The Number Ones

December 6, 2003

The Number Ones: Ludacris’ “Stand Up” (Feat. Shawnna)

Stayed at #1:

1 Week

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.

In the early ’00s, the rappers and singers and producers of the world learned an important lesson: You could supercharge a song if you got yourself a Ludacris guest verse. Luda would crash onto every track like a semi truck with its breaks cut. He would manifest as pure chaos energy — roaring at the top of his lungs, spraying raunch and wordplay and dad-jokes in every direction, never losing total command of the beat. Ludacris was a character, an animated and adrenaline-boosted horndog craftsman with a technically masterful syllabic-spray style and a proudly goofy rubber-chicken lampshade-head partyman persona. Naturally, Missy Elliott figured it out first. Missy figured most things out first.

Young rising star Ludacris made his first big guest-appearance on “One Minute Man,” a song that Missy Elliott took to #15 in 2001. “One Minute Man” would’ve been a perfect song even without Luda’s guest verse, but Luda’s presence elevates the track into all-timer territory. That Luda verse is some kind of berserk masterpiece, all puffed-up bravado and laugh-out-loud double entendres. Enough with tips and advice and thangs; Luda’s big dog, having women seeing stripes and thangs. They go to sleep, start snoring, counting sheep and shit. They so wet that they body started leakin’ shit — just because he’s an all-nighter, shoot all fire, Ludacris balance and rotate all tires. It’s incredible. I still can’t believe it happened. (Missy Elliott’s highest-charting single, 2002’s “Work It,” peaked at #2. It’s a 10.)

After “One Minute Man,” the deluge. For a good three-year stretch, Ludacris would show up on tons of other people’s tracks and just go crazy. He was the king of the feature, the undisputed emperor of the 16-bar barrage. Luda’s energy was perfect for guest verses, and we’ll see Luda playing that role in this column more than once. As a solo artist, that relentless energy could be a little harder to maintain. Ludacris albums tend to be scattershot affairs, and Luda himself often seemed unsure of how to best showcase his insane levels of talent. But when the conditions were right, a Ludacris solo track could ring out as an anthem. That’s how Luda first made it to #1, when his hammer-fist club anthem “Stand Up” crashed its way to the top of the Hot 100.

When “Stand Up” reached #1, Ludacris was only three years into his major-label career, and he was already on his third album. That says something about the wild, reckless velocity of those first few Ludacris years. But Luda had to do a whole lot of planning to put himself into that position. Christopher Bridges made Atlanta a key part of his identity, but he isn’t really from Atlanta. Bridges was born in Champaign, Illinois, and he mostly grew up in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. (The Emotions’ “Best Of My Love” was the #1 song in America when Luda was born.) In high school, Bridges spent a little time in Virginia before moving to Atlanta and graduating there.

After graduation, Chris Bridges studied music management at Georgia State University for a couple of years, and he landed an internship on the Atlanta rap station Hot 97.5. That internship led to a gig as an on-air personality. Bridges started calling himself Chris Lova Lova and making connections in the music business. Bridges wanted to become a rapper, and he knew how to make it happen. He made sure that the right people heard what he could do. In 1997, Bridges wrote the rap lyrics for the remix of “Swing My Way,” a song from the R&B duo KP & Envyi, and that remix became a #6 hit. (It’s an 8.) In 1998, the newly renamed Ludacris had an impressive solo showcase on “Fat Rabbit,” a track from Timbaland’s first solo album Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Bassment. (Timbaland will eventually appear in this column.) In 1999, local kingmaker Jermaine Dupri recruited Luda to rap the theme song for Madden NFL 2000.

Even after those early breaks, Ludacris couldn’t land a contract, so he got things started on his own. In 1999, Luda started his own Disturbing The Peace label and released his debut album Incognegro. Luda called in lots of favors on the album, getting beats from Organized Noize and Jermaine Dupri and guest-verses from Southern stars UGK and Pastor Troy. But most of Incognegro was recorded on the cheap, with verses from Luda’s friends and beats from the undiscovered producer Shondrae, who later changed his name to Bangladesh. That underdog energy is all over Incognegro, and so is Luda’s overwhelmingly silly sense of humor. As soon as I heard this guy saying that he’d make me eat dirt and fart dust, I was sold.

Incognegro is a document of a young artist who absolutely refuses to be ignored. Luda later bragged that he sold 50,000 copies of Incognegro on his own, without any label help. That work eventually translated into a major deal. Def Jam was an extremely New York label, but its higher-ups recognized that Southern rap was on the rise and that they had to become a part of that wave. The label hired Houston rap eminence Scarface, arguably the most important Southern rapper in history, as the new head of Def Jam South. As a member of the Geto Boys, Scarface helped establish the idea of what Southern rap even was. (The Geto Boys’ highest-charting single, 1991’s “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” peaked at #23.) As a solo artist, Face brought new levels of vivid gravitas and emotional sophistication to the game. (Scarface’s highest-charting solo track, the 1997 2Pac/Johnny P collab “Smile,” peaked at #12.) Scarface had sharp instincts, and when he heard Incognegro, Scarface knew that he could sell it.

Scarface signed Ludacris and made him Def Jam South’s flagship artist. In 2000, Def Jam released a slightly altered version of Incognegro under a new title: Back For The First Time. I love that album without reservation; it’s just banger after banger after banger. For the first single, Def Jam chose “What’s Your Fantasy,” a loud and brash absurdist sex-jam. On the verses, Ludacris named all the unlikely places where he’d like to fuck. The first chapter of Shea Serrano’s compulsively readable 2021 book Hip-Hop (And Other Things) is just a prolonged discussion of which “What’s Your Fantasy” sex spots is the most implausible. That song truly announced Ludacris.

Luda was the main voice on “What’s Your Fantasy,” but he wasn’t the only one. On the hook, Luda went back and forth with another Chicago native: Shawnna, the daughter of blues legend Buddy Guy. (When Shawnna was born, the #1 song in America was the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love.”) Shawnna had been one half of Infamous Syndicate, a Chicago rap duo who released one album in 1999 but who didn’t really go anywhere. Luda made Shawnna part of his DTP crew, and “What’s Your Fantasy” made both of them famous. The song peaked at #21 on the Hot 100 — a pretty amazing feat for a debut single from a previously unknown regional rapper.

After “What’s Your Fantasy,” Ludacris’ next single was one of the new songs that he recorded after signing with Def Jam. Luda might’ve been from Illinois, but on the Neptunes-produced “Southern Hospitality,” he embraced Atlanta as a key part of his whole persona. Luda wasn’t even wrong to paint himself as an Atlanta representative. He’d essentially turned himself into a living embodiment of the city’s whole party scene, and he talked about his adapted hometown in ways that people from outside the South could understand perfectly. Luda didn’t have a thick accent, and that probably helped, too. “Southern Hospitality” did almost as well as “What’s Your Fantasy,” peaking at #23, and Back For The First Time went triple platinum.

With that first burst of success, Ludacris took off running. A year after Back For The First Time, Luda released his sophomore LP Word Of Mouf, which sold just as much as its predecessor. The biggest hit from Word Of Mouf was “Move Bitch,” a Mystikal/Krayzie Bone collab that embraced crunk, the hard-ass chant-happy fight music that was just starting to define Atlanta rap. Luda made perfect sense on crunk tracks; his verse on Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz’ absurdly hard 2001 single “Bia Bia” is a thing of beauty. (“Bia Bia” peaked at #94.) With “Move Bitch,” Ludacris successfully brought that anarchic spirit into his own music, and he turned it into an unlikely top-10 hit. (“Move Bitch” peaked at #10. It’s an 8.) The next summer, Luda showed up in the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious, making his debut in a role that he’s still playing in blockbuster movies now.

Less than a year after Word Of Mouf, Luda released Chicken-N-Beer, his third album. By then, Luda’s whole style was well established. He’d done scene-stealing work on big singles from people like Missy Elliott and Trina. (Missy’s 2003 single “Gossip Folks,” with its wild-ass Ludacris guest-verse, peaked at #8. It’s a 10.) Ludacris also signed the young St. Louis pop-rapper Chingy to DTP, and Chingy was on absolute fire for about a year before he decided to break away from Luda. (Chingy’s two highest-charting singles, 2003’s “Right Thurr” and 2004’s “One Call Away,” both peaked at #2. “Right Thurr” is a 6, and “One Call Away” is a 3.) Luda guested on Chingy’s 2003 summer hit “Holidae Inn,” and his verse made the track immeasurably better. (“Holidae Inn” peaked at #3. It’s a 7.)

For his first Chicken-N-Beer single, Luda picked another tongue-in-cheek club anthem. As with “What’s Your Fantasy,” Luda got Shawnna to appear on the track — not rapping a verse, but doing a back-and-forth with Luda on the hook. (Shawnna gets a feature credit on “Stand Up” even though she only says like 10 words on the whole song.) The beat for “Stand Up” came from a slightly surprising source. This is a hell of a time for Kanye West to make his first appearance in this column. But Kanye is about to become a major recurring character around these parts, just as he already is on the rest of the internet, so we might as well get into his whole story here — the early part of his story, anyway. We’ll leave the tragic descent into antisemitic idiocy for later.

“Stand Up” is a relic of the least problematic moment in Kanye West’s career: the time when he was just making beats, when nobody knew how to pronounce his name. Kanye Omari West was born in Atlanta, and he mostly grew up in Chicago with his mother Donda, an English professor at Chicago State University. (Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” was the #1 song in America at the time of Kanye’s birth.) The young Kanye loved rap music; it was an all-consuming passion. Kanye’s mother encouraged him. The great Chicago producer No ID taught a teenage Kanye how to make beats. By the mid-’90s, Kanye was a member of a Chicago rap group called the Go-Getters, and he was making beats for them and for other Chicago rappers.

After a couple of years at Chicago State University, Kanye dropped out to devote himself to music full-time. Kanye found management and started producing beats for prominent rappers: Jermaine Dupri, Goodie Mob, Foxy Brown, Mase’s Harlem World crew. In 1999, Kanye produced a few tracks from Shawnna’s group Infamous Syndicate and even rapped on one of them. In 2000, Kanye caught his first real break when he produced Jay-Z’s “This Can’t Be Life,” a soulful track that featured Beanie Sigel and an absolutely devastating Scarface verse.

As a producer, Kanye West cultivated a lush and sample-heavy style, and that sound spoke to something in Jay-Z. Kanye and the similarly inclined New Jersey beatmaker Just Blaze became the key sonic architects of Jay’s classic 2001 The Blueprint, an album that led to a real aesthetic shift in rap. Kanye produced the lead Blueprint single “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” which became Jay’s first top-10 hit as lead artist. (“Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” peaked at #8. It’s a 7.) A year later, Kanye produced “’03 Bonnie And Clyde,” which was Jay-Z’s first Beyoncé collab and which became the biggest hit from Jay’s double album The Blueprint 2: The Gift And The Curse. (“’03 Bonnie And Clyde” peaked at #4. It’s another 7.) More importantly, Jay gave Kanye a guest verse on that album. Kanye didn’t get a featured credit on Jay’s Timbaland-produced deep cut “The Bounce,” but I can remember rifling through the CD booklet, trying to figure out who was doing Shrek impressions on a damn Jay-Z album.

Kanye really, really wanted to become a rapper, and “The Bounce” was the beginning. Shortly after the release of The Blueprint 2, Kanye got into a bad car accident and broke his jaw. Kanye rapped about the experience on a song that he called “Through The Wire,” which he recorded while his jaw was still wired shut. Kanye included the track on 2002’s Get Well Soon, his first mixtape. A year later, when Kanye convinced Jay’s Roc-A-Fella label to sign him as an artist, he released “Through The Wire” as his first single. (It peaked at #15.)

When Kanye produced “Stand Up” for Ludacris, he was only starting to make his name as a rapper. If you were paying attention, you knew. I jumped on board with 2003’s I’m Good, Kanye’s second mixtape. But Kanye was far better known as a producer. In particular, Kanye’s style was defined by squeaky, sped-up soul samples that sounded great when paired with New York rappers. But growing up in Chicago, Kanye also knew about Southern rap, and he could tap into that style when he wanted. In 2002, Kanye produced Trina’s Ludacris collab “B R Right,” an excellent bounce track that had none of Kanye’s usual stylistic flourishes. (“B R Right” peaked at #83.)

I always forget that Kanye produced “Stand Up.” It doesn’t sound anything like a Kanye West track. Instead, the “Stand Up” beat is Kanye in that “B R Right” mode. “Stand Up” doesn’t have any samples. Instead, it’s a booming sideways lurch, an off-kilter version of the Atlanta crunk that was exploding at the time. Ludacris was built for that kind of beat. Luda’s whole rap style was as playful as it was aggressive, and “Stand Up” allowed him to show off both sides. On the wildly catchy hook, Luda and Shawnna figured out a simple and satisfying call-and-response cadence: “When I move, you move!” “Just like that?” On the verses, Ludacris went nuts.

On “Stand Up,” Ludacris pulls up in a million trucks — looking, smelling, feeling like a million bucks-ah. Watch out for the medallions; his diamonds are reckless. It feels like a midget’s hanging from his necklace. He’s lit, and he don’t care what no one thinks, but where the fuck is the waitress at with his drinks? Work with him, become one with the beat, and don’t worry about him stepping all over your feet. Luda repeatedly mentions the idea of beating up club security guards, a recurring lyrical theme in the crunk era, and he compares himself to Chi Ali, the onetime Native Tongues teen rapper who was in prison for murder after a manhunt and an America’s Most Wanted episode. That reference was just there to get a reaction; nobody in history has ever worried about being murdered by Ludacris.

Luda’s whole vibe on “Stand Up” is like an ’80s teen sex comedy. There’s plenty of objectionable stuff in there, but he’s so funny and lively and good-natured that you can’t stay mad. (Or: I can’t stay mad. By this point, Bill O’Reilly had already led a successful campaign to get Pepsi to drop Ludacris as a sponsor, arguing that Luda wasn’t fit to be a role model. From what we know now, Luda is a much, much better role model than Bill O’Reilly.) “Stand Up” isn’t a classic or anything, but it’s Ludacris, at his peak, playing around in his own comfort zone. He sounds like he’s having a blast, and the feeling is infectious.

The “Stand Up” video nicely aligns with the song’s whole sense of hilarity. Director Dave Meyers brings the same slapstick surrealism that he’d employed so beautifully in Missy Elliott’s classic videos. In some ways, the “Stand Up” clip plays as an Airplane!-style jokes-every-second parody of an early-’00s rap video. There really is a little person hanging from Luda’s necklace. Two women in the nightclub eat a chicken leg the size of a Mini Cooper. Luda stomps a giant shoe so emphatically that the whole club shakes and everyone falls down. Some of those visual gags are too much. Luda’s face appears on a baby’s body, and it’s creepy even before he pisses on some lady. But most if the clip works as cartoonish fun. The video has cameos for days, too: Katt Williams, Tyra Banks, Chingy, a visibly uncomfortable Kanye West. I’m pretty sure the slimy club owner is future high-powered manager Scooter Braun. That guy was getting typecast even before the world knew who he was.

After “Stand Up,” almost everything that Ludacris touched became a hit. He followed that single with “Splash Waterfalls,” a gimmicky and obnoxious sex song that peaked at #6. (It’s a 3.) Chicken-N-Beer went double platinum, and then Luda was on to the next album cycle. In 2004 Shawnna released her debut album Worth The Weight. It didn’t really sell, but Shawnna stayed on the DTP roster for years afterward. (Her highest-charting single as lead artist, 2006’s “Gettin’ Some,” peaked at #31.) Before following up Chicken-N-Beer, Ludacris somehow established himself as a serious actor, appearing in the Best Picture winner Crash. (That movie is dumber than rocks, but Luda is good in it.) Ludacris also kept making hits. We’ll see him in this column again soon. We’ll see Kanye West, too. That should be fun.

GRADE: 8/10

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BONUS BEATS: Here’s Fatboy Slim’s bright, fun, oddly soothing “Stand Up” remix:

(Fatboy Slim’s highest-charting single, 1999’s “Praise You,” peaked at #36.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Jay-Z freestyling over the “Stand Up” beat and offering up a preview of his first “Public Service Announcement” verse on a 2003 episode of Rap City:

(Jay-Z has already been in this column as a guest a couple of times, and he’ll eventually be in here as lead artist. I need to start using that “too tall to act small” line.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s a young Freddie Gibbs freestyling over the “Stand Up” beat on his 2004 mixtape track “Hands Up”:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Oh No scratching up a “Stand Up” sample on his 2012 Sticky Fingaz collab “Whoop Ass”:

(As a member of Onyx, Sticky Fingaz got to #4 with the 1993 single “Slam.” It’s a 9.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: On a 2022 episode of Abbott Elementary, there’s a recurring joke about Zack Fox, chaperoning a school field trip to the zoo, using the “Stand Up” hook to keep track of all the kids. Here’s one of those moments:

@solaraslays when I move, you move. 🤣 #abbottelementary ♬ original sound – 🌻solara🌻

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out today — this very day — via Hachette Books. You can buy it right now! This minute! Get it here, or maybe go to a bookstore. If they don’t have it, beat up a security guard.

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