In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Sizzling 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my method up into the current.
Pop epochs nearly by no means have definitive beginnings or endings, however in case you’re in search of the kickoff date of rap’s proverbial Shiny Go well with Period, it would’ve occurred the day that Puff Daddy and Mase deserted their Rolls Royce. The sensational, nonsensical video for “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down,” the first-ever single from Dangerous Boy Data founder Sean “Puffy Daddy” Combs, is a visible feast of luxurious residing and defiant splendor. By way of the primary half, we see Puff and his younger protege Mase driving a Rolls deep right into a desert. Halfway by the video, the 2 of them cease the automobile, get out, and begin strolling. The Rolls simply sits there, shimmering within the warmth, now not mandatory. Puff and Mase used that automobile to show their level, after which they proved that time even additional by leaving that Rolls Royce behind, ignored and forgotten.
The purpose, roughly, was this: “Puff make his personal legal guidelines, n***a — fuck your guidelines/ Goodfellas, you understand you may’t contact us dudes.” That deserted Rolls, which my good friend Shea Serrano highlighted in his extraordinarily enjoyable historical past tome The Rap Yr Guide, stands as an emblem of lovely, pointless fuck-you extra. Puff Daddy had ascended to the very prime of the music enterprise, and he’d finished it by proclaiming his personal splendor and superiority at each accessible alternative. A superb handful of rap songs reached #1 earlier than “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down,” however Puff’s first chart-topper represents a complete totally different period.
“Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” is a flex of a tune, an ostentatious show. Puff and Mase had been actually simply speaking about themselves, however you could possibly prolong their flossy shit-talk to their document label, to East Coast rap, and even simply to rap itself. When “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” reached #1, it kicked off one of the crucial dominant pop-chart runs that we’ve ever seen, and it marked the start of the time when rap occupied the middle of widespread music. Twenty-four years later, rap nonetheless occupies the middle of widespread music, and it’s exhausting to think about a future the place that gained’t be the case.
I’ve talked about this in previous columns, however my first ebook is popping out later this yr, and it tells the story of 20 #1 hits that shifted the course of pop music. I don’t have a publication date but, however that ebook simply went into manufacturing a few weeks in the past, and a type of 20 songs is “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down.” The one didn’t change pop as a result of it’s an incredible tune — it’s actually not — however as a result of it got here alongside on the proper time and introduced that the playbook was totally different. Puff had made his personal legal guidelines. Fuck your guidelines.
Sean “Puffy” Combs by no means thought-about himself a musician till he grew to become one. Puff was born in Harlem and largely raised in Mount Vernon. (When Puff was born, the #1 tune in America was Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.”) Puff’s father was a numbers runner and drug vendor who was shot to demise in his automobile when Puff was two years previous. Puff was raised by his mom, a trainer’s assistant. Puff was a flashy child who beloved rap music and who lived within the golf equipment. In his teenage years, Puff discovered work as a dancer, exhibiting his strikes in movies for pop stars like Diana Ross, Babyface, and the Tremendous Younger Cannibals.
When Puff completed highschool, he went to Howard College, the place he studied enterprise and threw events. Nearly immediately, the events grew to become a enterprise. Puffy started selling events in his freshman yr, and people events drew big numbers of individuals. At his first occasion, Puffy booked Teddy Riley’s R&B group Riley and the rap star Heavy D, a fellow Mount Vernon native. By way of Heavy, Puff bought to know Andre Harrell, the founding father of the massively profitable rap and R&B label Uptown. Puffy began interning at Uptown whereas he was nonetheless at Howard. Twice every week, he’d take the Amtrak prepare again as much as New York, and his hustle impressed Harrell. After his sophomore yr, Puffy dropped out of Howard and began working at Uptown full-time.
Puffy shortly grew to become director of A&R at Uptown, and he guided the massively profitable early careers of stars like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. These had been R&B singers, however Puff had them dressing, strolling, and performing like rappers. He’d remix their tracks, placing their voices over ultra-recognizable rap beats. (As a remixer after which a producer, Puffy hardly ever did the nuts-and-bolts stuff. He was an concepts man, and he’d inform his staff how he wished information to sound — the Damien Hirst mannequin of placing your model identify in your underlings’ work.) Whereas working at Uptown, Puffy additionally continued selling events, and a type of events led to tragedy. Exterior of a celeb basketball recreation at Metropolis School of New York in 1991, a crowd crush killed 9 individuals. Puffy grew to become a pariah within the New York tabloids, however Andre Harrell stood by him and even employed legal professionals for him. Quickly, although, Harrell was sick of Puffy.
After a couple of years of giant success at Uptown, Puffy began planning to launch his personal subsidiary label. Puffy had formidable plans for his first discovery, the younger Brooklyn rapper generally known as Biggie Smalls. Uptown produced a cameo-heavy comedy referred to as Who’s The Man?, a cinematic car for Yo! MTV Raps hosts Physician Dré and Ed Lover. The film was a flop, however its soundtrack launched Biggie, whose on-record debut “Get together And Bullshit” was an immediate underground smash. Puffy additionally used Biggie’s voice on his remixes of tracks from Mary J. Blige and the dancehall star Tremendous Cat. On the Dangerous Boy Remix of Tremendous Cat’s “Dolly My Child,” Puffy even tried rapping a verse himself. It was horrible.
Dangerous Boy Data was speculated to be Puffy’s personal little nook at Uptown, however these plans modified. In 1993, Andre Harrell fired Puffy from Uptown. The firing was a shock, however Puffy turned it into his benefit. LA Reid launched Puffy to Clive Davis, and Puffy launched Dangerous Boy in partnership with Arista. The primary album to return out on Dangerous Boy was Biggie’s Prepared To Die, arguably the best rap album ever made. The LP offered tens of millions. When Puffy remixed Biggie’s album observe “One Extra Likelihood,” including a slick DeBarge pattern and the voices of some R&B stars, the one ascended to #2 on the Sizzling 100. (It’s a 9.)
In its first few years, Dangerous Boy constructed up a roster that included Craig Mack, Religion Evans, Complete, 112, and Lil Kim. All of them had been massively profitable, however Puffy all the time made it clear that he was Dangerous Boy. He helped produce most of the label’s acts, constructing a sound round slick, recognizable samples of acquainted hits, and he additionally made himself a presence on information and in movies. Puffy didn’t rap a lot at first, however he’d intone ad-libs on information on a regular basis. He additionally famously remixed the Mariah Carey smash “Fantasy,” serving to Carey discover the rap credibility that she’d all the time sought.
As Dangerous Boy grew increasingly more dominant, Puffy got here to play a central position within the storied East Coast/West Coast feud that dominated headlines within the mid-’90s. Dying Row Data boss Suge Knight depicted himself because the anti-Puffy. On the Supply Awards in 1995, Knight stoked the ire of the New York crowd by throwing pictures at Puffy: “Any artist on the market need to be a artist, and wanna keep a star, and don’t need to have to fret concerning the govt producer making an attempt to be all within the movies, all on the information, dancing, come to Dying Row.”
Puff was an omnipresent determine, so perhaps it was inevitable that he’d finally grew to become an artist himself. In 1996, Puff chanted the hook on Lil Kim’s hit “No Time,” which peaked at #18. (Lil Kim will finally seem on this column.) That very same yr, Puff went on a visit with all of the producers from the staff that he referred to as the Hitmen. That journey was primarily a piece retreat, with no artists or important others allowed. In Trinidad, Puffy and the Hitmen put collectively beats for the songs that might make up the majority of Biggie’s 1997 double album Life After Dying and the solo debut that Puff deliberate to name Hell Up In Harlem.
1996 was additionally the yr that Puffy signed a young person named Mase. Mason Betha had been born in Florida however had largely grown up in Harlem, and he and Puffy shared the same sense of flash. Mase had gotten his begin alongside Cam’ron and the late Huge L in a bunch referred to as Kids Of The Corn, however the group didn’t final lengthy. In 1996, Mase took a airplane to a rap conference in Atlanta, hoping to audition for Jermaine Dupri. As a substitute, Puff heard Mase rapping on the Exhausting Rock Café, and he provided Mase a contract. Quickly after, Mase made his debut on the remix of “Solely You,” a single from the Atlanta R&B group 112. (“Solely You” peaked at #13. Mase’s highest-charting lead-artist single, 1997’s “Really feel So Good,” peaked at #5. It’s an 8. As lead artists, 112’s highest-charting single is 2001’s “Peaches & Cream,” which peaked at #4. It’s a 9. As visitors, they’ll quickly seem on this column.)
Puff Daddy’s debut single “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” was all the time speculated to be an occasion. On the tune, Puff and Mase rapped over the beat of a tune that was a key a part of the rap canon. “The Message,” from 1982, was credited to Grandmaster Flash And The Livid 5, the pioneering South Bronx group, however Flash himself didn’t have something to do with the tune, and he didn’t need his identify on it. Flash was a DJ who specialised in get together music, and the Livid 5 made their identify by chanting ecstatic routines over the breakbeats that Flash minimize up. However “The Message” was totally different.
Melle Mel, the best-known rapper from the Livid 5, co-wrote “The Message” with Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher, an in-house producer at Sugar Hill Data. The tune is a feverish, harrowing portrait of city squalor, and it’s most likely the primary rap tune the place the social commentary was proper on the middle of the observe, not on the margins. Melle Mel had used a few of his traces from “The Message” on the Livid 5’s 1979 single “Superappin,” however that was a 12-minute get together odyssey, and so the traces didn’t have the identical impact. On “The Message,” together with his voice set in opposition to a skeletal synth and rattling percussion, Melle Mel might actually describe the hopelessness that he noticed throughout him: “Damaged glass all over the place/ Folks pissing on the steps, you understand, they simply don’t care/ I can’t take the scent, can’t take the noise/ Received no cash to maneuver out, I assume I bought no selection.”
On “The Message,” Melle Mel shared the microphone with Duke Bootee; the opposite members of the Livid 5 didn’t rap. Grandmaster Flash didn’t need to launch the tune, reasoning that no one would have the ability to get together to it. However Sugar Hill boss Sylvia Robinson, who’d given herself a co-writer credit score on “The Message,” overruled Flash. The tune grew to become the most important hit ever credited to the Livid 5. It went top-five on Billboard‘s R&B chart, and it grew to become the one Livid 5 observe ever to chart on the Sizzling 100, the place it peaked at #62.
There’s one thing nearly subversive about the best way Puff Daddy and Mase took “The Message” and turned it proper again into triumphant get together music. On “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down,” Puff and Mase aren’t in the least excited about describing city squalor. As a substitute, they use that beat to crow about their very own escape from that squalor. It’s all triumphant flexing. Puff: “You identify it, I might declare it/ Younger, Black, and well-known, with cash hangin’ out the anus.” Mase: “Damaged glass all over the place/ If it ain’t concerning the cash, Puff, I simply don’t care.” And on the refrain, the 2 of them half-sing the hook from a tacky early’-80s pop hit.
Matthew Wilder, a New York native and music-business journeyman, recorded “Break My Stride” in 1983, and the tune was partly supposed as a message to Clive Davis, who’d signed Wilder to Arista and who’s pressured him to write down one thing that may grow to be a success. “Break My Stride” is a tacky, bouncy, lyrically baffling piece of reggae-addled white pop. Davis didn’t hear cash within the tune, and he dropped Wilder from Arista. Wilder took the observe to Epic, and it grew to become his largest hit, peaking at #5. (It’s a 4.) When Dangerous Boy took “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” to Wilder to clear the “Break My Stride” interpolation, Wilder didn’t perceive what they had been doing the the tune, however he gave the OK, and this turned out to be a profitable determination for him.
“Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” really has 11 credited songwriters — Puffy, Mase, the songwriters accountable for “The Message” and “Break My Stride,” and Puff’s co-producers Carlos Broady, Stevie J, and Nashiem Myrick. “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” doesn’t sound like a tune that might require 11 writers. It’s brash and simplistic, nevertheless it doesn’t have a ton of power. Mase and Puffy made a canny pairing. When Puffy tried rah-rah rapping on Tremendous Cat’s “Dolly My Child” remix, he sounded ridiculous. However Mase rapped in a soft-spoken monotone, and Puff might do that. On “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down,” the 2 of them toss traces backwards and forwards at one another, and so they sound profoundly bored, as if they will’t even be bothered by all of the tedious chumps who’re mad that they will’t be like Puff and Mase. There’s a number of gun-talk on “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down,” and there may additionally be one lyrical shot at Dying Row: “Fuck round, they weak employees get a warmth rash.” However Puff and Mase sound like they’re floating above violence, like nothing can contact them.
When “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” was new, that nonchalance bugged the shit out of me. My favourite rappers had been loud and demonstrative, and Puff gave the impression of he couldn’t be bothered to provide the tune any power. Mase sounded comfortable. Over time, although, I’ve gained a number of appreciation for Mase’s slippery supply, for the best way he lazily toys with the beat’s pocket. Puff nonetheless sounds clumsy, however now I get that the nonchalance was all the time a part of the enchantment. Dangerous Boy may’ve been embroiled in a harmful, ugly rap feud, however Puff was decided to point out that nothing might trouble him.
Paul Hunter, who’d gotten his begin making Keith Sweat movies and who would go on to direct Bulletproof Monk, made the “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” video right into a disconnected riot of blockbuster imagery. It’s not simply the Rolls Royce within the desert. It’s Puff within the membership, being pawed at by ladies’s palms. It’s Puff and Mase dancing in an all-white room. Probably the most aspirational spectacle within the video could be Biggie Smalls and Eddie Griffin speaking to Puff Daddy on a cellphone and treating the cops who’ve simply stopped them as insignificant irritants. On the finish of the video, when the cops have lastly left him alone, Biggie seems so cool.
Puff launched the “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” single in January of 1997, when Biggie was ramping as much as the discharge of his Life After Dying mini-album. Biggie, Puffy, and Mase weren’t competing with one another for consideration. As a substitute, Puffy understood that Dangerous Boy might current a united entrance that might dominate the pop charts. However whereas “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” was rising the charts, tragedy struck Dangerous Boy. Just a few days earlier than Puffy discovered that his debut single was headed to #1, Biggie Smalls was shot to demise in an SUV whereas leaving the Soul Prepare Awards in Los Angeles. Just like the demise of Biggie’s friend-turned-enemy Tupac Shakur, the homicide stays unsolved.
Biggie’s loss was large, shattering. However his demise didn’t cease “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” from reaching #1. If something, it gave an odd sense of pathos to the tune. Mase had stated that you just couldn’t contact them dudes, however all that success hadn’t stored Dangerous Boy’s largest star protected. As a substitute, Puffy and his Dangerous Boy staff spent 1997 publicly mourning Biggie. In addition they dominated the Sizzling 100 for nearly your complete yr. Biggie will seem on this column very quickly, and Puffy and Mase will return.
BONUS BEATS: Lil Kim quotes “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” in her verse on Christina Aguilera’s 2002 single “Can’t Maintain Us Down.” Right here’s the video:
(“Can’t Maintain Us Down” peaked at #12. Christina Aguilera and Lil Kim will each finally seem on this column. In actual fact, they’ll be within the column collectively.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Keyshia Cole used a pattern of the “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” — or perhaps a pattern of “The Message” that was made to sound as very like “Can’t No one Maintain Me Down” as potential — on her 2007 Missy Elliott/Lil Kim collab “Let It Go.” Right here’s the video for that one:
(“Let It Go” peaked at #7, and it’s Keyshia Cole’s highest-charting single. It’s an 8. Missy Elliott’s highest-charting single is 2002’s “Work It,” which peaked at #2. It’s a ten.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Drake repeatedly quoting “Can’t No one Maintain Us Down” on his 2019 observe “4PM In Calabasas”:
(“4PM In Calabasas” peaked at #80. Drake will seem on this column a bunch of instances.)