One-hit wonders of hip-hop
One-hit wonders of hip-hop
In the 50 years since its inception, hip-hop has become a powerful force to be reckoned with. Born in the Bronx and raised by Black culture, hip-hop started as a unique form of musical expression meant to challenge the status quo and has since become a phenomenon that has changed the landscape of music, influenced the world, and acted as a powerful cultural force of nature that has connected a global community. All in less time than it takes for the average person in America to retire.
Having only been around for half a century hasn't stopped hip-hop from giving us some of the biggest and best "one-hit wonders" in mainstream music. From songs that managed to capture a moment in time so perfectly that we never let them go to ones that made the world stop and take notice, hip-hop has given us a little of everything when it comes to hits.
Ever wondered who was behind some of these one-hit wonders in hip-hop over the years? They are songs that appeared briefly on the charts (or not at all) but managed to leave us with a lasting impression that has withstood the test of time. Using that as a foundation, Stacker compiled a list of some of the biggest hip-hop songs to make their way onto the charts, into our hearts, and are still making their rounds through our playlists over the last 50 years.
It is important to note that some of the songs on this list may not have made the top 40, but have made such an impact on hip-hop that they are lauded within the community as a "hit" because of the kind of influence they had on the culture. Scroll through and see how many songs you can recite from memory.
Skee Lo: 'I Wish'
Anyone who wished they were a little bit taller at some point in life is probably familiar with the first song on our list, the 1995 single "I Wish" by Skee Lo. The catchy music layered underneath the lyrics longing for a better life seemed to resonate with listeners on a wide scale, especially since the lyrics were both radio and family-friendly.
While Skee Lo never quite replicated the success of the song, "I Wish" is still considered a classic nearly 30 years later. The song has been used in a variety of television and film soundtracks, including the 2023 remake of "White Men Can't Jump" and the animated family movie "Happy Feet."
Khia: 'My Neck, My Back (Lick It)'
A little less of a family-friendly song on our list is Khia's 2002 hit "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)," which paired a simple, Southern-inspired, drumline beat with explicit instructions on how to please her.
While the concept of the song may not seem too out of the ordinary by modern standards, in 2002, the freedom to express yourself in an overtly sexual manner as a female artist was not the norm. Khia put it all out there for the world without any apologies. Miley Cyrus and Janet Jackson are reportedly fans of the raunchy song with the former even busting out the iconic line in a 2015 gig. Two decades later, Khia has more than a dozen albums, but none that have ever been as catchy as this song.
Canibus: 'Second Round K.O.'
There were some pretty high expectations on battle rapper Canibus after his 1998 single "Second Round K.O." hit #13 on the Hot Hip Hop/R&B Charts. Battle rappers have often been known to struggle when it comes to translating their highly aggressive form of hip-hop from the acapella battlefields to the behind-the-booth hit productions.
Canibus seemed to be one of the exceptions that proved the rule when his song struck proverbial gold, but after the release of the hit single, the rapper never found the same kind of success. While he continued to make music, a mixture of personal and mental health problems led the artist down a new path, joining the Army for a brief period of time.
Sugarhill Gang: 'Rapper's Delight'
Though hip-hop started before Sugarhill Gang came around, the group is often directly associated with the inception of hip-hop into the mainstream music lexicon with their hit single "Rapper's Delight" becoming the first rap song to cross over into the mainstream, peaking at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1980.
The music and the lyrics were positive and upbeat, and the song gave listeners a proverbial sneak peek and a genre of music that would soon take over the charts and influence artists and trends around the world. While the group has continued to tour off their initial fame, they never duplicated the mainstream success of their first hit.
Mims: 'This Is Why I'm Hot'
This is why Mims was hot and finds himself on the list of hip-hop one-hit wonders; his 2007 single "This Is Why I'm Hot" made its way through the clubs and the radio waves. The minimalist beat coupled with lyrics that were heavy on self-confidence energy earned Mims critical and commercial success.
While he was never able to duplicate the same kind of success with the music that came after, "This Is Why I'm Hot" has continued to keep Mims relevant. The video has more than 20 million views on YouTube and appears on various playlists across streaming platforms.
The Lady of Rage: 'Afro Puffs'
The anthemic song dedicated to natural beauty and the power of the Black woman, "Afro Puffs," released in 1994 was The Lady of Rage's introduction to the mainstream, and it made a lasting impression. The song and accompanying music video were groundbreaking for the time, uplifting the image of natural hair and beauty which acted as a direct refusal to conform to the Eurocentric beauty standards often lauded by the media, the fashion industry, and by proxy the institution of mainstream music.
The Lady of Rage is considered by many as a trailblazer for women in hip-hop but the then-Death Row Records artist never found the same level of success as the hit single, possibly in part because of the slew of label mates (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac) she had to compete with at the time.
Freak Nasty: 'Da' Dip'
When it comes to finding success in mainstream music, a somewhat surefire way is to create a song that is not only catchy but is highly danceable. Such was the case for Freak Nasty's major hit, 'Da Dip,' which gave simple instructions for couples to partake in a fairly raunchy dance move that required us all to put our hands on each other's hips and "when I dip, you dip, we dip," per the lyrics instructions.
The song became a popular hit when it was released in 1996, landing at #15 on the Hot 100 charts. It was the only hit for the rapper, but it has continued to make its way onto DJ playlists to this day.
RBL Posse: 'Don't Give Me No Bammer'
The legendary Bay Area crew RBL Posse landed a hit with their 1992 single "Don't Give Me No Bammer Weed," which landed at #16 on the Hot Rap singles chart. The San Francisco natives infused the unique Northern California sound with a variety of samples to create the weed-smoking anthem that continues to loom in the trio's legend. Though two of the original three members have passed away (Mr. Cee and Hitman), surviving member Black C continues to perform the song in memoriam across the country.
DJ Kool: 'Let Me Clear My Throat'
Sampling is one of the sincerest forms of flattery in hip-hop, as long as you're not blurring the lines like Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. When it comes to a hip-hop song that is often referenced or sampled, DJ Kool should feel extremely flattered considering how often his 1996 hit "Let Me Clear My Throat" has been sampled and referenced over the years and has finally been certified platinum in November 2023. DJ Kool never found comparable success, but he continues to DJ across the country.
Luniz: 'I Got 5 On It'
Another Bay Area group on our list that managed to make an iconic hip-hop song is Luniz with their 1995 hit 'I Got 5 On It,' a classic anthem dedicated to the collective economics—and marijuana consumption. The song got into the top 10 on the charts of many countries and peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song's popularity continues to this day, thanks in large part to an ominous remix of the song being featured as the anchor song for the soundtrack of Jordan Peele's horror thriller "Us" starring Lupita Nyong'o.
Afroman: 'Because I Got High'
Afroman continues the Mary Jane theme when it comes to some of the hits on our one-hit wonder list. His 2001 hit was laced with humor as the artist basically rapped a list of things he was going to do…until he got high. The cannabis-infused single "Because I Got High" song was his only hit peaking at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, but Afroman continues to tour around the country.
J-Kwon had everybody in the club getting a bit plastered with his 2004 single "Tipsy," which became a club anthem and a chart-topper not long after the song's release. The lyrics were simple and repetitive and the beat was simple and easy to dance to, which probably helped it climb the charts easily.
J-Kwon continues to make music, but none has had the kind of success that "Tipsy" did, as the song reached the #2 position on the Billboard charts.
Kris Kross: 'Jump'
In 1992, there were few songs that had people jumping around as much as Kris Kross' Billboard topping single "Jump" written by Jermaine Dupri, who was 19 years old when the song came out.
Dupri has gone on to be one of the most prolific producers and record label owners in hip-hop. Though Dupri found lasting success, his star group Kris Kross fizzled out after their first album, and no songs made the same kind of impact as "Jump" which spent eight weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 charts.
On top of their family-friendly raps, the two, who were barely teenagers at the height of their success, were known for wearing their clothes backward. This started a major fashion trend in the early part of the decade.
In 2013, one member of the duo, Chris Kelly, died at 34 years old in what was deemed an accidental drug overdose.
Silentó: 'Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)'
Rapper and dancer Silentó made his way onto the charts with his 2015 single 'Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)' a song known for re-popularizing already existing dance moves and packaging them together into a sequence that could be easily emulated, giving him an instant hit.
The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The video currently has nearly 2 billion views on YouTube.
Tag Team: 'Whoomp! There It Is'
Released in 1993, Tag Team's 'Whoomp (There It Is)' became one of the most well-known hip-hop songs of the '90s thanks to the extremely catchy melody and the overly repetitive lyrics. The song has made its way into a variety of movie and TV soundtracks, including 1993's "Addams Family Values."
While the group never found success beyond that first hit, the two members still perform together, even making and filming a version of the song for Geico.
Cali Swag District: 'Teach Me How to Dougie'
A few of the hits on our one-hit wonder list have had dances that went along with them, lending to their success. Very few have carried on as strongly as Cali Swag District's "Teach Me How to Dougie," which was an entire song based on the premise of teaching listeners how to do the specific dance.
It was also released at a time when dance trends were going viral on social media and has had a major resurgence in popularity thanks to TikTok. The group hasn't had another major hit since the 2010 release, but they have still maintained relevance thanks in large part to social media.
Huey: 'Pop, Lock & Drop It'
Huey had one major hit. The 2006 single "Pop, Lock & Drop It" had a dance to go along with it that capitalized on the rising popularity of crunk, a subgenre of hip-hop born in the South that gained major traction in the 2000s by layering upbeat synths with heavy bass and slapping drums, making it the yin to trap music's yang.
Though Huey never had another hit, the iconic status of "Pop, Lock & Drop It" solidified him in the lexicon of songs that continues to make us dance.
Jibbs: 'Chain Hang Low'
An artist out of St. Louis, Jibbs seemed a great fit for labels looking for the next Nelly or J-Kwon. His 2006 song, "Chain Hang Low," held promise, borrowing from a familiar minstrel show melody, "Turkey in the Straw," that ice cream trucks usually played while plying the streets. The song made it to #7 on the Billboard 100 and racked up 20,000 ringtone downloads in about two weeks, but the promise fizzled out. The rapper's next tune, "King Kong," only climbed to #54. He has yet to find another Top 40 hit.
Ahmad: 'Back in the Day'
Last but certainly not least is the 1994 hit single by Ahmad "Back in the Day," which hit #26 on the Hot 100 Charts. The lyrics were fairly introspective, with Ahmad focusing on the universal feeling adults experience—desperately wanting to go back to being a kid again when things were simple and the responsibilities were relatively non-existent. Though Ahmad continued to make music after the release of his classic track, none found the same kind of success or climbed the same kind of heights on the charts.
Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Robert Wickwire. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.