10. You Are Free, Cat Power (2003)
A bracing, transcendent mix of lo-fi pop, haunting folk, and beautiful noise. This was the masterwork that signaled the Georgia-born, whiskey-voiced chanteuse’s stunning leap from oddball indie darling to fully realized artist.
9. FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake, (2006)
The onetime boy-bander teamed up with left-field rap maestro Timbaland to create an album that redefined pop’s cutting edge. The rest of the music world is still playing catch-up.
8. I Am... Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé (2008)
The alter-ego concept — Sasha for the dance floor, Beyoncé for the ballads — yielded two disparate but equally striking sides of the often-opaque diva. The glorious, nervy strut of ”Single Ladies” and wrenching vulnerability of ”If I Were a Boy,” all in one place? Fierce, indeed.
7. Funeral, The Arcade Fire (2004)
Funerals are generally somber affairs, but the Canadian indie rockers’ emotionally charged debut mostly just made us smile. And, okay, mist up a little.
6. Home, The Dixie Chicks (2002)
Even George W. Bush fans have to respect the Chicks’ authentic bluegrass sound on ”Long Time Gone” and ”Landslide.” Okay, maybe they don’t. But they should.
5. Love And Theft, Bob Dylan (2001)
The predictably unpredictable rock poet greeted the new millennium with a folksy, bluesy instant classic.
4. Stankonia, OutKast (2000)
With hummable hits (”Ms. Jackson”), out-there experiments (”B.O.B.”), and everything in between, the Atlanta rap duo gave us all a temporary visa to the funky-if-fictional land of Stankonia in 2000.
3. Kid A, Radiohead (2000)
In an abrupt left turn, one of the world’s biggest rock bands began the decade with a disc of complex electronic explorations. Our minds: still blown, nine years later.
2. The Blueprint, Jay-Z (2001)
One of the greatest poets ever to pick up a mic released his magnum opus in 2001. One retirement and one un-retirement later, it’s still his finest hour.
1. The College Dropout, Kanye West (2004)
The 2004 debut from West — a revolutionarily relatable rapper who also happened to be a beatmaking genius — was accepted into the hip-hop canon instantly, no diploma needed.
For more Bests of the Decade, see the Dec. 11 issue of Entertainment Weekly.