In early 1999, a little-known, bleach-blond White guy popped out in a music video, sitting in Brady Bunch squares as he performed the song that would make him a rap star within just a couple of months. That guy is Eminem, and the song that zany video was made for is "My Name Is," an introductory tune that became his breakout Slim Shady LP single and first Billboard Hot 100 chart hit.
Em's breakout moment was preceded by countless other star-making tunes that had hit the airwaves in the years prior. As any rap fan knows, one song can be the difference between legit rap stardom and respected underground staple. Artists can spend years trying to break out to the mainstream, but it usually comes down to having just the right alignment of beat, flow, lyrics and overall song structure for one particular track. Then they take the next step toward success in their careers.
After signing to a major label, Em's breakout moment didn't take too long to happen. For others, the wait time can be a lot longer, and the rise can be way more multifaceted.
Lizzo had been known as a dynamic songstress for at least a few years when "Truth Hurts" first hit the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 2019. The song had actually been released in September of 2017, and it didn't hit the chart until it appeared in the Netflix film, Someone Great. That platform made people realize how dope the song was. By September of 2019, two years after its original release, "Truth Hurts" hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, and Lizzo was a certified star.
Breakout songs come in all different sizes and shapes, and today, it's time to revisit some notable breakout tracks over the last 20-something years.
XXL takes a look at the breakout songs for 20 rappers. Check out the list below.
Back in late 1998, Eminem was a mostly unknown artist bubbling in Detroit's rap underground. In 1999, things changed when he dropped "My Name Is," a song that effectively introduced him to the world at large. While the track wasn't close to a chart-topper—it peaked at No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March of 1999—it marked his first Hot 100 single. After it dropped, a lot of people were asking a big question: "Who is Eminem?" The answer was "My Name Is."
The song that transformed Drake from mild curiosity to burgeoning rap superstar is "Best I Ever Had," a 2009 track he released to promote his So Far Gone mixtape. The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in July of 2009.
Through reality TV by way of Love & Hip Hop, a couple of successful mixtapes and her unfiltered approach to Instagram, Cardi B was already making a name for herself just before she dropped "Bodak Yellow" in June of 2017. After she released the song, it became a certified hit, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October of 2017.
"Through the Wire"Kanye West
A lot of folks have no choice but to let tragedy turn their careers into dust; Kanye West used it to create his breakout debut single. Two weeks after being involved in a nearly fatal car crash in October of 2002, Kanye, with his jaw wired shut, took a Chaka Khan sample and created "Through the Wire," a song on which he spits about his accident and his come up in the rap game. After being released in late 2003, the track peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in February of 2004. Tragedy to triumph indeed.
"Look At Me!"XXXTentacion
Released in December of 2015, XXXTentacion's "Look At Me!" was his first song to generate serious noise. It began getting more attention after a clip of Drake's then-as-of-yet-released song "KMT" and "Look At Me!" juxtaposed went viral. Fans accused Drizzy of stealing X's flow, and that piqued some of the curiosity. In February of 2017, the track debuted at No. 94 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then peaked at No. 34 in April of that same year.
"Big Ole Freak"Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion was getting a good amount of attention by unloading freestyles and some well-received projects between 2016 and 2018. In 2019, she pushed herself to another level when she dropped "Big Ole Freak." The track became her first Billboard Hot 100 single and it peaked at No. 65 on the chart.
Back in 2019, DaBaby unloaded the song that would make him a star. The song's called "Suge," and with a bouncy JetsonMade-produced beat and a hilarious music video, the track quickly became a hit. In July of 2019, it peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming DaBaby's first song to land on the chart.
Juice Wrld was right on the verge of legit rap stardom in the spring of 2018, as "Lucid Dreams," a song he released the previous summer, became his first song to land on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song debuted at No. 74 on the chart, and by October of 2018, it hit No. 1.
"Money Longer" Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert had been building a significant buzz by the time he dropped "Money Longer" in 2016, but after he dropped that single, he was officially on. The song peaked at No. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and it was his first-ever track on the chart.
Young M.A had been bubbling before she dropped "Ooouuu," but she'd yet to drop a banger that landed on the Billboard Hot 100. Released in May of 2016, "Ooouuu" peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100 in October of that year.
Bobby Shmurda's breakout hit, "Hot Nigga," put him on rap radar in Brooklyn and beyond. Released in March of 2014, the song features menacing lyrics—"Tell them niggas free Meeshie, hoe (free Meeshie)/SUBwave, free Breezy, hoe (Free Breezy, hoe)/And tell my niggas, Shmurda teamin', hoe (Shmurda teamin', hoe)/Mitch caught a body about a week ago, week ago"—no hook and the right about of BPMs to pull off the Shmurda dance. After going viral, thanks in part to the music video that features a hat that never fell from the sky, it peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
A few years after Nelly popped out and put St. Louis, Mo. on the proverbial map, Chingy became the next area rapper to blow up on the solo tip. He did so with "Right Thurr," his debut single that peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in August of 2003.
"Country Grammar (Hot Shit)"Nelly
Nelly was a popular local artist in St. Louis, Mo., before 2000, but that was the year everything changed. In February of 2000, after signing to Universal Music Group the previous year, Nelly released "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)," the title single from his debut LP, Country Grammar, set to drop that June. The song peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Nelly a certified star in the process.
"What's Your Fantasy"Ludacris featuring Shawnna
Ludacris' breakout single, the Shawnna-assisted "What's Ya Fantasy," dropped in 2000, and, with a bouncy beat, Luda's breakneck flow and comical bars, the song put the Georgia rapper on the fast track to superstardom. "What's Ya Fantasy" peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
After languishing in obscurity for years after their Exclusive Audio Footage album was shelved in 1997, Clipse teamed up with The Neptunes to deliver an anthem with a beat that would be recreated on school lunch tables for years to come. "Grindin'" was released in 2002, and it peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that April.
After getting some mixed reviews and commercially underwhelming numbers for his debut album, I'm Serious, back in 2001, T.I. came back with a vengeance in 2003. That's when he dropped "24's," a banger that ended up being his first to land on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The track hit No. 78, and while that's modest compared to what he'd eventually accomplish, everyone's got to start somewhere, and this was a pretty good spot.
For Migos, everything started with "Versace." The rap trio dropped the song in 2013, and it landed at No. 99 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it their first Hot 100 appearance. When Drake remixed it, their fame went to another level.
In 2014, Young Thug was on his way to stardom. He'd dropped some solid projects, had a Gucci Mane cosign and a style all his own. When his breakout single "Stoner" landed at No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100, Thugger's stardom had officially crystallized.
Blueface's "Thotiana" was his first single on the Billboard Hot 100, where it landed in 2019. The track, which was originally released in 2018, caught fans' attention with a memorable hook—"Bust down, Thotiana, I wanna see you bust down (Bust down)"— and Blueface's off-kilter flow. "Thotiana" peaked at No. 8 on the chart in April of 2019.
Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" was the definition of a slow-burner, but once it finally broke, she was lit for good. The track was originally released in September of 2017, but it didn't land in the Billboard Hot 100 until May of 2019. The track peaked at No. 1 on the same chart in September, holding down the top spot for seven weeks.