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 song’s title implied an explanation. The song itself offered none. Wait, no. That’s wrong. Scratch that. The song itself did offer an explanation, but the answer was more confounding than the question. The question contained its own answer, and the logical reasoning became a snake eating its own tail. Why is Mims hot? He’s hot ’cause he’s fly. And why are you not hot? You ain’t ’cause you not. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.
On “This Is Why I’m Hot,” his one and only major hit, the New York rapper Mims lays out his explanation with a matter-of-fact patience that feels condescending, and then he repeats that explanation again and again and again. It’s like one of those classes where, when you leave, you start to understand just how much you don’t know, how much you can never know.
When “This Is Why I’m Hot” was hot, Rob Harvilla, then my boss at the Village Voice, wrote a full exegesis on the song’s semiotics, with multiple graphic illustrations. Rob’s Down In Front column was always great, but his “This Is Why I’m Hot” piece is still the one that everyone remembers best: “This is why ‘This Is Why I’m Hot’ is hot: Because it’s hot.” The Mims song doesn’t just inspire this kind of smart-dumb rumination; it practically demands it. “This Is Why I’m Hot” is one of those songs that’s so very vacuous that it starts to feel deep. But that’s not why the song is hot. Pay attention. You should understand by now. The song is hot because it’s hot.
Given that my friend Rob offered the definitive critical take on “This Is Why I’m Hot” when the song was still hot, it almost feels like overkill to say anything further about the song. The entire premise of this column is that the top of the Hot 100 is an interesting lens to use when you’re talking about pop history. To my mind, a song that reaches #1 is interesting because it reaches #1. It helps us understand something about that song’s moment, about its place in the grand continuum of pop music. “This Is Why I’m Hot” frustrates the column’s premise because of the song’s dogged determination to say nothing about anything. “This Is Why I’m Hot” is a closed loop, a self-contained bubble. How could it be anything else?
I could’ve skipped this review. I could’ve written that this song is hot because it’s fly, slapped a number on it, and gone about my day. Would you blame me? But that’s not how my brain works. I write long-ass blog posts about #1 hits because I write long-ass blog posts about #1 hits. That means that the simplistic, self-justifying zen of “This Is Why I’m Hot” makes the song more interesting to me. I must know more. I must understand why it’s hot. This is the curse of the critic — always sitting just outside the action, always trying to explain that which defies explanation.
So: Mims. Biographical details on Shawn Maurice Mims are not especially plentiful, but I can tell you what we know. Mims comes from Washington Heights, the neighborhood on the extreme northern tip of Manhattan. (When Mims was born, REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” was the #1 song in America. Speedwagon had Mims-style logic on their side: They’re gonna keep on loving you ’cause it’s the only thing they wanna do.) Mims’ parents were both Jamaican, and he’s said that both of them died by the time he turned 13. Just before her death, Mims’ mother bought him DJ equipment, and music became a refuge for him in the years that followed.
Mims moved in with his aunt, and he finished high school on Long Island. Mims also spent some time at Nassau Community College, but he ultimately dropped out to focus on music. Mims got to know Dirty Swift, one half of Midi Mafia, the production duo behind 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.” Dirty Swift is Canadian, and through that connection, Mims — then rapping under the name Mr. Mims — jumped on “Love Em All,” a 2000 single from a Toronto group called Baby Blue Soundcrew.
“Love ‘Em All” was a minor hit in Canada, but its success didn’t lead directly to a lot of opportunities for Mims. Instead, Mims caught his break when he met BlackOut, a Long Island producer whose parents also came from Jamaica and who’s sometimes credited under the name BlackOut Movement. BlackOut was a DJ who’d spent some time in Wyclef Jean’s orbit and who’d produced one song for Ja Rule, a guy who’s been in this column a bunch of times. Together, Mims and BlackOut recorded “I Did You Wrong,” a track built on a squeakily sped-up R. Kelly sample.
“I Did You Wrong” came out when New York rap was entering a prolonged slump, and Mims and BlackOut left town and tried to market the record in the South instead. Mims found out that “I Did You Wrong” was too New York to work in Florida, but “This Is Why I’m Hot,” another track that Mims had recorded with BlackOut, worked way better with Southern audiences. “This Is Why I’m Hot” could’ve only come out during rap’s ringtone era, the moment when absolute musical simplicity worked best with the devices that spread the music. The beat is so minimal that it barely exists. It could’ve been produced by a ghost.
I love the “This Is Why I’m Hot” beat. It’s so empty, so open. That beat’s main element is an airy, ethereal synth, a bit like the riff from the Art Of Noise’s 1985 classic “Moments In Love.” BlackOut layers that keyboard figure with snaps and thunks and hi-hat hisses. He adds in an eerie theremin whine. The beat is a slow crawl, and its emptiness allows BlackOut to layer bits and pieces of other songs over the top. He does a lot of that.
Mims’ “This Is Why I’m Hot” chorus is brilliant. Or maybe it’s dumber than a box of rocks. Maybe it’s both of those things. Years later, I still have no idea how to process it. “I’m hot ’cause I’m fly. You ain’t ’cause you not. This is why, this is why, this is why I’m hot.” OK. Sure. Mims has said that he freestyled the chorus as a joke but that his manager told him it sounded good and he should record it. This checks out. “This Is Why I’m Hot” definitely seems like someone fucking around and accidentally landing on the thing that’ll make him famous. The same is true of the first verse’s opening line: “This is why I’m hot. I don’t gotta rap. I could make a mil saying nothing on a track.” The song really tests that theory out.
I don’t know if Mims made a mil by saying nothing on “This Is Why I’m Hot,” but he did get a #1 hit out of it. And Mims really says nothing on “This Is Why I’m Hot.” The entire track is utterly, militantly devoid of meaning. Mims, his voice deliberate and almost fussy, attempts to describe his own hotness in the laziest terms imaginable. On the first verse, that means that Mims describes all the different parts of the US where people understand that he’s hot while BlackOut layers in pieces of music that reflect those regions.
So: “I represent New York, I got it on my back/ N***as say that we lost it, but I’m a bring it back.” This was a constant refrain in New York rap at the time. Every New York rapper constantly blathered about bringing New York back. It was tedious, and that transparent anxiety kept the rest of the world away. When Mims says that line, the beat changes just slightly, sampling the drawn-out ominous whine from Mobb Deep’s 1994 classic “Shook Ones (Part II)” for just a second. (“Shook Ones (Part II)” peaked at #59.)
As the first verse progresses, Mims keeps naming different places, and different samples come in. If you need it hyphy, Mims takes it to the Bay, and we get a quick second of E-40’s 2006 anthem “Tell Me When To Go.” (That one peaked at #35.) As soon as Mims hits LA, he does it the Cali way, and the beat turns into Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang.” (That song peaked at #2 in 1993. It’s a 10.) Then Mims goes to the Chi, and people say that he’s fly. They love the way he dresses. They like his attire. The beat, naturally, becomes Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks,” which peaked at #11 in 2004. Mims later said that BlackOut “cost me a lot of money” with all those samples.
The whole beat-switch thing is a cute little trick, and it’s impressive that Mims managed to clear that many obvious samples. But maybe it’s a bad idea to remind the audience of all these better songs that they could be hearing instead. It’s not like Mims has anything to say about all these different places in the country. It’s just: I go to this place. People love me there. Then I go to this other place. Guess what? People love me there, too. Mims already told us that he could say nothing on the track. This is the proof.
The later verses are somehow even emptier than the first. Mims is a cipher. There is nothing even remotely interesting about him. He’s into driving cars fresh up off the lot. He’s into shutting stores down just so he could shop. Girls hop up in the car. Mims tells them, “All aboard.” He hits the studio, and they say they like how he records. There is just nothing to this stuff — no personality whatsoever. Mims delivers his basic-ass flexes in the same simplistic flow, like he’s attempting to explain why he’s hot to a five-year-old. The song does nothing to turn Mims into an interesting character, but there’s something oddly hypnotic, for this one song, about his spartan insistence.
“I can’t even figure out if I like the damn thing.” That was me, at the time, writing about “This Is Why I’m Hot.” The song seemed so stupid, so essentially empty, and yet I kept returning to it. It hooked me. The video for “This Is Why I’m Hot” was all over BET for a while, and I always stopped to watch it. Couldn’t even tell you why. “This Is Why I’m Hot” was a vacuum. Mims’ whole track was so utterly, magnetically devoid of meaning that you had to project your own meaning on it.
Mims released “This Is Why I’m Hot” independently in 2006, and the record gained steam over a few months. Labels wooed Mims, and he signed with Capitol. “This Is Why I’m Hot” sold a whole lot of digital downloads and ringtones, and the single went double platinum. The beat became a mixtape standby; as this column’s Bonus Beats section attests, tons of other rappers used that instrumental.
For the official remix, Mims stayed true to his Jamaican roots, bringing in reggae legend Junior Reid and up-and-comer Cham. (Junior Reid doesn’t have any Hot 100 hits of his own, but thanks to a sample, he’s got a feature credit on the Game’s “It’s Okay (One Blood),” which peaked at #71 in 2006. Cham’s only Hot 100 hit, the 2006 Alicia Keys collab “Ghetto Story Chapter 2,” peaked at #77.) On that remix, Mims gets a little more baroque when describing his own hotness: “Now, if you take the sun and multiply its heat 10 times over, then what you find is me.” I’ll be honest: That does sound pretty hot.
Given the wild blankness of “This Is Why I’m Hot,” it wasn’t exactly a surprise when Mims failed to land more hits. In his Voice column on “This Is Why I’m Hot,” Rob Harvilla wrote that the song “verily reeks of Skee-Lo.” I know exactly what he means, but Skee-Lo’s one hit, 1995’s “I Wish,” at least tells us some things about Skee-Lo. He wishes he was a little bit taller! He wishes he was a baller! (“I Wish” peaked at #13.) By contrast, “This Is Why I’m Hot” only tells us that Mims is hot because he’s hot. That’s the only real character detail that we get.
Mims apparently performed at Hot 97’s Summer Jam in 2007. He popped up on the main stage at the very beginning of the evening, performed “This Is Why I’m Hot” and the “This Is Why I’m Hot” remix, and then bounced. That was it for him. I was at that Summer Jam, but I missed that Mims performance entirely; I must’ve still been in the bus on the way over. Wasn’t too broken up about missing that one. Mims released his debut album Music Is My Savior — you get it, it’s the “my name is an acronym for this” thing — a few days after “This Is Why I’m Hot” fell out of the #1 spot. By that point, Mims’ moment was already over. The album didn’t sell, and Mims’ follow-up single “Like This” peaked at #32.
In a Stereogum interview a few years ago, Mims said that he was shocked and dismayed at how little money he made from “This Is Why I’m Hot” — partly because of the samples on the song and partly because of previous deals that he’d made with smaller labels: “Like, the check that I got was my first taste of disappointment. So, even at that time, I didn’t really want to be an artist anymore. And I took a step back. Even going into the second album, it felt more like a job than it did like something I was passionate about.”
Mims also says that things went “horribly bad” with Capitol when he was working on his second album, 2009’s Guilt. (Weird title. I don’t know what’s going on there.) Guilt went absolutely nowhere, and its lead single “Move (If You Wanna)” peaked at #61. Based on that experience, Mims said that he never wanted to be signed to a label again. Other than the 2012 mixtape Open Bars, Mims hasn’t released any music since.
Instead of making music, Mims, like former Number Ones artist Chamillionaire, has become a tech investor. In 2017, Mims and his “This Is Why I’m Hot” collaborator BlackOut worked with manager Erik Mendelson to develop RecordGram, an app that puts artists and producers in touch with each other. I don’t know a single thing about tech stuff, but RecordGram won some kind of TechCrunch competition, so that seems good. From what I can tell, it later changed its name to Cre8or. The Cre8or website looks like an actual website, but I can’t find it in the app store. That seems less good.
Given that the entire tech world seems to be driven by shady smoke-and-mirrors displays, Mims seems like an ideal salesman. Consider: My app is hot ’cause it’s fly. Your app ain’t ’cause it’s not. “This Is Why I’m Hot” is a record that rode its own ephemerality all the way to #1. Now, Mims is is in a business where ephemerality is the name of the game. Maybe Mims was made for this. Maybe Mims has finally found his true calling. Maybe this is why he’s hot.
BONUS BEATS: My favorite album of 2007 wasn’t an album at all. It was Da Drought 3, a double-disc mixtape of Lil Wayne ripping other rappers’ beats to shreds. The intro track is Wayne doing fake Jamaican toasting over the “This Is Why I’m Hot” beat, and I love it so much. Here it is:
(Lil Wayne will eventually appear in this column.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: On her 2007 mixtape track “Dreams,” Lil Wayne protege Nicki Minaj flipped Biggie Smalls’ “Dreams” to turn it into a song about all the male rappers that she wanted to bone. She also quoted “This Is Why I’m Hot.” Here’s that track:
(Nicki Minaj repeated the same trick over the same sample on her 2018 track “Barbie Dreams,” which peaked at #18. She didn’t quote Mims on that one, though. Nicki will eventually appear in this column.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s former Number Ones artist Twista and his Speedknot Mobstaz group rapping over the “This Is Why I’m Hot” beat on his 2007 track “This Is Why I’m Cold”:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Talib Kweli using the “This Is Why I’m Hot” beat to accuse other rappers of dishonesty on his 2007 mixtape track “Lie A Lot”:
(Talib Kweli’s only Hot 100 hit, 2003’s “Get By” peaked at #77.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: For some reason, Die Antwoord, the sketchy South African joke-rap group, recorded their own version of “This Is Why I’m Hot” in 2012. Here’s their ridiculous video for “Dis Iz Why I’m Hot (Zef Remix)”:
The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music, is out now via Hachette Books. It’s hot because it’s fly. Buy it here.