If you had to guess, who was the last black recording artist to hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with a legitimate rap song? And when?
I posed this question to a dozen or so friends recently and got a wide range of responses, none of which was unassailably correct. The most common were Kanye West (who hasn’t hit No.1 since “Stronger” in 2007, though he was featured on Katy Perry’s “E.T.” which did five weeks at that position in 2011), Drake (“Best I Ever Had” hit No.2 in 2009), Kid Cudi (as if) and Nicki Minaj (like Drake, she’s gotten close a few times — “Super Bass” clawed its way to No.3 in 2011).
One person recalled Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” (which did one week at the No.1 position, in February 2011), and in truth, he had a pretty convincing argument for its claim to this modest throne. The correct answer is either that or “Whistle” by Flo Rida (two non-consecutive weeks in August/September 2012), depending on how low you set the bar as to what qualifies as rapping. Neither song is propelled along by anything I’d consider elemental to hip-hop; each dude’s delivery suggests as much character as a protagonist in a Michael Bay film, and the beats sound about as rigid and predictable as they come.
Regardless, it’s been two years at best, and five years at worst (I’m referring to Jay Z’s last No.1 “Empire State of Mind”) since a black artist made it to number one on the strength of a legitimate rap song, which begs a sad question: Is the Billboard Hot 100 favoring hits by white rappers?
I believe so, at least since after 2008. Flo Rida, T.I. and Lil’ Wayne all enjoyed substantial No.1’s that year (28 weeks on four songs, collectively) but from 2009 to current, black rappers totaled 16 weeks at the peak position. Comparatively, songs by Eminem, Macklemore and now Iggy Azalea have combined for 30 weeks at No.1.