July 4, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my manner up into the current.

Earlier than I get into in the present day’s column, please permit me a fast second for self-promotion. On this column, I’ve talked about a number of instances that I’ve written a e-book. I now have the green-light to correctly announce some issues about The Quantity Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The Historical past Of Pop Music. It is a fully authentic e-book, with nothing reprinted from the column, however it’s positively supposed as a kind of interval piece. I picked 20 songs that function fulcrum factors in chart historical past — songs that both modified issues or signaled that issues had already modified. Right here’s the promotional copy:

Beloved music critic Tom Breihan’s fascinating narrative of the story of well-liked music by means of the lens of twenty game-changing primary singles from all through the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, impressed by the writer’s ongoing Stereogum column.

When Tom Breihan launched his column in early 2018, “The Quantity Ones” — an area through which he has been writing about each #1 hit within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, in chronological order — he figured he’d publish capsule-size critiques for every music. However as he dug in, he realized there was a lot extra to uncover. The column expanded to full-on essays, through which Breihan unpacks the historical past of every observe, its place within the tradition on the time, its legacy (or lack thereof), and, in fact, the music itself. The column has taken on a lifetime of its personal, sparking on-line debate, attracting fixed readers, and infrequently dying threats from, say, the man who wrote “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around the Ole Oak Tree.”

The Billboard Scorching 100 started in 1958, and after 4 years of the column, Breihan continues to be within the mid-‘90s, with many years of music and years of posting to return. However readers will now not have to attend for Breihan’s sensible synthesis of what the historical past of quantity ones has meant to music and our tradition. In The Quantity Ones, he writes about twenty game-changing #1s all through chart historical past, revealing remarkably fluid and related story of music that’s as entertaining as it’s enlightening. He marks the best pop artists of all time, from the Brill Constructing songwriters to the Beatles and the Seaside Boys; from Motown to Michael Jackson, Prince, and Mariah Carey; and from the social media revolution and the Korean pop system. Breihan additionally ponders nice artists who’ve by no means hit the highest spot, like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and James Brown. Breihan illuminates what makes the indelible ear sweet throughout the many years, leaving readers to marvel what may probably occur subsequent.

I didn’t write that duplicate, by the best way. I might by no means seek advice from myself as a “beloved music critic,” although I positively recognize the sentiment. You may pre-order the e-book right here.

OK. I’m carried out with the self-promotional stuff. Right here’s the column itself.

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At this explicit level within the grand arc of historical past, the story of Will Smith seems one thing like a Greek tragedy. Image it: Teenage rap phenom emerges and shows wild quantities of charisma. Inside 5 years, he’s a sitcom main man. Inside 10, he’s the most important film star on the planet. He retains making rap music, nearly for enjoyable, and his doofy little side-hustle songs develop into international hits. The person’s film profession goes by means of peaks and dips, and he learns to regulate his persona for a altering world, mugging on discuss exhibits and Instagram and TikTok. For him, celeb is an issue to be solved, and attraction is a science to be perfected.

The entire time, this man longs for acceptance from the Hollywood group — a nebulous craving that takes tangible bodily form within the type of an Oscar. Will Smith will get nominated a number of instances, however he by no means fairly appears like he belongs. After many years, he lastly will get there, swinging into one other Oscar race because the frontrunner for Finest Actor. Mere minutes earlier than he lastly will get that Oscar, Smith goes by means of what I assume you’d should name a violent emotional breakdown. He smacks a comic within the face in entrance of the world, then goes again to take a seat in his seat and proceed yelling on the comic. In his rap profession, Smith had studiously prevented cussing, to the purpose the place his clear language was nearly a gimmick. In his largest and weirdest second, the TV censors should make the entire thing silent as a result of he’s screaming about how Chris Rock ought to hold Smith’s spouse’s title out of Rock’s fucking mouth.

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For many years, Will Smith rigorously and painstakingly crafted and maintained his public picture. When he was on the precipice of some remaining triumph, the person simply misplaced it. The dialog surrounding the slap was overheated and ridiculous, and it instantly revealed which commentators have ever been smacked within the face and which haven’t. For individuals who have by no means been smacked within the face: I’m comfortable for you. You have got grown up in loving properties and breezed your well past probably violent pitfalls, and that’s nice. However maybe you will have overpassed the truth that individuals get smacked within the face daily, and that it’s not essentially that huge a deal. (Typically, it’s a huge deal, particularly when it’s half of a bigger sample. Typically, it’s just a few shit that occurs.) In the event you’re questioning why a SWAT staff didn’t cost into the Dolby Theatre to handcuff Will Smith, I might beg you to think about the chance that you simply don’t know shit about shit.

The previous few months in Will Smith discourse have been tough, and it’s arduous to even think about what’s going to develop into of Smith’s profession when he returns to the general public eye. (He will return to the general public eye, proper?) Within the context of “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” Will Smith’s first #1 hit, the entire state of affairs turns into much more unusual. At one level in historical past, Will Smith appeared like he had every little thing discovered. He was the king of well-liked tradition, and a chart-topping hit was mild work — a factor to do in between blockbuster movies. The person glided effortlessly by means of the world. His new joint hit, and the world simply couldn’t sit. We needed to get jiggy wit it.

Will Smith was my first favourite rapper. He was in all probability lots of people’s first favourite rapper — particularly individuals like me, comparatively comfy white of us who had been youngsters within the ’80s. Within the late-’80s second when rap music was first changing into a widespread cultural phenomenon, Will Smith made himself a gateway drug. He instructed foolish tales, and also you didn’t must decipher any slanguistics to know what he was saying. His movies had been brilliant and vivid, and his persona was fun-loving and deeply unthreatening. He introduced rap music as one thing with no barrier to entry — healthful household leisure, nearly.

In the event you had been listening to the music, Smith’s sitcom stardom wasn’t a shock. In the event you had been listening to his sitcom, Smith’s film stardom wasn’t a shock. The person had the form of generational charisma that would simply be transferred from one artwork type to a different. Rap was merely his first car. He made it look straightforward, the best way he made every little thing look straightforward.

In West Philadelphia, Willard Carroll Smith II was born and raised. (When Will Smith was born, the #1 music in America was Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA,” so possibly it’s acceptable that gossip adopted this man for his complete grownup life.) Smith’s household wasn’t wealthy, however it was upright and steady. His dad and mom stayed collectively. His father had served within the Air Drive, and his mom had graduated from Carnegie Mellon. When Smith began writing raps as a bit child, his grandmother found his pocket book and left a be aware on it, admonishing him to specific himself with out utilizing filthy language. Smith by no means stubborn in his music once more.

One night time in 1985, a teenage Will Smith went to a home get together on his block. The night’s leisure was DJ Jazzy Jeff, a neighborhood turntable wizard a number of years older than Smith. Jeff was already growing a neighborhood fame, and that night time, his hypeman didn’t present up on the get together till late. On the spur of the second, Smith bought up onstage and rapped whereas Jeff scratched information, and the 2 instantly locked into a straightforward chemistry. They knew that they’d an act.

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In 1986, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Contemporary Prince launched their debut single “Ladies Ain’t Nothing However Hassle” on the native Philadelphia indie Phrase-Up. Whereas Jeff scratched up the I Dream of Jeannie theme music, Will instructed self-deprecating tales of romantic misadventures — three completely different dates that resulted in deep frustration. The primary verse, through which Will will get hit with a false rape cost, has not aged terribly effectively. However this was the ’80s, when nearly each high-school comedy had at the least 1 million rape jokes. Within the context of its day, “Ladies Ain’t Nothing However Hassle” was mild and fluffy and approachable. Smith wasn’t Run-DMC; he was the man who misses the Run-DMC present as a result of his date takes too lengthy preparing. Within the cartoonish video, Smith already seems like a sitcom star.

“Ladies Ain’t Nothing However Hassle” arrived at a time when only a few huge rap information got here from anyplace aside from New York. The music nonetheless caught hearth, in the end reaching #57 on the Scorching 100 throughout a interval the place rap barely ever charted. That single and the 1987 album Rock The Home bought DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Contemporary Prince a cope with Jive Information. They went out on the street with Public Enemy and a couple of Stay Crew, which should’ve been a really wild triple invoice to witness, and Jive re-released Rock The Home; it will definitely went gold. On the time, each huge rap act had a unique kind of character, and these two discovered their area of interest. DJ Jazzy Jeff was a ridiculously expert DJ, which gained them respect. The Contemporary Prince, in the meantime, was an approachable cornball entertainer, and that bought them paid.

The duo broke out big with the 1988 sophomore album He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper. The massive hit was “Dad and mom Simply Don’t Perceive,” one other sitcom-style story-song about every little thing going incorrect for Will Smith. That music peaked at #12, and it made Jazzy Jeff and the Contemporary Prince the winners of the first-ever rap Grammy. This appeared like basic Grammy bullshit: Institutional recognition for the cuddly pop model of the style slightly than its inventive bleeding edge. In solidarity with the opposite nominees, the duo boycotted the awards present as a result of the rap award wasn’t a part of the telecast.

That little bit of protest didn’t harm their industrial fortunes. He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper went triple platinum, and one other single, “A Nightmare On My Avenue,” reached #15. That was the one which hooked me. Rapping about getting killed by Freddy Krueger? Unimaginable. I couldn’t imagine it. The Nightmare On Elm Avenue franchise didn’t approve Jeff and Prince’s music, however it made nice use of the sampled rating, and it was a complete lot higher than the Fats Boys’ “Are You Prepared For Freddy,” the rap music that appeared on the precise Nightmare 4 soundtrack.

The duo’s subsequent album, 1989’s And In This Nook… flopped arduous, and its single “I Assume I Can Beat Mike Tyson,” peaked at #58. This was a disappointment for everybody besides, I assume, me. Rapping about getting beat up by Mike Tyson? That was nearly as good because the Freddy Krueger factor! I beloved it! Will Smith had been spending cash too freely, and he was discovered responsible of revenue tax evasion, with the IRS garnishing his revenue. At an Arsenio Corridor taping, the music exec Benny Medina met Smith and pitched him an thought a few sitcom that might inform a fictionalized model of Medina’s personal life story. Smith had by no means acted, and he was skeptical. However Quincy Jones was producing the present, and he satisfied Smith to audition for NBC executives throughout a celebration at Jones’ home. NBC picked up The Contemporary Prince Of Bel-Air, and the present debuted in September 1990.

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The Contemporary Prince Of Bel-Air was a giant hit that stayed on the air for six seasons. Smith performed a Philly road child despatched to dwell with wealthy family members in California, and the present stored that fish-out-of-water premise intact all through. Jazzy Jeff bought a recurring function as Jazz, Will’s previous neighborhood pal who retains getting bodily thrown out of the mansion by Uncle Phil. Whereas the present was on, Smith stored making music with Jazzy Jeff. In 1991, the duo made the highest 10 for the primary and solely time. On the richly funky “Summertime,” Smith slowed his move and deepened his voice, doing his greatest to mimic Rakim. The music peaked at #4. (It’s an 8.)

Will Smith began taking small film roles within the early ’90s. In 1995, simply earlier than Contemporary Prince went into its remaining season, Smith and Martin Lawrence starred within the action-comedy Dangerous Boys, Michael Bay’s directorial debut. At that time, Smith wasn’t actually rapping anymore; he and Jeff had launched their final album Code Pink in 1993. Dangerous Boys was a success. In its wake, Smith and his supervisor sat down to determine the best way to make Smith the most important film star on the planet. They checked out an inventory of the highest-grossing movies, broke down the weather that ran by means of them, and turned their script-selection course of into one thing like an algorithm. That’s how Will Smith ended up in Independence Day, the most important blockbuster of 1996.

After Independence Day, Smith teamed up with Tommy Lee Jones in Barry Sonnenfeld’s Males In Black, which would’ve been the most important hit of 1997 if Titanic hadn’t come alongside and made greater than twice as a lot. Whereas engaged on Males In Black, the manufacturing duo referred to as the Trackmasters pitched an thought to Smith: He ought to report a music for the soundtrack the place he rapped in regards to the plot of the film. When “Males In Black” got here out, I keep in mind being scandalized that Will Smith was utilizing the rap title “Will Smith,” not calling himself the Contemporary Prince anymore. My quibbles didn’t matter. “Males In Black” grew to become a monster hit. It topped the Radio Songs chart for weeks, and it in all probability would’ve conquered the Scorching 100 if it had been launched as a single.

At that time, the Trackmasters had been the perfect companions for Will Smith. Jean-Claude “Poke” Olivier and Samuel “Tone” Barnes got here from Brooklyn, and so they began producing rap information in 1989. Their fashion was brilliant and slick, with apparent samples combined in with dwell instrumentation, and it matched the sound that Puff Daddy was searching for at Uptown Information after which at Dangerous Boy. The Trackmasters produced huge hits for Biggie Smalls, Soul For Actual, LL Cool J, and others. Additionally they signed Nas to their Trackmasters Leisure imprint, and so they launched his 1994 masterpiece Illmatic however didn’t produce something on the album. They did nevertheless, produce a bunch of stuff on Nas’ slicker follow-up It Was Written, which had one thing to do with the chillier reception for that album. The Trackmasters made pop-rap, and their fashion labored greatest after they teamed up with a rapper who shared their instincts. No one had poppier instincts than Will Smith.

After “Males In Black,” Smith teamed up with the Trackmasters to report a complete album. Massive Willie Model, Will Smith’s first solo LP, is a profoundly goofy tackle the Puff Daddy mannequin. The sounds are brilliant and flashy, and the samples are apparent. However Will Smith, who’d nonetheless been making rap music because the Contemporary Prince 4 years earlier, didn’t actually rap like a ’90s rapper. As an alternative, he had a form of game-show host vibe — a form of clean self-mockery, delivered within the type of sharply enunciated humblebrags. Smith complained about participant haters, identical to Puffy, however he stored every little thing rated G. He would discuss girls swooning in his presence, however most of his romantic boasts had been directed at fellow film star Jada Pinkett, who grew to become Will Smith’s second spouse a number of weeks earlier than the discharge of his single “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”