the list.
50 CENT – ‘GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN’
RELEASED FEB 6, 2003
You couldn’t escape 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” even if you want to and we’re 70 percent certain that it lived in your iPod in 2003.
The artiste is a decent rapper with a wrenching back story that propelled Get Rich Or Die Tryin to become a staple within the pop culture. Super producer and rapper Dr Dre gave the album that extra edge, including the lead single.
The album also sparked hits such as “P.I.M.P” and “21 Questions”, which led him having the best-selling album of 2003 in the US, a Grammy nomination for “Best Rap Album”, as well as a slew of accolades from the American Music Awards, BET Awards, Billboard Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, Brit Awards, and so much more.
Get Rich or Die Tryin is truly one of the classic releases of the 2000’s.
MASSIVE ATTACK – ‘100TH WINDOW’
RELEASED FEB 10, 2003
Coming off a high of the very successful last album, Mezzanine, expectations were huge.
English electronic group Massive Attack invited Sinead O’Connor, Horace Andy and Damon Albarn (as 2-D from Gorillaz) to collaborate in their next.
Although their familiar hip-hop or jazz sounds were not infused on this more ambient-like album, 100th Window still stands as a nervously-beautiful project by Massive Attack, as they continuously push the boundaries with rich musical layers over the nine tracks for futuristic electronic heads.
THE WHITE STRIPES – ‘ELEPHANT’
RELEASED APRIL 1, 2003
Best known for the blaring “Seven Nation Army”, the single skyrocketed The White Stripes’ position in the music industry.
Their fourth album Elephant garnered commercial success and critical acclaim, which earned them an “Album of the Year” nomination and “Best Alternative Music Album” win at the Grammy Awards.
Jack White and Meg White were seen as to revive garage rock with Elephant, and their stripped-back sound inspired many bands during the noughties when they created a colossal of sound from such basic ingredients.
The 14-track album is packed with righteous fury and melodramatic lyrics to become a swaggering brilliant project.
GOLDFRAPP – ‘BLACK CHERRY’
RELEASED APRIL 23, 2003
Before English electronic music duo Goldfrapp gave us the infectious single “Ooh La La” from 2005’s Supernature, we were presented with this second studio album Black Cherry.
This album steps away from their debut album Felt Mountain’s concept of nostalgic ambient-electronic, and welcomes in the exciting sounds of glam rock and synth-pop.
Its glam-industrial-inspired soundscapes helped craft Goldfrapp’s signature of experimental cold, catch and glam-industrial sound. Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory took a slightly mainstream pop turn, but the result is a both edgy and weird.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS – ‘FEVER TO TELL’
RELEASED APRIL 29, 2003
Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase came in swinging with a provocative debut album that received a Grammy Award nomination for “Best Alternative Music Album”, and the video for “Maps” also gotten multiple nominations at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs exemplifies the New York art-punk sound during the early-2000's like a high dosage of garage-rock, but with a dash of lo-fi.
Karen O’s feisty but in control vocal methods, resembling Lydia Lunch and PJ Harvey, made it so seductive – yet it still made Fever To Tell a great party record.
FOUR TET – ‘ROUNDS’
RELEASED MAY 5, 2003
Kieran Hebden, or more known as the English electronic artiste Four Tet makes experimental music groovy. The dreamy melody of his third album Rounds captures the indie fans of all ages.
The project starts with “Hands” that displays the intricacies that you can expect on the album, then ends with the perfect dreamy track “Slow Jam”.
Rounds is a package of genius music that mixes whimsical and glitchy sounds that will both live with you, and haunt you as well. It is the album if you’re looking for an out-of-the-box project recorded in a small flat with an old Dell laptop, cracked software and samples he had gathered his 1997.
RADIOHEAD – ‘HAIL TO THE THIEF’
RELEASED JUNE 9, 2003
One of the most celebrated English bands Radiohead released Hail To The Thief, which saw them heading into a spontaneous, yet ambitious electronic and rock direction.
Thom Yorke seems to distill political themes intro a childlike manner by using fairy tales and folklores.
The complex album is packed with many shape-shifting, ambivalence ideas on a really long journey, but it is one worth taking as Radiohead proves why they are continually a vital listen when it comes to songwriting.
This is one of the band’s most under-appreciated albums that deserve another listen.
MONICA – ‘AFTER THE STORM’
RELEASED JUNE 17, 2003
The album was released five years after her very successful sophomore album The Boy Is Mine and came back with a story to tell and major confident.
With majority of the production from super producer Missy Elliott, including the lead singles “So Gone” that made its way to viral lane on social media in recent years, to “Knock Knock”, as well as Jermaine Dupri on “U Should’ve Known Better”, this is some massive work that is no longer the teen idol R&B star we know her of.
Also, After The Storm also proves that Monica can spit a rhyme or two when it comes to speaking out on her relationship.
It will make you take a step back, after which she will “kick down your doors and smack your chick”.
BEYONCÉ – ‘DANGEROUSLY IN LOVE’
RELEASED JUNE 20, 2003
It was time for Beyoncé to re-introduce herself to the world and Dangerously In Love still feels like an extension of Destiny’s Child in some ways, but the album spawned like massive singles to solidify what the world already know – she’s ready.
Compared to her more recent work, this was more infused with pop elements and less political, with fluttering love songs and female empowerment anthems.
This debut solo album earned Queen Bey five Grammy Awards including “Best R&B Song” for the earworm-worthy lead single “Crazy In Love” that made the world still do the “uh-oh” dance two decades later.
SUFJAN STEVENS – ‘MICHIGAN’
RELEASED JULY 1, 2003
After his very successful sophomore album Seven Swans, American singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens released Michigan that displayed his ability to compose, arrange, perform and produce with all types of instruments – the banjo, piano, English horn, xylophone and electric guitar.
Stevens’ fuses alt-rock and acoustic folk with social commentary and spiritual confessions that makes it rather intense lyrically, yet effortless.
This album is truly an effective paradox to the weary world delivered with class. Michigan is absolutely sublime.
THE NEPTUNES – ‘THE NEPTUNES PRESENT... CLONES’
RELEASED AUG 18, 2003
The Neptunes comprise American production duo Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. Together, they have been creating their very distinguished sound in R&B and hip-hop since the 1990s.
This compilation album brings in the big players from Busta Rhymes to Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg to Dirt McGirt (a.k.a. Ol’ Dirty Bastard) to give us a boundless creativity through a hip-hop album like you have never heard before.
From clattering backbeat with horn blasts, to a track with a beat that has almost nothing but percussion sounds, the duo proves that they are indispensable with this sampler for their record label, Star Trak.
THE RAPTURE – ‘ECHOES’
RELEASED SEPT 8, 2003
Once you hear “House Of Jealous Lovers”, you know you are in for a treat with this album by The Rapture.
This New York rock band created the perfect album with Echoes. It can be described as the dancepunk opus that will definitely make you lose your sh*t whenever you put this on.
This project is fused into an updated version of the 1970s UK post-punk band vibes with relentless thumping backbeats, to Southern boogie elements that may seem confusing, but the ingredients are quite exceptional with the result of Echoes being an indie-dance genius.
ERYKAH BADU – ‘WORLDWIDE UNDERGROUND’
RELEASED SEPT 16, 2003
Neo-soul artiste Erykah Badu’s 15-track Worldwide Underground was referred to as an EP, which caused a stir of confusion.
Whatever it may be, it is far from being a commercial R&B release, but more like a weekend jam session that is actually good.
From eight-minute songs like “Bump It” and “I Want You” to single-oriented “Danger”, this project showcases Badu’s animated vocals and supple-lipped scats, which we know and love.
A fun remix of “Love Of My Life”, with Angie Stone, Bahamadia and Queen Latifah, is the icing on the cake for Worldwide Underground. This album is unpredictable and complex, just like the artiste herself.
OUTKAST – ‘SPEAKERBOXXX/THE LOVE BELOW’
RELEASED SEPT 23, 2003
Instead of working out their indifferences, Atlanta’s hip-hop duo Outkast decided to record separately and to sound as sonically different as possible, so you are getting a mix of their trademark ghetto funk to gospel, rock and psychedelic soul.
Andre 3000’s The Love Below plays with Pixies-inspired “Hey Ya”, Prince-inspired fusion, to a strummed ballad with Norah Jones, which is a staggering mix of inspirations that makes him one of the most creative people in music.
On the other side, Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx is anything but conservative with him playing with soul, rave, swing and electro fused into their brand of hip-hop sound.
Although with two creative approaches, the two fit together perfectly. This double album could easily be Stankonia II.
AMY WINEHOUSE – ‘FRANK’
RELEASED OCT 20, 2003
This is Amy Winehouse’s first album, of which she subsequently dissed. Whatever it may be, you cannot deny her incredible voice that reminisces the jazz favourites, especially Billie Holiday.
Frank may not be as strong as Back To Black as she hasn’t nailed the early 1970s vibe yet, but it gives us a glimpse of her unique musical talent that has inspired a generation of artistes.
From the snarky “F*ck Me Pump” to the high-drama soul of “In My Bed”, there are plenty of gems on Frank that stamps Winehouse as “an artist like no other” in this body of work of a debut album.
BASEMENT JAXX – ‘KISH KASH’
RELEASED OCT 20, 2003
Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton of Basement Jaxx just had a major success with their first two albums Remedy and Rooty to solidify their place in the dance music scene.
Kish Kash continues to see that innovation.
They push the boundaries by incorporating spaced out funk soundscapes from the opening track, “Good Luck” with Lisa Kekaula, that promises to make you crank up the volume, to cooling down with “Feels Like Home”, as the stirring closing track featuring Me'shell NdegeOcello.
Kish Kash may have recovered the almost-scary 2000s rock-dance crossovers in the most Basement Jaxx way ever, that even JC Chasez’s falsetto on “Plug It In” could put Justin Timberlake to shame.
THE STROKES – ‘ROOM ON FIRE’
RELEASED OCT 28, 2003
This follow-up album by American band The Strokes came really quickly after the success of their debut album Is This It and luckily, Room On Fire isn’t too shabby with singles like “12:51”, “Reptilia” and “The End Has No End”.
You cannot deny that The Strokes and this album helped to strengthen the guitar-rock movement during the time, with a distinct attitude that is carefully calibrated to still sound sleek and tantalisingly thrilling.
BRITNEY SPEARS – ‘IN THE ZONE’
RELEASED NOV 12, 2003
This is probably the most pop album on this list and it’s also one of the most significant releases in pop culture by the Queen of Pop of the noughties.
Whether she is breathing on the trance-y like track “Breathe On Me” or going Rastafarian with “Hook Up,” it is obvious that Britney Spears is exploring new sounds and trying to show the world that she is more than just a bubblegum pop artiste.
In The Zone has no filler and no shoddy cover versions like her previous releases, while attempting to be the force of modern pop music in 2003, and it achieved just that.
JAY-Z – ‘THE BLACK ALBUM’
RELEASED NOV 14, 2003
This eighth album The Black Album by rapper Jay-Z is supposed to be his last album, but we know how that usually turns out.
He roped in a master production entourage of Timbaland, Eminem, Rick Rubin, 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, DJ Quick, Kanye West and The Neptunes.
This album is all about blowing his own smoke and rightfully so, with the legacy that he had created to support the gooey storytelling.
The Black Album spawned major hits such as “Change Clothes”, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”, “99 Problems” and “Encore” as the lead singles, while still having the world rap along to the whole album so effortlessly.
MISSY ELLIOTT – ‘THIS IS NOT A TEST!’
RELEASED NOV 25, 2003
If there’s one thing about Missy Elliott, it’s that she is unpredictable, but in a good way.
This Is Not A Test! is Elliott’s fifth album that continues to challenge what she and partner-in-crime Timbaland can do.
While keeping to the theme of ridiculousness, goofy and hyper-funky, they experiment with new sounds that will leave you dissecting every layer of the song.
Whether it’s the hypnotic and apocalyptic lead single “Pass That Dutch” or going dancehall crazy on “Don’t Be Cruel” with Monica and Beenie Man, Elliott and Timbaland gave us a postmodern slice of crunk to challenge the sonic architecture of the mainstream.
Turn up the volume and go down 2003 memory lane with this playlist.
Cover: Julian Skot Ritom/Sound of Life
Here are some 2000s music-related features that you may also like:
- Music Of The 2000s: Who Created the Sound of the Noughties?
- The Innovators: Artistes Who ‘Reinvent The Wheel’ With Every Album
- The Trailblazing Women in Hip-Hop Who Contributed to Female Empowerment
- The R&B Songs of the 2000s You Will Get Nostalgic Over
- Conscious Rap’s Origin Story: The Music & Movement Revisited
- Unforgettable R&B Singers That Advanced the Genre
- The Evolution and History Of R&B
Elevate the way you listen to music from 2003 with KEF
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
When he isn’t making sure Sound of Life stories are published in a timely manner, Kevin enjoys wandering aimlessly in Kuala Lumpur city, going down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovering new music.