Believe me, I didn’t like writing this as much as many of you will probably hate reading it. And it’s likely that there will be a new single record holder before March is even over. But it is chart history in the making – and djrobblog does cover chart history, especially an accomplishment as significant as the one in this article.
No “disrespect” intended, but with the latest Billboard Hot 100 chart dated March 18, 2017, a record that Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin has held for more than two decades is tied – by a woman whose first chart entry occurred only eight years ago. That woman: Young Money/Cash Money rapper Nicki Minaj.
The two of them now stand as the women with the most Hot 100 single entries at 73 apiece.
Franklin, whose record-extending 73rd Hot 100 single, “Here We Go Again,” charted in 1998, seemed a sure-fire bet to hold on to the distinction, especially given that many of her closest contenders had long since stopped charting on a regular basis. Only Dionne Warwick and ’60s pop star Connie Francis – in second and third place back then – had more than 50 Hot 100 chart singles when Aretha established the record.
Aunt Re-Re’s chart journey began in 1961 with her first Hot 100 single, “Won’t Be Long.” Thus, her place in chart-making history took nearly 40 years to establish. And her large lead seemed safe…that is, until three significant changes happened in the music industry – changes that have now conspired to place in jeopardy many of those history-making chart feats by artists who charted back when Aretha did.
First, Billboard altered its policy in December 1998 by allowing songs that were not commercially released as singles to chart on the Hot 100 (at the time a commercial single was a 45-rpm vinyl record, a CD or cassette single that contained one primary song and may have had between one and three “B-sides” included). The change was made because labels had pretty much stopped releasing popular cuts as singles so they could force consumers to buy entire albums instead (that backfired, by the way, as frustrated music fans resorted to file-swapping and illegal free downloads, but that’s a different story for another day).
On that same December 1998 chart and going forward, Billboard expanded the radio panel to include R&B, Adult R&B, country, and rock stations. Before then, it was limited to mainly pop and modern rock stations. At the time, Billboard touted it as making the Hot 100 “a more democratic forum,” with the goal being “deceptively simple: to reveal the most popular songs in the United States. Period. End of sentence.”
The change in Billboard’s chart policy meant that more songs could now chart on the Hot 100 (as well as the R&B/Hip-Hop and Country lists) than just those that people could buy in stores as singles or hear on their favorite top-40 station. A popular album cut, for example, that was receiving a lot of spins at radio could find its way onto the chart by virtue of its airplay alone.
At first, this change was somewhat benign. Radio airplay remained a significant factor in Billboard’s chart calculations. Terrestrial FM radio, which was still the primary means by which people heard their favorite music, hadn’t really altered its longstanding tradition of focusing on one or, at most, two songs at a time from popular artists. Hence that one song would occupy chart space until record labels – and hence radio – jumped on the next hit…usually two to three months later.
But then the second significant change occurred: Digital music streaming and paid song downloads.
Mainly powered by Apple’s iTunes Store and to a lesser extent several other digital music outlets, paid song downloads exploded in the 2000s. Later came the inevitable transition to digital music and video streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and Apple Music in the 2010s. Billboard has kept up with the times and incorporated data from all these and other download and streaming sources into its method for determining the most popular songs in America.
And that’s when things really started changing…and old chart records began falling left and right.
Now when an artist releases an album, all of its tracks are immediately eligible to chart – not just the hit that the label is currently promoting – and sometimes all of them do.
That is how recent projects by Taylor Swift, Drake, Beyoncé and Future have been greeted with a dozen or more chart entries on the singles chart in the week following their album release. A prime example: each of Drake’s last three albums has placed a dozen or more songs on the Hot 100 in the week after its release, an anomaly that has helped make him the second-most charted solo artist (behind Lil’ Wayne) in Hot 100 history – male or female.
I call this an anomaly because the initial chart burst these songs experience is usually out of rabid fan curiosity, not because the tune is immensely popular. Typically, these residual songs fall off the chart after one or two weeks, when the initial curiosity dies, except for the one or two tunes that radio was promoting as the “single” in the first place.
But a chart hit is a chart hit, regardless of how it got there – and music historians and chart statisticians really have no way of parsing out those songs that benefited from the first-week streaming effect vs. those that were truly popular on their own merits.
Repeat chart offenders like Lil’ Wayne and Drake probably don’t mind Billboard’s dilemma at all. They now stand as the two acts with the most charted singles among all soloists with 133 and 132, respectively. More than Elvis, more than James Brown. More than Michael Jackson.
An up-and-coming artist who really stands to benefit from this in the near future is Future, the Atlanta rapper who in just the past two years has released five albums – all of them reaching Number One on the Billboard 200 chart, and all of them producing multiple Hot 100 singles chart entries. Don’t be surprised if Future overtakes Lil Wayne and Drake in the next couple of years as the person with the most Hot 100 singles among all acts.
And these acts – interestingly most of them being rappers – have only been charting in earnest for the past ten years or so.
Which brings me back to Nicki Minaj and Aretha Franklin.
Nicki Minaj has only released three studio albums in the past eight years. So you may ask: how is it that she’s racked up 73 Hot 100 singles in such a short period with so few albums?
That’s where the third significant change becomes a factor: she’s a superstar when it comes to being featured on other people’s tracks.
Of Minaj’s 73 Hot 100 chart entries, only 21 of them involve her being the lead artist (and only four of those have reached the top ten – with none hitting No. 1 – so there is that). The remaining 52 are credited to her as a “featured” act on someone else’s track. But those still count toward her total because her name is officially attached to it.
The bottom line is, if someone is given a “featured” credit by the record label, then that artist is being paid royalties…maybe not as much as the main artist, but they’re being paid regardless. By extension, that artist’s name appears on the Hot 100 chart right alongside the lead artist, and it is included in both acts’ ledger of chart entries when all is said and done.
It is what it is, folks. Featured acts have been a thing for the better part of two decades now, essentially beginning when hip-hop and R&B joined forces in the 1990s. In fact, you might not find a chart for any week since the beginning of the new millennium that didn’t include at least one song with a featured act listed.
So it goes without saying that the musical landscape has changed a lot since soul music queen Aretha Franklin was in her prime. Of her 73 chart hits, you can count on one hand the number that involve her being somebody’s “featured” act. So, technically speaking, Re-Re could still claim that she is the woman with the most Hot 100 chart singles as a lead artist.
Still, the facts are the facts and the stats are the stats. We may say that there’s a bit of trickery involved in the Young Money rapper’s latest accomplishment, but Billboard chart history says that Nicki Minaj is the artist who now joins Aretha for the most Hot 100 chart entries among women with 73.
By the way, that latest chart hit for Minaj is “Make Love,” which debuted this week at No. 78.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Bronx rapper Remy Ma has yet to reach the Hot 100 with her recent Nicki Minaj diss tracks, “ShETHER” and “Another One.” In fact, her Hot 100 total still stands at three (not including her two with Terror Squad).
And with Minaj releasing three new songs this past week alone, including two that address the current Remy Ma feud, she will more than likely take over the lead from Aretha as the woman with the most ever!
And what might Minaj say to Remy Ma about all these latest developments, besides her recent challenge to her nemesis to produce a hit within 72 hours?
How about “Go smoke that in your diss track pipe.”
Or maybe, “Bow down to the new queen!”
Nah, forget that last one… Aretha is still the Queen.
The complete list of women with the most Hot 100 hits – with at least 40 each – is as follows:
1. Nicki Minaj/Aretha Franklin – tied at 73
3. Taylor Swift – 70
4. Rihanna – 58
5. Madonna – 57
6. Dionne Warwick – 56
7. Beyoncé – 54
8. Connie Francis – 53
9. Mariah Carey/ Brenda Lee – 48
11. Miley Cyrus -43
12. Barbra Streisand – 41
13. Diana Ross/Mary J. Blige/Janet Jackson/Olivia Newton-John – 40