The Number Ones

December 11, 2004

The Number Ones: Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (Feat. Pharrell)

Stayed at #1:

3 Weeks

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 1993, Snoop Doggy Dogg was the biggest star in the world. Snoop was seductive and laconic and dangerous, and everything that he said sounded just unbelievably cool. A year earlier, Snoop had broken out as the key supporting player on Dr. Dre’s culture-shifting blockbuster The Chronic. Then Snoop released Doggystyle, his own debut album, which sold nearly a million copies in its first week. That same year, Snoop was also arrested for first-degree murder, and he fought that charge in public. The dissonance — a massive pop star on trial for murder — was enough to get Snoop on the cover of Newsweek. The headline: “When Is Rap 2 Violent?”

Eleven years after that flashpoint moment, Snoop Dogg — he’d dropped the “Doggy” by then — was an omnipresent and vaguely comforting cultural presence. He’d been in movies: Baby Boy, Training Day, Starsky & Hutch. He’d hosted the MTV sketch-comedy show Doggy Fizzle Televizzle. He’d directed an extremely successful porn DVD. He’d rapped on a great many songs from a great many popular artists. Somewhere in there, Snoop Dogg topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time, finally ascending to the pop-music pinnacle with a strange and minimal track built from mouth-clicks and negative space, one where Snoop flaunted his gang affiliations for an MTV audience. What an American life.

When Snoop Dogg made his first #1 hit, magazines weren’t worrying about whether rap was 2 violent. That was settled business. Snoop was simply no longer considered any kind of cultural menace. At worst, he was merely tacky — a TV pimp still cruising on the fumes of his big early-’90s reputation. But familiarity suited Snoop, and he remained plenty capable of making hit songs. He’s still plenty capable of making hit songs; he was a guest on a single that went top-10 earlier this year.

Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. comes from Long Beach, California. He’s named not for his biological father, who left when Snoop was an infant, but for his stepfather. When Calvin was a child, his mother decided that he looked like Snoopy, the cartoon dog, and nicknamed him Snoop. The nickname stuck. (When Snoop was born, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” was the #1 song in America.) As a kid, Snoop sang and played piano in church. When he was in middle school, he discovered rap, and he never looked back.

As a teenager, Snoop got involved in local gangs and got into some legal trouble, but he still graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High. In his post-high school years, in between short jail stints, Snoop got together with Nate Dogg and Warren G to form the rap group 213. Warren G’s stepbrother heard Snoop freestyling over En Vogue’s “Hold On” on a mixtape, and he brought Snoop to Death Row Records, the record label that he’d just co-founded. (“Hold On” peaked at #2. It’s an 8.) Dre introduced Snoop on “Deep Cover,” a song made for the soundtrack of the 1992 Laurence Fishburne movie of the same name. “Deep Cover” didn’t reach the Hot 100, but it still resonates as a rap classic. Snoop made an impression.

Later in 1992, Dr. Dre released The Chronic, the album that changed everything. Young Snoop Doggy Dogg was all over it. Snoop was the dominant voice on the LP’s biggest song, the #2 hit “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang.” (It’s a 10.) The hype surrounding Snoop was deafening. Dre produced all of Snoop’s debut Doggystyle, which came out less than a year after The Chronic and which became a full-on cultural phenomenon. MTV constantly showed the image of Snoop morphing into an actual dog, and the first two singles from Doggystyle, “What’s My Name?” and “Gin And Juice,” both peaked at #8. (They’re both 10s.) Within a year, Doggystyle was quadruple platinum.

Despite all Snoop’s success, there was so much drama in the LBC. In 1993, Snoop was arrested for murder; his bodyguard had killed a rival gang member. Snoop was finally acquitted in 1996, and the 1994 soundtrack for his short film Murder Was The Case went double platinum. Snoop remained with Death Row even after Dr. Dre left the label and 2Pac was killed. Snoop’s 1996 album Tha Doggfather went double platinum, though none of its singles charted. Snoop’s relationship with Death Row boss Suge Knight fell apart, and he eventually left the label, signing with Master P’s surging No Limit empire. 1998’s “Still A G Thang,” Snoop’s first single for No Limit, made it to #19.

In the late ’90s and early ’00s, Snoop Dogg wasn’t exactly a huge pop-chart presence. All of Snoop’s first six albums went at least platinum, but his biggest Hot 100 hit during that stretch wasn’t even his. (Snoop guested on Keith Sweat’s 1998 single “Come And Get With Me,” which peaked at #12.) Still, Snoop remained relevant. When Dr. Dre came back with the 1999 smash 2001, Snoop was once again all over the record. Snoop rapped on Dre’s #23 hit “The Next Episode,” the biggest hit from 2001. When N.W.A briefly reunited for “Chin Check,” a song from the Next Friday soundtrack, Snoop filled the space left by the late Eazy-E. Snoop was also a crucial part of Dre’s landmark Up In Smoke arena tour.

In the early ’00s, Snoop Dogg enjoyed the benefits that came with rap-elder status. He guested on hits from pop stars like Lil Bow Wow and Mariah Carey. He got supporting roles in big movies and starring roles in smaller ones. He moved on from No Limit, launched his own Doggystyle label, and signed former Gap Band singer Charlie Wilson. Snoop also developed a strong working relationship with the Neptunes, maybe the hottest producers of the era. In 2003, Snoop rapped on a couple of giant hits, as Chingy’s “Holidae Inn” and 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” both peaked at #3. (“Holidae Inn” is a 7. “P.I.M.P.” is an 8.) That same year, Snoop also teamed up with Charlie Wilson and Neptunes member Pharrell Williams on “Beautiful,” and that song peaked at #6. (It’s a 6.)

We got into the Neptunes’ whole genesis in the column on Nelly’s “Hot In Herre.” In 2003, the Virginia Beach producers were on an absolute roll. That year, Pharrell Williams went from singing falsetto hooks on Neptunes-produced hits to making hits of his own. Pharrell got Jay-Z to rap on “Frontin’,” his first single, and he released the song as part of the Neptunes’ compilation album Clones. “Frontin'” made it all the way to #5. (It’s a 6.) So “Beautiful” wasn’t just Snoop Dogg teaming up with a hot production team; it was also Snoop teaming up with a newly minted pop star. The team-up worked so well that Snoop signed a new deal with the Neptunes’ Universal imprint Star Trak.

Star Trak launched in 2001. For its first few years, the label was just the Neptunes and their various pet projects: Kelis, the Clipse, their own rock-band alter-ego N.E.R.D. (Those are some pretty great pet projects.) Snoop was the first established star that signed to Star Trak. For his first single on the new label, Snoop got back together with Pharrell. This time around, Pharrell wasn’t just singing squeaky falsetto hooks. Instead, he was rapping, something he’d almost never done on record.

“Drop It Like It’s Hot,” the song that finally took Snoop Dogg to #1, is also a total showcase for the Neptunes. After taking Nelly to #1, the Neptunes had cranked out more hits, getting into the top 10 with singles by NORE, LL Cool J, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, and Kelis. You knew a Neptunes track when you heard it, but the duo had pushed their sound in different directions, applying their synthy funk to slicker and more melodic fare. With “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” they stripped all that away. The song is full of empty space. There’s barely anything in there: Drum-machine thunks, hi-hat whispers, mouth-clicks, a coked-out ’80s synth-blare. That synth-blare was so reminiscent of one of the definitive ’80s cocaine club-jams that Snoop and the Neptunes had to give up songwriting credits.

Tim Stahl and John Guldberg are credited as writers on “Drop It Like It’s Hot” because they’re the Danish synthpoppers responsible for Laid Back’s itchy, twitchy 1983 anthem “White Horse,” quite possibly the greatest cocaine song of all time. At early-’00s Baltimore indie dance parties where you could practically see the coke-dust in the air, “White Horse” killed. (“White Horse” peaked at #26.) I don’t think the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” synth sounds that much like “White Horse,” but maybe that’s why I’m not an intellectual-property lawyer. In any case, I’m not mad at the “White Horse” guys getting paid 21 years later.

Someone else maybe should’ve gotten songwriting royalties on “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” The titular phrase has shown up on a lot of rap songs over the years, but one young man is really responsible for popularizing it. In 1999, former Number Ones artist Juvenile released “Back That Azz Up,” a monster track that only made it to #19 on the Hot 100. At the end of that song, a very young Lil Wayne stutters that line again and again in a kind of slurry turtle voice: “Nah nah nah nah nah after you back it up, then stop/ Now whuh-whuh-whuh-drah drop it like it’s hot.” I probably spent the first few years of the new century with that phrase rattling around in my head. (Lil Wayne will eventually appear in this column.)

I will go to my grave maintaining that Pharrell has the best verse on “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” Lil Skateboard P gets the first verse, and he sounds fussy and calm at the same damn time. The song isn’t about anything; it’s just one long flex. Pharrell plugs his sneakers, brags about how much his boat cost, describes the inside and outside colors of his Rolls Royce Phantom, and hands out dubious relationship advice: “Cheat on your man, ma, that’s how you get ahizzead.” But Pharrell’s verse does have a central thesis: Pharrell himself isn’t a tough guy, but he’s affiliated with tough guys, so don’t mess with him. Pharrell makes this point eloquently: “Killer with the beat, I know killers in the street with the steel that’ll make you feel like chinchilla in the heat.” I always figured that one of the Clipse guys wrote that verse, but Pharrell has since proven that he can really rap when he wants, and the Clipse guys have never said anything about ghostwriting for P.

Snoop Dogg sounds cool on “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” too. This is not a surprise. Snoop always sounds cool. That’s his entire thing. He’s the sleepy laid-back gangster, the guy who’s happy to sit back and chill at the party until someone finally tests him. During his murder trial, Snoop had to repeatedly say that he’d never been in a gang. On “Drop It,” he tells a different story, openly flaunting Crip status. Snoop doesn’t really say much on “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” but he doesn’t need to. By that point, Snoop was a known quantity, so he only needed to remind us that he’s only here to twist you, pistol-whip you, dip you, and flip you, then dance to this motherfuckin’ music we Crip to. He’s on autopilot, but his autopilot looks better than most. (That same year, Snoop also starred in Soul Plane, remaining on autopilot while playing a literal pilot.)

“Drop It Like It’s Hot” had the benefit of a great video. Director Paul Hunter filmed Snoop and Pharrell in crisp black-and-white, working in appearances from Clipse member Pusha T, future ATL star Lauren London, and pro skater Terry Kennedy. There’s no story to the video, no greater concept. It’s just full of striking visuals, cut together with perfect timing. Everyone looks cool. That’s all that they have to do. MTV’s censors blurred out Snoop’s blue rag and Pharrell’s branded sneakers, as if they were the same thing, but those pixels don’t obscure anyone’s cool.

There’s a lot to like about “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” I’m into the chilly minimalism of the production, with the drum hits all arriving at the exact right points. I like Pharrell’s verse, and I like Snoop’s whole presence. But the song always felt slight to me. There’s just not enough hook. The chorus is mostly just the title repeated again and again, and it starts to get vaguely irritating. I never liked the mouth-clicks, either; maybe I’m just not an ASMR guy. I’m way more into the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” remix, which has a whole new beat and a whole new hook. It’s also got Jay-Z clowning R. Kelly for his attempted lawsuit and Pharrell referencing the Pistons/Pacers brawl that had just happened. To my mind, the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” remix is a classic of the era, while the original is a song that I could just take or leave.

A few weeks before “Drop It Like It’s Hot” reached #1, Snoop Dogg released his Star Trak debut R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece. This was maybe the first new album that I reviewed for Pitchfork, and I hated it. I definitely underrated R&G, but it’s really not that good. It’s too long, too full of Snoop attempting R&B-singer moves. It takes a lot to offend me, but the song “Can U Control Yo Hoe” pulled it off. Other than “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” R&G doesn’t really have any hits. Its next-biggest single was the Justin Timberlake/Charlie Wilson collab “Signs,” which peaked at #46. (Justin Timberlake will eventually appear in this column.) R&G went platinum within a month, but it didn’t have legs. It never reached double platinum.

Still, Snoop Dogg remained omnipresent in the years after “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” About a year after Snoop topped the Hot 100, I saw him play a festival with a live band, which did not know how to handle that song’s minimalism. Snoop has never returned to #1 as lead artist, but he’s always down to lend his presence to a big pop hit, and we’ll see him play that role in this column further down the road. We’ll see Pharrell again, too.

GRADE: 6/10

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BONUS BEATS: On an untitled track from the classic 2004 M.I.A. mixtape Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1, her collaborator Diplo mashes the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” beat up with the vocals from Cutty Ranks’ 1993 dancehall classic “Limb By Limb” and some synths from the 1998 Boards Of Canada track “Kaini Industries.” Here’s that track:

(Diplo’s highest-charting single as lead artist is the 2018 Ellie Goulding/Swae Lee collab “Close To Me,” which peaked at #24. The highest-charting single from Diplo’s group Major Lazer is the 2016 Justin Bieber/MØ collab “Cold Water,” which peaked at #2. It’s a 5. MIA’s highest-charting single as lead artist is 2008’s “Paper Planes,” which peaked at #4. It’s a 10. As a guest, MIA will eventually appear in this column.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: On a 2004 episode of Mad TV, future greats Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele starred in a “Drop It Like It’s Hot” parody called “Smokin’ Too Much Pot.” Here it is:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s a very young Kendrick Lamar, then known as K-Dot, rapping over the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” beat on his 2004 debut mixtape YHNIC (Hub City Threat: Minor Of The Year):

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Lil Wayne addressed the whole “Drop It Like It’s Hot” thing on his classic 2005 mixtape Dedication. On the song “Nah This Ain’t The Remix,” Wayne used the beat from the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” remix and talked about Snoop Dogg’s song. First: “When I heard this song, I got a little upset/ But then I thought to myself: What haven’t I done yet?” And then: “Nah, I ain’t a hater, don’t get me wrong/ I made it a hot line, you made it a hot song.” A good sport! I’ll take the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” remix over the original, and I’ll take “Nah This Ain’t The Remix” over the remix. Here’s “Nah This Ain’t The Remix”:

(Lil Wayne will eventually appear in this column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Earl Sweatshirt rapping over the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” remix beat in a 2013 Sway In The Morning freestyle:

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now via Hachette Books. Think about it. Take a second. Then buy the book here.

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