Hip-hop might be more susceptible to scrutiny than any other genre. They aren’t even playing real instruments, goes one non-argument. They’re just repeating the same thing over and over, goes another. It doesn’t even have meaning. Look, it’s easy to see why many listeners completely dismissed Waka Flocka Flame’s Flockaveli. For many, though, the bone-crushing force of that unlikely 2010 classic overrides its boneheaded repetition, even though it’s impossible not to notice that the best hooks barely eclipse, say, Bubba Sparxxx’s “Bootybootybootybooty rockin’ everywhere.”
(Read: The 25 Worst No. 1 Rock Songs)
Hip-hop’s mindless pleasures are many in number, and nowhere is that more evident than when looking at its chart history. Songs like Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” were released before most of America knew what hip-hop was, while the likes of Mims’ “This Is Why I’m Hot” simply glance at hip-hop’s short list of defining traits without attempting to deepen the formula. It didn’t take long before entire regions — particularly Houston, Atlanta, New Orleans, and other Southern hotbeds — were lamented for their foremost rappers’ lack of subtlety. While the drunken masses kept dancing, terms like “conscious rap” and “backpack rap” were coined and defended.
The following 25 songs have their charms — or, at least, it’s not hard to see why they sold so many records/ringtones. A few of us writers remember “Crank That (Soulja Boy”) as having come out at a crossroads for us as music fans; we were starting to realize that a piece of art’s popularity isn’t necessarily proportionate to its merit. Still, I have fond memories of my language arts teacher, in the fall after its release, learning the song’s steps and showing them off at a couple school dances after it swelled in popularity over the summer.
(Read: The 25 Worst No. 1 Pop Songs)
Ultimately, we didn’t include “Crank That” here, and for the most part, nostalgia didn’t factor into our criteria. Rather, these songs were selected because of their numbnuts lyrical conceits, chintzy production, lifeless repetition, inadequate execution, and/or perpetuation of stereotypes.
Now, excuse us while we go and bump that new Busdriver track again.
25. Positive K – “I Got a Man”
The idea of trading bars instead of the verse-hook-verse structure has birthed some of hip-hop’s finest songs. Wu-Tang Clan’s “The M.G.M.”? Great stuff. A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhime”? Holy shit. Postive K’s No. 1, off the Bronx rapper’s The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills, is an absolute, near inarguable no. You can go on about how the male protagonist’s disbelief and “I’ll show you!” mentality is a threat to the female’s agency, but the weaknesses of the song lie at a very basic level. You’ve probably heard this story or experienced it firsthand: Getting rejected because your female conquest has, or at least claims to have, a man. Hearing that cliched conversation over a sloppy, repetitive beat can’t be that much more enjoyable. But the ’90s were a very different time. It topped Billboard Hot Rap Singles, so Positive K did have the Skills to top the chart. He didn’t have enough to top it twice, however; “I Got a Man” was his only hit. –Brian Josephs
24. Pitbull ft. Ne-Yo, Afrojack, and Nayer – “Give Me Everything”
Is this the moment when the vicious Pitbull we had all come to love from songs like “Culo” in the early 2000s officially turned into the dude who does corporate gigs at Alaskan Walmarts and name-drops Kodak twice in the first seven seconds of a song? Less Daddy Yankee and more Flo Rida, after this song it seemed like there was 100% less chance that insulting Pitbull to his face would lead to throwing hands. I mean, dude is wearing a Pee-wee Herman suit in the video. The percolating synths are headache-inducing, and Ne-Yo’s chorus, from which the song draws its name, seems like someone trying to convince a girl to try anal in case the apocalypse comes tomorrow. At one point, Pitbull implores the listener to “reach for the stars” because if you don’t grab them, then “you’ll fall on the world.” Is that how he thinks that saying goes? Because if it is, he needs a refresher course in how to be inspirational without sounding like Yogi Berra. –Pat Levy
23. Kid ‘n Play – “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody”
This is a callout to all hip-hop artists: Please bring back New Jack Swing. Please. I don’t think it’s just the nostalgia factor. It’s not just from being a kid of the ’90s. Can you imagine Kanye or Tyler, the Creator or Nicki Minaj releasing a New Jack Swing album? I still love the New Jack Swing sound. That being said, like any good thing, it became over-saturated, and the Christophers of Kid ‘n Play were smack dab in the middle of it. They tried to get in on that Will Smith actor/rapper money, but they ended up more like Keenan and Kel. “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody”, which appeared on the charts alongside songs like Gang Starr’s “Step in the Arena” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhime”, is an attempt at a hard party anthem, but it’s Kid ‘n Play. You can’t be hard with a high-top fade, bright overalls, and Kid’s nice-guy flow. They don’t want to party. They want to take you to the movies, make some jokes in the Burger King parking lot, then have you home before midnight. Sorry guys. A house party this is not. –Nick Freed
22. 3rd Bass – “Pop Goes the Weasel”
What exactly was the fascination rappers had with canes in the ’90s? Was it seen as a badass move to have a cane like some kind of Victorian gentleman hiding a small blade in the handle to thwart ruffians? The cane of 3rd Bass’s lead rapper, the slumped-shouldered Pete Nice, gave him a 90-year-old man mixed with Quasimodo kind of look that did nothing to overcome the lack of badassery in their 1991 hit, “Pop Goes the Weasel”. Pete Nice’s weird Jersey growl and MC Serch’s random interjections were hardly a burn on Vanilla Ice’s reputation. It’s more like a poorly written high school dis letter than anything else. 3rd Bass seemed to use their short career attacking other acts who were more popular than they were. Their first album was an attack on the Beastie Boys and MC Hammer, and “Pop Goes the Weasel” was an attack on Ice — Ice being the “weasel.” Essentially, it’s a song about killing Vanilla Ice, and since everyone in America wanted to do that very thing, this song jumped to No. 1 on the Hot Rap Songs chart for two weeks in the summer of 1991. –Nick Freed
21. Shaggy – “It Wasn’t Me”
Which is the more egregious thing that Shaggy has done: ignore Robb Bank$, who is his own child, or release this song? Clearly the not-paying-attention-to-his-kids bit, but goddamn this song is a fucking mess. Anyone who likes this song is just nostalgic for the era it came out in, a time when even the Baha Men had a radio hit, and they don’t realize that the track is a desperate plea to never be taken seriously again. Instructing his friend to lie about cheating on his girlfriend is bad enough, but to spend the entire video rocking an ugly-ass sheer pajama suit and hanging out in a mansion with a secret lair that looks like it belongs to an Agent Cody Banks bad guy? Atrocious. This is really the pits, a song with almost no redeeming qualities besides allowing the listener to laugh at the ridiculous croak that comes out of Shaggy’s throat. –Pat Levy
20. Dem Franchize Boyz – “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It”
Why was no one around to tell Dem Franchize Boyz that snap rap would have about as much legs as Tom Cruise in Born on the 4th of July? The mid aughts brought us this pitiful trend, and DFB was there to make sure Atlanta was both represented and embarrassed. Referencing your other hit song several times throughout a newer track is no way to prove your lyrical prowess; I mean, Kanye doesn’t still rap about gold diggers and jaws wired shut this many years later. I’m sure at the time this was something that someone somewhere thought was somewhat decent, but that somewhere someone is some kind of stupid. If I had to put an actual franchise equivalent to DFB, I’d go with something obsolete and only briefly relevant, like Radioshack or those Jamster ringtones. As if the mediocrity of the song by itself wasn’t bad enough, the song was also mashed up with Korn’s “Coming Undone” to create the most egregious rap rock since Linkin Park and Jay Z’s Collision Course. –Pat Levy
19. Mase – “Feel So Good”
I am not sure how Mase got as popular as he did. If it weren’t for his connection to Puff Daddy, the mid-’90s would’ve been a very different time for Mason Betha. Most of his raps seemed like a child speaking. He didn’t have the swagger of Diddy or the authority of Biggie, but somehow you couldn’t toss a gold chain down a long, lit tunnel without hitting a Mase verse. “Feel So Good”, which came out in the year of Bad Boy Records, 1997, sounds especially lazy, with Mase sort of mumbling and lurching through each verse. The intro guys to your track shouldn’t be more exciting to hear than you. He seems so unsure, like Shy Ronnie in front of class, and you don’t believe he’s in Waikiki sippin’ DP til the TV look 3D. He’s in his room in the dark while Diddy parties without him. The saving grace is the “bad bad bad bad boy” chorus, which isn’t Mase, and that’s why it saves it. –Nick Freed
18. Chamillionaire ft. Krayzie Bone – “Ridin'”
There are plenty of songs that get ruined because of how people run them into the ground. “Drunk in Love” survived Jay Z’s verse just to get dragged down by the corny memes and Vines. “The Motto” nearly ruined America, partially because it had the misfortune of dropping when college students needed an excuse to binge on Four Lokos. The number of desecrations Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'” suffered in the name of humor runs wide. “Drunk in Love” is a great song, and “The Motto” is good in small doses; “Ridin'” lends itself to Yankovician parody because of how feckless its tough talk runs behind the tone-deaf hook and rapid-tongued delivery. Catchiness doesn’t equate original thought … or much thought, period. Look at these lyrics: “Police pull up right behind and it’s in his throat/ Windows down, got to stop pollution,” “40-ounce in my lap freezing my balls.” Chamillionaire even has the audacity to name-drop the Playstation and include the Xbox in the video. –Brian Josephs
17. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch – “Good Vibrations”
For those of you not around for the hip-hop and rap explosion of the late ’80s/early ’90s, it was a weird, weird time. Especially when the No. 1 rap track (or any track, for that matter) in the country was the stilted stylings of Boston’s own Mark Wahlberg and the Funky Bunch. “Good Vibrations”, which peaked as Naughty by Nature was making their way up the charts with “O.P.P.”, wasn’t just a hit. It was a smash hit, I’m sure due, in part, to Wahlberg’s shirtless video for the song and the infectious beat. It couldn’t cover the awkwardness of the Boston white boy, however. Marky Mark went full-out Mark Wahlberg in 1998 and switched to acting. A much better move, Mark. –Nick Freed
16. 2 Live Crew – “Banned in the U.S.A.”
2 Live Crew’s “Banned in the U.S.A.”, which recklessly interpolates Bruce Springsteen’s much-misinterpreted 1984 classic “Born in the U.S.A.”, might be the unlikeliest hit on this list. It’s more like an essay than a song, but it’s not like it’s a particularly thoughtful essay; instead, it’s composed of snippets of the notoriously horny Miami group declaring their First Amendment rights. Part of the fun of 2 Live Crew is that they rarely seemed to care about how filthy they actually were. “Banned in the U.S.A.”, then, is an unnecessary missive. “Fight the Power” it isn’t. –Michael Madden