In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
The Billboard Hot 100 is an imperfect tool. We know this. In this column, we’ve covered a whole lot of unmemorable songs that did reach #1, and we’ve considered the cases of a great many popular, iconic songs that did not get to #1. That weirdness is built into the charts. It can’t be helped. The people at Billboard put the Hot 100 together in the moment, week by week, using a forever-shifting set of supposedly objective rules. That means that the songs we think should reach #1 are not the ones that always do reach #1. That’s fine. I’ve made my peace with it. But I have to be honest here: I’m having some trouble with this one.
The problem isn’t that Sisqó, the blindingly bleached leader of the Baltimore R&B group Dru Hill, has a #1 hit. And the problem isn’t that Sisqó got to #1 with “Incomplete,” a boring and forgettable R&B ballad. Plenty of boring and forgettable R&B ballads have reached #1 over the years; it’s not a big deal. Instead, at least for me, the problem is that Sisqó has a #1 hit and that his #1 hit is not “Thong Song.” This goes beyond injustice and into the realm of pure error. It feels like someone made a terrible typo when putting together the record book. I can’t quite bring myself to believe that I live in a world where “Incomplete” went to #1 and “Thong Song” did not. It simply seems impossible.
Before we even get into “Incomplete,” before we consider its place in music history or in the grand arc of Sisqó’s career, we’re going to have to take a moment for “Thong Song.” Did you know that the title was just “Thong Song”? I didn’t. In my head, it was always “The Thong Song.” But Sisqó, who co-wrote “Thong Song” with producers Tim & Bob, never put the definite article in the song title. Maybe he was being too modest. Maybe he was simply allowing for the existence of other thong songs and he didn’t want to stake any claims as to the definitive nature of his own thong song. He should’ve used the “The.” Certainly, there have been other songs about thongs. But there is only one true thong song, and that thong song is “Thong Song.”
Have you ever seen Sisqó discussing “Thong Song”? Or thongs in general? It’s so good. Nine years ago, Liz Raiss interviewed Sisqó for The FADER and started off the conversation by asking about the first time that Sisqó ever saw a thong. That’s how every journalist should start every interview. I’m not saying that they should ask this specific question, though honestly I’d be fine if they did. But the interviewer should try to cut straight to the heart of the matter from the beginning. In this particular case, Raiss got something magical. Nearly a decade later, Sisqó’s answer has not left my head:
Oh, man. Hop into a little time machine with me, and we’ll go back before the thong epidemic, if you will. I was like, “What’s this! What’s this!” Like Nightmare Before Christmas, I was doing that same dance. I think I kind of blacked out a little bit. It was one of those moments: What is that, what have I done to deserve this, this is awesome.
So Sisqó has his first encounter with thong underwear, and he turns into Jack Skellington learning about the land of Christmas. I love this. It’s wonderful. I believe Sisqó. “Thong Song” is the kind of thing that you can only make if you really, truly believe in the magic of the thong. “Thong Song” is a ridiculous piece of music, and it commits wholeheartedly to its ridiculousness. Sisqó sees a young lady shaking that thing like “who’s the ish?” with a look in her eye so devilish, and he loses his mind. He proclaims that she’s got dumps like a truck truck truck and thighs like what what what, and then he says, quite simply, “I think I’ll sing it again.” Then he sings it again. The song only has one verse, and Sisqó repeats it three times, with different intonations. It’s the best.
I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that “Thong Song” is a classic pop single, that it changed the course of chart history or whatever. I will, however, tell you that “Thong Song” made the world a slightly more fun place to be alive in the spring of 2000. The weirdly prim and baroque string arrangement? The hypnotic insistence of that hook? The video, where Sisqó practically does the Nightmare Before Christmas dance, celebrating the existence of thongs via handsprings and backflips and Hong Kong wire-fu? It’s all perfectly absurd, and I have a great deal of affection for all of it.
“Thong Song” was all over the place that spring; it was a track that I might encounter three times on the five-minute walk from my dorm to any given classroom. “Thong Song” would tunnel its way into my brain and stay there all day, to the point where I may or may not have been muttering about “dumps like a truck” in my sleep. But “Thong Song” was not Sisqó’s #1 hit. (“Thong Song” peaked at #3. It’s an 8.) Instead, Sisqó reached #1 a few months later with “Incomplete,” a song that nobody remembers and that doesn’t even mention thongs. It has one line about “your sexy lingerie,” but I think we can all agree that the song suffers by neglecting to specify what kind of lingerie we’re talking about here.
I’m starting this column off with a long digression about “Thong Song” partly because it’s fun to write about “Thong Song” and partly because “Thong Song” isn’t just Sisqó’s greatest contribution to society. “Thong Song” also shows us who Sisqó is as an artist. Within the context of Dru Hill and of ’90s R&B in general, Sisqó always stuck out as a vivid, flamboyant entertainer, a guy who couldn’t wait to do some ridiculous and exaggerated shit. As the preceding paragraphs indicate, this is a man who will put on a whole performance if you just ask him about the first time that he ever saw a thong. He is a deeply silly figure, and “Thong Song” makes great use of his silliness by presenting it in its most shameless light. A giddy, energetic, willfully dumb pop anthem like “Thong Song” plays to Sisqó’s strengths much better than a generic ballad like “Incomplete” ever could.
We got into the whole Sisqó saga a little bit in the column on Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West,” a song that features Dru Hill and offers a special spotlight to Sisqó. To recap: Mark “Sisqó” Andrews was one of four high-school kids who worked together at an Inner Harbor institution called the Fudgery. (On the day that Sisqó was born, Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me” was the #1 song in America.) Those kids would sing together while working, and their singing attracted big crowds, so they started up a group. They called themselves Dru Hill, after Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, which is a nice place.
In 1996, when Sisqó was probably still 17, Dru Hill performed at a music-business convention called Impact ’96, and Island signed the group. Later that year, Dru Hill’s debut single “Tell Me” found its way into the world by way of the soundtrack of Eddie, the movie where Whoopi Goldberg becomes the head coach of the New York Knicks. “Tell Me” is a fairly standard ’90s R&B ballad, but its video has Sisqó, with his platinum Caesar cut and his open shirt and his difficult-to-contain dance moves, looking for all the world like a real-life version of the Chris Tucker character from The Fifth Element. The song became a hit, going top-five on the Billboard R&B chart and peaking at #18 on the Hot 100.
Dru Hill’s self-titled debut album came out late in 1996, and it had production from big-deal R&B figures like Keith Sweat and Daryl Simmons. The album went platinum, and it sent a couple of singles into the top 10. (“Tell Me,” the bigger of the two, peaked at #4. It’s a 6.) Dru Hill went platinum, and I can tell you that Baltimore, a city not especially known for producing pop stars, was very proud of the group. Dru Hill’s 1998 sophomore album Enter The Dru did even better, going double platinum and giving the world the excellently goofy single “How Deep Is Your Love,” which is not a Bee Gees cover and which found cinematic immortality when it played over the end credits of Rush Hour. “How Deep Is Your Love” peaked at #3, becoming Dru Hill’s biggest hit unless we’re counting “Wild Wild West.” (It’s an 8.)
When the Enter The Dru album cycle died down, the next step in the group’s world-domination plan was for all four members to release solo albums. It didn’t really go down like that. Dru Hill members Jazz and Woody never made any noise as solo artists. Nokio guested on Eve’s debut single “What Ya Want,” basically playing hypeman, but he never broke out on his own. (“What Ya Want” peaked at #29. Great song.)
Sisqó, meanwhile, had a bit of a head start on his solo career. In 1998, Sisqó appeared on Mýa’s debut single “It’s All About Me,” a #6 hit. (It’s a 6. Mýa will eventually appear in this column.) Dru Hill were billed as the guests on the song, but only Sisqó really appears on it, and it’s a full-on duet. Sisqó came out with his debut solo single “Got To Get It” late in 1999, and Hype Williams directed its video, which had Sisqó ziplining into a fireball. The song peaked at #40 — maybe not the impact that Sisqó wanted to make, but a pretty good start.
A few weeks after “Got To Get It” came out, Sisqó unleashed Unleash The Dragon, his first solo album. Then came “Thong Song.” I hope that we have sufficiently covered “Thong Song,” but allow me to state, once again, that “Thong Song” was a big deal. By the time Sisqó released “Incomplete” as his third solo single in June of 2000, Unleash The Dragon was quadruple platinum. I would have to assume that “Thong Song” was responsible for most of those album sales. Most of Unleash The Dragon was given over to synthy, clubby R&B tracks like “Thong Song” and “Got To Get It.” “Incomplete,” a late addition to the album, was an anachronism on the record, a throwbacky ballad that might’ve made more sense as a Dru Hill song.
Before you ask: Yes, “Incomplete” was directly inspired by Jerry Maguire. Kristin Hudson, the wife and manager of former Number Ones artist Montell Jordan, saw Jerry Maguire and loved that line about “you complete me.” Good to see Montell Jordan again, right? At the time, Jordan’s singing career was still humming, but he was also writing songs for other artists. Jordan and Anthony “Shep” Crawford, a friend who he’d known since their time performing in church together as kids, were writing and producing tracks for people like Whitney Houston and 98 Degrees. Jordan and Crawford wrote the Canadian singer Deborah Cox’s 1998 single “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here,” which became a huge hit, peaking at #2. (It’s a 4.)
In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits, Kristin Hudson is listed as the co-writer of “Incomplete” along with Montell Jordan and Anthony “Shep” Crawford. I can’t find Hudson credited as co-writer anywhere else. Maybe Hudson just had the idea for the title. In any case, Kristin Hudson told her husband that he should write a song called “Incomplete,” and that was how he did it. Perhaps it was Friday night, and Montell Jordan was feeling all right. He reached for his creativity, and he turned it up. The designated co-writer took the, uh, pen to his, let’s see here, legal pad. Look. I’m sorry. Sometimes, these ideas for extended comedic riffs simply don’t pan out. I’m a music critic, not a miracle worker! You have to let it go! You can’t keep dwelling on past mistakes! This is not how we do it!
In any case, Montell Jordan co-wrote “Incomplete” with Anthony “Shep” Crawford, who already had a backing track ready to go. In the Bronson book, Crawford says, “We wanted to write a song that was very masculine, about a guy who was sure of himself but said that without the woman he loved, that was nothing. I think women love to hear that. They love to have a successful man, but they love to hear that they are a necessity to make it all come true.” I love hearing the halfassed philosophy at work behind a successful song.
Sisqó wasn’t the first singer to record “Incomplete.” Sam Salter, an LA-born R&B singer who died last year at the age of 46, recorded “Incomplete” in 1999. Salter had released one album on LaFace in 1997, and he’d had some success. (Salter’s highest-charting single, 1997’s “After 12, Before 6,” peaked at #51.) “Incomplete” was intended for Salter’s sophomore album, but that record got caught up in record-label issues, and it never came out.
“Incomplete” found another life after Montell Jordan played the song for Def Jam president Kevin Liles. At the time, Sisqó was just finishing his Unleash The Dragon album, and Liles convinced him to include “Incomplete.” In the Bronson book, Jordan says that “it was kind of a favor” when Sisqó recorded the track. Crawford, meanwhile, claims that Sisqó wasn’t really excited about “Incomplete.” Instead, Sisqó was playing “Thong Song” for Crawford in the studio, getting all excited and dancing around: “He told me this was the record.” Sisqó knew what was up.
There’s nothing wrong with Sisqó’s “Incomplete” vocal. He gives it the showy, overdriven slow-jam treatment, putting in all the melismatic runs that you’d expect from a ’90s R&B star. But “Incomplete” already sounded old-fashioned by 2000. It’s a sleepy, leaden track. There’s some interesting stuff at work in the drum programming, but the pianos and strings and guitars are set to glop throughout. Some female backup singers come in at the end of the track, directly after the key change, so that Sisqó can really get his runs in. But “Incomplete” might’ve worked better as a Dru Hill song. Without Sisqó’s friends, that chorus quite literally feels incomplete.
Lyrically, “Incomplete” is perfectly generic ’90s R&B. Sisqó’s narrator has “a bank account bigger than the law should allow,” but “all of the women, all of the fancy cars, all of the money don’t amount to you.” If it’s possible to flex about your personal worth while wailing about your heartbreak, that’s what “Incomplete” does. The video, from future ATL director Chris Robinson, pushes that feeling into absurd realms. Most of the clip is Sisqó sulking about his lavishly appointed mansion or taking his enormous rottweiler out for walks. But about halfway in, the camera pans over to a palm tree in Sisqó’s yard, and he’s got a fucking Siberian tiger chained up to it. The “Incomplete” video is worth watching just for the image of an emotionally distraught Sisqó bottle-feeding a damn tiger.
The “Incomplete” video raises more questions than it answers. For instance: Is it really a good idea to keep your dog and your tiger on the same property? And the tiger isn’t even in a cage or anything? I know Sisqó is going through a hard time romantically, but maybe he should rethink this whole arrangement. If that dog gets loose, it could become lunch. Then Sisqó would really be sad.
Near the end of the video, the Players Club star LisaRaye, Da Brat’s half-sister, pulls up outside Sisqó’s mansion in a fancy car. It looks like the happy ending, like Sisqó and his ex are getting back together. But after a tender hug, LisaRaye slowly disappears into thin air, like the brother and the sister from the Back To The Future photo. Then she disappears from all of the pictures on Sisqó’s wall, too. So maybe LisaRaye is supposed to be dead? Or maybe someone went back in time and prevented her parents from meeting each other?
After “Incomplete” reached #1, Unleash The Dragon went platinum a fifth time, and Sisqó sang the hooks on a couple of pretty big rap songs. On DMX’s “What These Bitches Want,” Sisqó wails about how hard it is when women get too clingy. (“What These Bitches Want” peaked at #49. DMX’s highest-charting single, 1998’s “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” peaked at #16, though that didn’t happen until after DMX died last year.) Sisqó also shows up on Lil Kim’s “How Many Licks?,” which peaked at #75 at the end of 2000. (Lil Kim will appear in this column pretty soon.) Since then Sisqó, hasn’t been on the Hot 100 as a solo artist.
In the early ’00s, Sisqó tried breaking into acting. He played supporting roles in Get Over It and Snow Dogs, two movies that didn’t exactly set the world on fire. In 2001, Sisqó released his sophomore album Return Of Dragon. (I find Sisqó’s habit of calling himself “Dragon” in all his album titles to be oddly endearing.) The LP limped to platinum, but none of its singles made the Hot 100. A year later, Dru Hill got back together, added another member, and released the reunion album Dru World Order. Lead single “I Should Be…” reached #25, but the album stalled out at gold, and Def Jam dropped Dru Hill from its roster.
Since then, the state of Dru Hill has remained chaotic. Different members have joined and left. The group has reunited and broken up several times. Dru Hill have come out with one more album, 2010’s excellently titled InDRUpendence Day, but their internal drama has overshadowed their music. In one YouTube classic from 2008, Dru Hill appeared on the Baltimore radio station 92Q to announce a reunion, and then they broke up again on-air just minutes later.
Sisqó has put out one more album of his own, 2015’s Last Dragon. He’s appeared on a bunch of reality shows over the years. Earlier this year, Sisqó represented Maryland in the American Song Contest, NBC’s attempt at staging a home-grown version of Eurovision, and his contribution “It’s Up” didn’t make the second round. But I’m ready for a Sisqó comeback.
Right now, Baltimore’s Turnstile is my favorite band in the world. This fall, Turnstile are heading out on tour with a couple of other Baltimore-identified acts, Snail Mail and JPEGMAFIA. When Turnstile announced that tour, they also said something about “special guests,” and I got to thinking about how cool it would be if a different Baltimore act turned up on every night of the tour: Beach House! Rod Lee! Shordie Shordie! End It! This was one of those stoned-in-the-shower trains of thought, but I couldn’t let it go. I was like: “They should fucking get Kix up there!” And then I thought of Sisqó. I thought of the absolute mayhem that would happen if Sisqó popped up onstage at a Turnstile show. I feel like this is an attainable goal. In that blunted vision, though, Sisqó was not singing “Incomplete.” Nobody wants to mosh to “Incomplete.” But “Thong Song”? At a Turnstile show? Let’s make that happen.
BONUS BEATS: “Incomplete” hasn’t exactly had a long cultural life, but I like the UK garage remix of the track that the Artful Dodger released in 2000. Here it is:
The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out 11/15 via Hachette Books. You can pre-order it here.