(Note: this is the first in a multi-part series on the evolution/devolution of rap and hip-hop over its nearly four-decade history)
Many of you have read or heard by now that the rapper Drake recently tied an all-time chart record of the Beatles by simultaneously occupying 14 of the slots on Billboard’s Hot 100 (the chart week dated March 7, 2015). He did so with 10 tracks from his current album (“If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”), which debuted at No. 1 on the album chart, plus four additional tracks by other artists on which he is featured.
That news sparked a wide range of reactions from people depending upon how one feels about Drake’s omnipresence or his credibility as an artist (several of my peers don’t like his style of rap – but we are all either above, at or rapidly approaching the age of 50). It also may be influenced by how a person views the current state of rap (many of my friends don’t like today’s stuff, but – again – see the age reference above), or maybe it depends on whether one worships the sacred ground of the Beatles and feels that no artist should dare be included in the same sentence with them when describing their musical accomplishments. (My contrary view is that today’s accomplishments should be included, after all, records were made to be broken and the Beatles accomplished their 14-song Hot 100 blitz over half a century ago.)
Reactions may also depend on how chart purists feel about crediting “featured” artists (as Drake is on four of the tunes), or how adamant enthusiasts are about comparing and contrasting the way Billboard calculates its charts now (with the inclusion of any tracks that are available for paid download or streaming) to the way it was done 50 years ago, when songs had to be commercially available as “singles” (in the form of 7-inch 45 rpm vinyl records back then) to be chart-eligible. Although I’m not one of his biggest fans, I’d be quick to point out to Drake’s naysayers that, in 1964, Billboard allowed both sides of a 7-inch single to be listed separately, which largely benefited the Beatles’ in their 14-song accomplishment and gave them an added advantage over artists in subsequent decades, when double-sided hits were joined together as one entry on the chart.
But I’m digressing here. Back to Drake and rap. The Canadian rapper’s accomplishment is amazing in its own right, even if only for the fact that no one else (but the Beatles) has accomplished it in the nearly 60-year history of the Hot 100. But it also speaks for rap and hip-hop music as a genre and reminds us that even in an era when rap is being increasingly criticized for its lack of originality and limited subject matter (like misogyny, violence, social indifference, disrespect to women or authority, etc.), its sometimes unintelligible lyrics and even its reduced market share over the past ten years, it’s still a force to be reckoned with.
But that wasn’t always the case. Every music genre has its beginnings, and rap’s was about as humble as they come. So I thought it might be interesting, given Drake’s recent accomplishment, to remind readers just how tough the struggle was for the rap genre in the beginning – from a chart perspective. Since I’m a numbers guy, and because Drake simultaneously charted with 14 songs, I thought it would be interesting to look at rap’s first 14 singles ever to make the Hot 100 (thanks to one of my best friends, Kv Martin, for inspiring the idea). Readers may be surprised to find out just how long it was before 14 rap singles had even reached the chart – not in one week – but ever.
To do this, one has to go back to November 1979 and the debut of the very first rap song to make the Billboard Hot 100: “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. By reaching #36 in January 1980, it also became rap’s first top-40 pop hit. That song, although not the first rap record ever made, marked the first time many people had ever heard artists (or MCs) talking or rapping over funk/disco beats and it was also the first time we’d heard the term “hip-hop.” Its liberal interpolation of Chic’s “Good Times” – a #1 pop and R&B hit from earlier that summer – also cemented both songs’ places in history as perhaps the two most important singles of 1979. “Good Times” was important not only for its inclusion in the first rap hit, but also for what it was ending – the dominant, sometimes intimidating, and hedonistic era of disco, while “Rapper’s Delight” was equally notable for what it had started, the equally intimidating – if only slower in building – history of rap. In fact, because of their connection, rap could legitimately be viewed as a direct descendant of disco.
But even with the Sugar Hill Gang’s success in late-1979/early-’80, rap music was far from achieving the kind of mainstream acceptance it would in subsequent decades. It would be another seven years before a record by an American rap artist would reach the pop Top 40 again (“Walk This Way” by Run-DMC). In fact, you may find it even harder to believe that “Walk This Way” was among those first 14 songs by legitimate rap acts to even make the Hot 100 – nearly SEVEN years after “Rapper’s Delight” had charted.
Below is a listing of those first fourteen Hot 100 singles in chronological order. But the list requires some splainin’. For starters, I omitted the oft-cited “Rapture” by Blondie because it was mainly Debbie Harry ‘singing’ the verses and only rapping during the bridge. I excluded “Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith for similar reasons. Also not on the list are Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” (yes, he rapped in the song near the end) and Rodney Dangerfield’s “Rappin’ Rodney” because, well, he gets no respect. And finally, songs like “General Hospi-Tale” by Afternoon Delights and “Super Bowl Shuffle” by The Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew are not included because they were one-time novelty songs by studio creations, not rap artists. I am, however reluctantly, including Falco’s #1 hit, “Rock Me Amadeus,” because the late Austrian artist raps throughout the song, it crossed over to the R&B singles charts (peaking at #6), he recorded other rap records, and because several sources refer to him as a rapper. I realize that I’m sure to get some flack by rap purists for that one, but fair is fair.
So here they are, the first 14 songs by rappers to make the Hot 100, including their chart debut dates (and peak positions in parentheses):
1. “Rapper’s Delight” – Sugar Hill Gang; 11/10/79 (#36)
2. “The Breaks” – Kurtis Blow; 9/13/80 (#87)
3. “8th Wonder” – Sugar Hill Gang; 2/7/81 (#82)
4. “Apache” – Sugar Hill Gang; 2/13/82 (#53)
5. “Planet Rock” – Soul Sonic Force; 7/17/82 (#48)
6. “The Message” – Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five; 10/16/82 (#62)
7. “Electric Kingdom” – Twilight 22; 12/17/83 (#79)
8. “Jam On It” – Newcleus; 6/2/84 (#56)
9. “Beatstreet” – Grand Master Melle Mel & The Furious Five; 8/4/84 (#86)
10. “Friends/Five Minutes of Funk” – Whodini; 1/5/85 (#87)
11. “Roxanne, Roxanne” – UTFO; 3/5/85 (#77)
12. “Basketball” – Kurtis Blow; 4/13/85 (#71)
13. “Rock Me Amadeus” – Falco; 2/6/86 (#1)
14. “Walk This Way” – Run-DMC; 7/26/86 (#4)
So it took the whole rap genre seven years from 1979 – 1986 to accomplish what Drake has done in one week. Obviously, the list of those first 14 songs doesn’t include some of hip-hop’s very early classics that just didn’t crossover enough to make the chart, like jams by the Treacherous Three, Sequence, and several additional songs by many of the artists listed above. It is also apparent that rap has since enjoyed much more mainstream commercial success than it did in those early years when it literally “started from the bottom” as Drake would put it. But “now we’re here” and the difference between then and now could be summed up by the fact that, during this past week – on the Hot 100 chart dated March 7, 2015 – there were over 30 songs either recorded by or featuring rap artists, including the “Drake Fourteen.”
In the coming weeks, I’ll continue this series on rap and hip-hop’s evolution (or devolution) over the past four decades by picking up in the late 1980s (post-“Walk This Way”), when artists like Eric B & Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa, Ice-T, Boogie Down Productions & KRS-One, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Public Enemy, NWA, MC Hammer and many others helped usher in rap’s “Golden Era.” I’ll be offering unique perspectives on the genre’s explosion into the 1990s and beyond.
So stay tuned.
Oh! And by the way, here are the record-tying fourteen songs – listed by chart position – that Drake charted with during the week ending March 7, 2015, on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 singles chart (he is the lead artist on all songs except as indicated):
#16: “Only” (Nicki Minaj feat. Drake and others)
#17: “Truffle Butter” (Nicki Minaj feat. Drake and others)
#49: “Tuesday” (I Love Makonnen feat. Drake)
#58: “10 Bands”
#68: “Blessings” (Big Sean feat. Drake)
#70: “Know Yourself”
#81: “No Tellin'”
#83: “6 God”
#84: “Used To”
#95: “Now & Forever”
#97: “6 Man”