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.
I couldn’t believe how loud the crowd was. I’d been to plenty of shows where the music was deafening, but this was the first night that I almost couldn’t hear the music for the audience’s shrieks. This was August of 2005, my first night at New York’s Madison Square Garden. A few weeks earlier, I’d landed a job blogging about music for the Village Voice — my first full-time writing gig. I took it seriously, and part of the job, as I saw it, was to go out of my way and to experience musical spectacles that were outside my comfort zone. The fourth Scream Tour was way outside my comfort zone, and I had to see it for myself. It lived up to its name.
That night, the crowd at the Garden was almost entirely Black and almost entirely female — a demographic that doesn’t often get its own arena shows. The Scream Tour focused on a very particular archetype: the young Black R&B-singer heartthrob. That archetype goes back to New Edition, or maybe to the Jackson 5. By the ’00s, that archetype had become its own cordoned-off section of the music business — one that hardly ever crossed over to the white pop mainstream. The names on that edition of the Scream Tour were either obscurities and punchlines in the rest of the world: B5, Pretty Ricky, Bobby Valentino, Marques Houston, the double-barrel headlining act of Bow Wow and Omarion. To that audience, though, they were megastars.
The decibel level was just out of control. The performers did all the things that you’d expect boy-band performers to do, but they got just a little bit more raunchy than the average white boy band. Pretty Ricky’s act mostly consisted of elaborately, gymnastically humping the stage. Marques Houston did a striptease behind a screen before throwing his boxers into the crowd. A bunch of stars — Lil Wayne, Juelz Santana, Mike Jones, Ciara — put in surprise guest appearances, but the crowd wasn’t there for them. It was there to scream at the jacked, oiled-up, usually-shirtless young men on the bill. At a certain point, it became obvious that the screaming itself was the draw. I remember the girl sitting in front of me saying that one of the Pretty Ricky guys was ugly. A few minutes later, when that guy found an elaborate way to take his shirt off, she was screaming along with the rest of them.
At all three previous versions of the Scream Tour, the young Los Angeles boy band B2K had been part of the lineup. By 2005, B2K were no more, and their former leader Omari “Omarion” Grandberry had stepped out on his own. That crowd loved Omarion. Plenty of them had probably grown up with him. That night at the Garden, Omarion was still a few months away from his 21st birthday, but he’d been inciting those screams for years. Omarion had also been largely responsible for that whole Scream Tour R&B boy band world’s one true crossover moment: the time, early in 2003, when B2K had been the act to finally knock Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” out of the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
The whole extended Scream Tour universe began long before B2K came into existence. In 1990, the R&B producer Chris Stokes, then barely out of his teens, assembled a group of little kids from LA into an R&B group called Immature. Immature, led by the future Scream Tour fixture Marques Houston, were essentially an R&B version of Kris Kross or Another Bad Creation, but they carried themselves like they were Jodeci. Immature played up the whole bad-boy angle; their 1992 debut album, released when most of the members of the group were 11, was called On Our Worst Behavior. That album wasn’t much of a success, but Immature did get to #5 with “Never Lie,” the first single from their 1994 sophomore LP Playtime Is Over. (It’s a 4.) That same year, Immature’s members played key supporting roles in House Party 3. Immature were sensations for a minute, and while they never got near the top 10 again, they were still making the R&B charts as late as 2001, long after they’d changed their name to IMx.
In 2000, Chris Stokes basically started another Immature. That year, Stokes launched a new group that included his much-younger cousin De’mario “Raz-B” Thornton, as well as Raz-B’s friends Jarrell “J-Boog” Houston and Dreux “Lil Fizz” Frederic. This being 2000, the trio was first known as Y2K before Stokes changed their name to B2K — the meaning supposedly being “Boys Of The New Millennium.” Omarion, a former child actor and backup dancer from Inglewood, joined the group at Marques Houston’s 18th-birthday party, and he became their frontman. (When Omarion was born, Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run)” was the #1 song in America.)
Lots of boy-band stories have gross, exploitative subplots, and the B2K story is grosser and more exploitative than most. In 2007, Raz-B accused Chris Stokes — who, again, is his cousin — of sexually abusing him when he was a kid. Raz-B claimed that Stokes had touched him inappropriately when he was 11, and he also claimed that Stokes had forced the members of B2K to shower together. Stokes denied the claims vehemently. In the past 15 years, Raz-B has continued to make those claims, and he’s added more. Raz-B has clearly had a very difficult life, and his allegations have led to plenty of discord within B2K, as Stokes remained Omarion’s manager even after the group broke up. Also, while we’re on the subject of gross exploitation, I should warn you that this is another R. Kelly column. Kelly wrote and produced “Bump, Bump, Bump,” B2K’s sole #1 hit. This is the last time we’ll have to deal with Kelly in this column.
By the time B2K started, the whole idea of the boy band had changed. While Immature were ] a baby version of the R&B groups of the ’90s, B2K were way more concerned with sleek textures and slick choreography. The group signed with Epic, and their debut single “Uh Huh” came out in July 2001. “Uh Huh” was a big hit on 106 & Park, BET’s TRL-style video countdown show, and the single sold in big enough numbers that it topped Billboard‘s Singles Sales chart. But white radio didn’t play “Uh Huh,” and it only reached #34 on the Hot 100.
B2K released all three of their studio albums during the 2003 calendar year. Their self-titled debut came out in March, and it went gold. “Gots Ta Be,” their second single, once again made it to #1 on the Singles Sales chart, and it peaked at #17 on the Hot 100. Even though “Gots Ta Be” is essentially a slow jam, the video, like the “Uh Huh” video before it, is heavy on athletic choreography. B2K and their handlers had seen what the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC had done, and it sure seemed like they were determined to outdo their paler peers — to carry themselves like a quartet of Ushers. The dancing in those B2K videos really is something to behold. The kids could move.
B2K followed their self-titled album with an instantly-forgotten Christmas LP called Santa Hooked Me Up and then, in December of 2002, with Pandemonium!, their proper follow-up. For the lead single, Chris Stokes drew on all the starpower he could muster. R. Kelly agreed to send over a track that he’d written and produced. (Kelly was already under investigation for child pornography at the time; a jury found him not guilty of that crime in 2008. In 2002, Kelly was also a few months away from releasing his massively popular comeback album Chocolate Factory.) “Bump, Bump, Bump” covers familiar ground for Kelly; it’s about watching a woman dancing in a club. Kelly sang on the demo, and when B2K recorded their over version over Kelly’s ProTools, Omarion tried to do his best Kelly impression.
Until I did research for this column, I had no idea that “Bump, Bump, Bump” was an R. Kelly track. At that point, just about everyone was making songs about watching women dancing in clubs. Listening now, it makes sense; the lightly percolating beat and the snaky acoustic guitar aren’t too different from what Kelly was using on a lot of his own tracks at the time. But “Bump, Bump, Bump” could’ve just as easily been a Jermaine Dupri or Tricky Stewart beat, and it could’ve just as easily been one of the more uptempo tracks from a group like Jagged Edge or 112.
Because “Bump, Bump, Bump” was never really presented to the world as an R. Kelly track, I have an easier time considering the song as something apart from the crimes of its author. Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe Kelly’s involvement should poison the song forever. I don’t know. I do know that I really liked the clubby R&B of the early ’00s — the brisk tempos and the understated swing of the melodies. The songs got under my skin. “Bump, Bump, Bump” was never a classic of the form, but it was efficient and catchy, and it seemed like a decent replacement-level example of what was happening at the time. I’m going to give it a higher rating than the other R. Kelly tracks that have appeared in this column, and then I’m probably never going to listen to the song again.
There was another star involved with “Bump, Bump, Bump.” Sean Combs was far-removed from his dominant 1997 Bad Boy Records run, but he was still a presence on the pop charts. Puffy and Jennifer Lopez broke up after a 1999 nightclub shootout left a woman badly injured. Because of that shootout, Puffy’s artist Shyne spent a decade in prison for attempted murder, assault, and reckless endangerment. Other Bad Boy artists got restless, and Puffy’s frequent collaborator Mase temporarily retired from rap to become a minister. (Mase and Puffy are still feuding off-and-on today.) Puffy followed No Way Out, his 1997 blockbuster, with the 1999 commercial disappointment Forever. That album stalled out at platinum, though Puffy did reach #2 with lead single “Satisfy You,” another R. Kelly collaboration.
Puffy endured those setbacks. In 2001, he changed his name to P. Diddy, recorded a never-released gospel album, and acted in the movies Made and Monster’s Ball. (He’s a better actor than anyone could’ve expected.) Diddy released his album The Saga Continues… in summer 2001, and it didn’t do any better than Forever, but two singles from the arrogantly titled 2002 Bad Boy compilation We Invented The Remix became big hits.
“I Need A Girl (Part One),” a collaboration with Usher and Loon, reached #2. (It’s a 5.) Naturally, Diddy followed that hit with “I Need A Girl (Part Two),” which featured Ginuwine, Loon, and Mario Winans, and which peaked at #4. (It’s a 6.) If Billboard hadn’t changed its rules on remixes in the wake of Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real,” Puffy would’ve almost definitely had another #1 hit on his hands. Even without that, he’d firmly tapped into the Murder Inc. rap/R&B crossover zeitgeist.
B2K got themselves a P. Diddy guest-verse in the time when Diddy had stopped even pretending that he was writing his own raps — Diddy’s “don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks” era. Varick Smith, the Miami rapper known as Smitty, wrote Diddy’s “Bump, Bump, Bump” verse, and his line about “make me wanna stand like a pool stick” is the only memorable lyric on all of “Bump, Bump, Bump.” (Smitty’s highest-charting single, 2005’s “Diamonds On My Neck,” peaked at #25. As a writer, Smitty will appear in this column again.) Diddy’s “Bump, Bump, Bump” verse is nothing special, but his deadpan delivery is a nice contrast to the eager-to-please track, and I like watching him fumble through some of the choreography in the video. This was Diddy in his new lane as the cool guy deadpanning on clubby, excitable pop records; in this column, we’ll see more of Diddy in that role.
Maybe because big names R. Kelly and P. Diddy were attached, “Bump, Bump, Bump” got the radio support that none of B2K’s previous singles had achieved, and “Bump, Bump, Bump” got a single week at #1. B2K never made the top 10 again. The Pandemonium! album went platinum, and B2K’s follow-up single “Girlfriend” peaked at #15. Pandemonium! would be the final B2K album. All four of the group’s members had roles in the 2004 movie You Got Served, but the film was mostly a vehicle for Omarion and former Immature leader Marques Houston. (Houston’s higest-charting single, the 2003 R. Kelly/Joe Budden collab “Clubbin’,” peaked at #39.) I remember You Got Served being a pretty fun dance-battle movie, a lot like the Step Up sequels. The villains are the members of an evil white dance crew from Orange County, and Kevin Federline, the best-looking one of them, would soon become extremely famous. One of B2K’s soundtrack contributions, the Fabolous collab “Badaboom,” peaked at #59, and that was B2K’s last time on the Hot 100.
B2K didn’t stay together after You Got Served. Omarion kept working with Chris Stokes, but the other three members broke away, and everyone went solo. Omarion was the only member of the group to find any solo success, which must’ve stung everyone else. Omarion stayed in that Scream Tour lane, and he scored a bunch of R&B hits in the ’00s. As lead artist, Omarion’s biggest hit is the 2006 Timbaland collab “Ice Box,” which peaked at #13. Omarion also guested on his frequent collaborator Bow Wow’s “Let Me Hold You,” a #4 hit in 2005. (It’s a 4.) Omarion hasn’t been on the Hot 100 since 2014, when his Chris Brown/Jhené Aiko collab “Post To Be” peaked at #13. (Jhené Aiko got her start singing backup on B2K records; her highest-charting single, the 2020 H.E.R. collab “BS,” peaked at #24. Chris Brown is an obvious inheritor of B2K’s aesthetic legacy, and he’ll eventually appear in this column.)
In recent years, a couple of B2K members have been in the cast of the reality show Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood. They’ve feuded with each other, and they’ve also collaboratred. B2K had a rocky reunion tour in 2019; Raz-B departed early, partly because he couldn’t stand to be around Chris Stokes. In a Verzuz battle earlier this year, Omarion referred to the other B2K guys as “glorified backup dancers,” which is harsh. (Omarion has stopped performing “Bump, Bump, Bump” in recent years, after the all the R. Kelly blowback.) If B2K ever manage to get back together on a more stable basis, there will be a nostalgia market waiting for them. But then again, maybe that’s a piece of musical history that should stay in the past. It’s got a lot more baggage than a song like “Bump, Bump, Bump” can bear. The pure fan enthusiasm was a beautiful thing to witness. Everything else was a mess.
BONUS BEATS: Jay-Z rapped extremely well over the “Bump, Bump, Bump” instrumental on a track from his great 2003 mixtape The S. Carter Collection. Here it is:
(Jay-Z has already been in this column once as a guest, and he’ll eventually be in here as lead artist.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from the 2005 movie Guess Who where Ashton Kutcher ruins a tender family moment by yelling the hook from “Bump, Bump, Bump” at Zoe Saldaña:
THE NUMBER TWOS: Christina Aguilera’s perfectly written, perfectly produced, perfectly sung self-acceptance gut-ripper “Beautiful” — for my money, the clear apex of Linda Perry’s whole run as Diane Warren 2.0 — peaked at #2 behind “Bump, Bump, Bump.” It is beautiful, no matter what they say. Words can’t bring it down. It’s a 10.
THE 10S: Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River,” a towering work of operatic skitter-plop pettiness, peaked at #3 behind “Bump, Bump, Bump.” If you thought I wasn’t going to give it a 10, you must have me confused with some other guy.
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.