No Rap Song Has Led the Hot 100 For a Year – What’s Behind the Break & When Might It End?

2023-08-24T18:45:53+00:00August 24th, 2023|

For the first time in 23 years, a peculiar moment occurs on the Billboard Hot 100, where an entire year has gone by without a rap track reaching No. 1. The weekly recap, which ranks the most popular songs in the U.S., hits the benchmark on the list dated Aug. 26, 2023, as Oliver Anthony Music’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” seals the deal.

The last rap track – defined as songs that have hit or are eligible to appear on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart – to top the listing was Nicki Minaj’s “Super Freaky Girl,” which debuted atop the Hot 100 on Aug. 27, 2022, and held the rank for that one week. In the 12 months since, three rap titles have come closest to the summit, each peaking at No. 2: Drake and 21 Savage’s “Rich Flex” (Nov. 19, 2022) Drake’s “Search & Rescue” (April 22, 2023) and Lil Durk’s “All My Life,” featuring J. Cole (May 27, 2023).

Before the 2022-23 break, the last time the Hot 100 went without a rap champ for at least a year was pre- and post-Y2K: after Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West,” featuring Dru Hill and Kool Moe Dee, reigned in July 1999. Following the soundtrack single’s one-week rule, rap was absent from the Hot 100 summit until Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me,” featuring Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent began a two-week command in February 2001, a span of 22 No. 1s and just over 18 months. The return quickly brought another champ, as OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson” ousted “It Wasn’t Me” for the former’s Hot 100 coronation.

Rap’s current absence from the Hot 100’s top slot largely traces to the dominance of several hits in the past 12 months that nearly shut out almost all challengers from all genres. Since “Super Freaky Girl,” 14 songs have reached the Hot 100’s summit: Six were multi-week No. 1s driven initially by large streaming premieres, followed by sustained streams and rapid airplay gains: Harry Styles’ “As It Was” (which began its run before “Super Freaky Girl” but returned to the summit), Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit,” Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero,” Mariah Carey’s annual holiday dominator “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” and Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night.”

The remaining eight, on the contrary, ruled for one week each, due to a high-profile debut (Jimin’s “Like Crazy,” Jung Kook’s “Seven,” featuring Latto, and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Vampire”), an already-popular hit navigating a crowded landscape with a well-timed sales discount or remix release (Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ “Unholy,” The Weeknd and Ariana Grande’s “Die for You” and SZA’s “Kill Bill”) or a song becoming a rallying cause for larger cultural symbolism (Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” and Oliver Anthony Music’s “Richmond”).

Before we pound the alarm, though, the R&B/hip-hop sector remains the largest consumed genre of music in the U.S., according to Luminate, whose data on streaming, sales and radio informs the Hot 100. In the firm’s 2023 mid-year report, R&B/hip-hop accounted for 25.9% of all consumption in the U.S. during the first half of the year. And, of course, rap music being good for at least one, if not multiple, No. 1s each year across the last two decades speaks to its reliability as a hitmaking force. After all, we were a similar spot earlier this summer with the Billboard 200 — lamenting the lack of a No. 1 rap album on the chart — and then in quick succession, Lil Uzi Vert’s Pink Tape and Travis Scott’s Utopia reset the clock there.

At the same time, hip-hop’s presence among Hot 100 top 10s has fallen in the first half of 2023 to its lowest level since 2016, according to Hit Songs Deconstructed’s midyear analysis. The genre “all but disappeared” from the top 10 in Q1 2023, HSD noted earlier in the year, after it reigned in both 2022 and 2020.

So, when does the gap end? Well, the next great hope is on the horizon: After posting two of the three runner-ups in the past year, it’s only fitting that Drake take the next crack at breaking the barrier. The superstar’s new album, For All the Dogs, is set for release tomorrow (Aug. 25) — and, assuming the usual avalanche of streams that accompany any Drake release (plus his Hot 100 pedigree, with his 11 career No. 1s the most among all rappers), he should be in strong contention to recapture the crown.

Doja Cat could also come to the rescue, as her “Paint the Town Red” single is rallying in streams and, while currently at No. 15 on the current Hot 100, should march upward on the coming week’s chart. But whether the next No. 1 arrives from them or someone else, given the genre’s continued overarching influence, it’s hard to envision a rap song not soon appearing at the Hot 100’s apex, with the latest break between leaders likely more a fun fact than a fundamental shift.

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