Hip Hop continues to carve out a leading role in pop culture as arguably the dominant genre in music in 2019.
Just this year alone, two rappers received the coveted diamond certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The distinction is given out to albums or singles that sell a minimum of 10,000,000 units.
The exclusive club includes some of the most pivotal contributions in Hip Hop history and some offerings we’d frankly rather forget. Regardless of your taste, each of these artists achieved a feat few have accomplished and shouldn’t be ignored.
To commemorate Lil Nas X joining the ranks, here are the 14 rappers who reached diamond status in no particular order.
Lil Nas X — “Old Town Road (Remix)” (2019)
Lil Nas X’s rise has been equal parts meteoric and astonishing.
What many may have thought was just another flash-in-the-pan viral craze like Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” or Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” has become a legitimate phenomenon that pop music and Hip Hop hasn’t seen in years.
Spending a record-breaking 17 weeks as the No.1 single on Billboard’s Hot 100, “Old Town Road” hit the jackpot mixing southern trap production with country instrumentals and slang, riding controversy and social media popularity to stardom.
Its genre defiant exuberance and irresistible catchiness was a breath of fresh air that refused to be ignored and likely won’t be duplicated for quite a long time.
Drake — “God’s Plan” (2018)
In a year where Champagne Papi dealt with some of the biggest blowbacks of his career after getting eviscerated by Pusha T on the now iconic diss track “The Story of Adidon”, Drizzy still commanded the charts, shaking off the beef and notching several huge hits.
2018 marked a milestone in his career with smashes like “In My Feelings” and “Nice For What.” But no hit blew up more than the seismic earworm “God’s Plan.”
Backed by Boi-1da, Cardo and Yung Exclusive’s aquatic wavy production, Drake’s feel-good ode to watching out for yourself and the people you care about in a world of snakes soundtracked pop radio as much as it spun in the club.
Packed with enough quotables for a year’s worth of Instagram captions and an instantly recitable second verse, “God’s Plan” ascended Drake even further as the decade’s king of pop.
T.I. On Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (2013)
Tip has been one of the more consistent acts to come out of the Dirty South, finessing his way through the pop crossover yet never losing any of his street cred.
But the rubberband man’s biggest hit is also one of his most controversial. As a featured artist on Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s maligned “Blurred Lines,” T.I. barely rhymes as he delivers a generic and average “where’s my paycheck” effort to the track.
It certainly doesn’t evoke his dominating verses on tracks like “What You Know” or “24’s,” but it at least gives the Atlanta rapper an award few possess.
Juicy J On On Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” (2013)
Juicy J, a founding member of legendary Memphis Hip Hop group Three 6 Mafia, has deviated from his hardcore gritty Hip Hop roots in the past decade electing to reinvent himself as a pop rapper.
His delivery retains just enough toughness to lend that little bit of edginess to a track. J brings this flair to the table on Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” a pop-techno mashup with southern rap influence that stands as Perry’s biggest hit.
Juicy’s verse connects well with the song, fitting in with the warped witchcraft vibe of the track.
Ludacris On Justin Bieber’s “Baby” (2010)
Known as one of the most influential and successful rappers to come out of the Dirty South, Luda snagged his check with the often-forgettable feature on pre-pubescent Justin Bieber’s “Baby” a song that still haunts the nightmares of any 20-something.
Luda’s verse has him reminiscing about his first love before he was rapping about cars, clothes and hoes but comes off stilted and out of place coupled with the young Bieber’s energetic high-pitched wailing.
At the very least, the feature gave the often-underappreciated rapper an achievement few can boast about.
Wiz Khalifa — “See You Again” Featuring Charlie Puth (2015)
Pittsburgh’s son Wiz Khalifa built a following off of his highly successful underground mixtapes on Datpiff and affinity for Mary Jane.
As Khalifa continued to rise, he frequently became a favorite for pop stars to collaborate with for better and worse. Khalifa’s biggest hit came off the back of tragedy after the sudden death of Fast & Furious series actor Paul Walker spawning the Charlie Puth collaboration “See You Again.”
The tribute single has Khalifa rapping from both the perspectives of Walker and Vin Diesel’s characters talking about brotherhood, family and friendship. It doesn’t play to Khalifa’s strengths and misses the mark on memorializing Walker, talking more about the character than the man, but the song is at least passable.
Even with the seeping corporate calculation, Khalifa holds his own and the idea of the song is sound, even if the execution is clunky.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “Thrift Shop” Featuring Wanz (2012)
Although his reputation in the Hip Hop community has tanked in recent years, the Seattle rapper became an overnight sensation with his viral hit paying homage to saving money and snagging deals.
“Thrift Shop” came at the perfect time, hitting the post-bling era crowd fed up with the materialism in rap. The silly social commentary backed by Ryan Lewis’ upbeat funky saxophone isn’t a poignant teardown like Lorde’s “Royals” but coming off the biggest recession of recent memory made spending money on Gucci belts and Louis Vuitton seem ignorant and irresponsible.
Macklemore was the one dude in mainstream Hip Hop to rap for the broke boy and due to the time period, it helped him notch diamond status.
Beastie Boys – Licensed To Ill (1986)
It wasn’t just mom who was jealous of the punk kids from New York City.
The Beastie Boys achieved rockstar status in 1986 with Licensed To Ill, the first-ever Hip Hop album to top the Billboard 200 chart. Backed by the legendary Rick Rubin’s production, Licensed To Ill hit the sweet spot of using punk and hard rock production to appeal to white audiences, while also providing enough clever lines and wordplay to gain support from black audiences.
The album wouldn’t achieve diamond status until 2015 — over two decades after its initial release — but its impact on the genre is still felt to this day.
Outkast — Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
By the time Andre 3000 and Big Boi released their second-to-last official album, the Atlanta duo had already cemented themselves as legends in both the Hip Hop and pop landscape with hits like “Ms. Jackson,” “ATLiens” and “So Fresh, So Clean.”
Yet it’s 2003’s Spearboxxx/The Love Below that represents the group’s commercial peak. Anchored by the inescapable anthem to the unhappiness of a failing relationship “Hey Ya,” a song with deceptively peppy and upbeat instrumentals contrasting the sour and hopeless lyrics that captivated listeners in the early ‘00s.
The project also features the silky-smooth jazz of “The Way You Move” and a tale of a beautiful girl with an ugly personality on “Roses,” naming just a couple of the hits on the 40-track double album. As Outkast’s legend continues to grow years after disbanding, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is another triumph whose influence shines heavily on the new school rappers of Atlanta.
Nelly — Country Grammar (2000)
Beginning his career with minor success as a member of the St. Louis Hip Hop collective St. Lunatics, Nelly blew up as a solo act, bringing pop commercial appeal to midwestern rap and becoming one of the most notable artists to come out of the area.
His millennium debut album Country Grammar brought the flair of his city to the mainstream soundtracking the party that never stops. Surprisingly, some of his biggest hits aren’t here. “Hot in Herre,” Dilemma” and “Air Force Ones” didn’t come until his follow-up Nellyville.
This release is propped up by the infectious acoustic guitar-backed party jam “Ride Wit Me,” featuring one of the most easily recitable choruses of the decade. It also features the catchy ode to his city “Country Grammar (Hot Shit),” the first single to reach commercial success off the record. Nelly would continue to have a rap career that spanned the decade but never achieved a high quite like the Midwestern coming out party of Country Grammar.
MC Hammer – Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em (1990)
Before he was the punchline to every joke about lameness or artists going broke, MC Hammer was an inescapable force of nature who ruled the late ‘80s and early ‘90s pop-rap scene.
In retrospect, his fall from grace, while predictable with the way rap changed as the ‘90s went on, is still somewhat dumbfounding. A true superstar in his prime, Hammer’s 1990 juggernaut Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em achieved diamond status off one song that became a phenomenon in Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”
Featuring the undeniable force of Rick James’ “Super Freak” bassline coupled with the music video’s vivid imagery of Hammer’s iconic dance moves and flashy bravado, the track’s braggadocios power catapulted the album to diamond status standing the test of time, even if Hammer’s other contributions have not.
The Notorious B.I.G. — Life After Death (1997)
In 1994, a young upstart from Brooklyn named Christopher Wallace a.k.a. Biggie Smalls released his debut album Ready To Die, a direct challenge to the West Coast’s stranglehold on the genre in the mainstream and a crowning achievement for East Coast Hip Hop.
However, it’s the album that came out after Biggie Smalls’ senseless murder that serves as his crowning commercial achievement. 1997’s Life After Death is a posthumous record released just two weeks after Biggie was gunned down in LA.
The project is presented in a mafioso rap style blending compelling tales of the coastal feud and criminal activity seamlessly with radio-friendly smashes. Spearheaded by some of Biggie’s most notable hits “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” and “Hypnotize,” Life After Death offers the crossover appeal to place on Top 40 radio, without compromising its gangster image.
2Pac — All Eyez On Me (1996) & Greatest Hits (1998)
An urban poet with a storytelling ability that moved the masses, Tupac Shakur’s legacy and influence after his untimely demise knows no bounds.
Pac’s discography has gems of plenty, but none found the commercial success of 1996’s All Eyez On Me. After making material centered around social consciousness and political discourse for the bulk of his career, Pac’s All Eyez On Me is an unapologetic dive into his acceptance of the thug life after being released from prison. Coming out harder and hungrier than ever, Pac notched some of the biggest hits of his career on this double album.
His ode to the Sunshine State “California Love” remains one of the most recognizable Hip Hop songs ever, while “Ambitionz Az A Ridah” showed how cold-blooded the “reincarnated” Pac had become. Two years later, his greatest hits double album compilation was released in a joint venture with Interscope, Death Row and Amaru Entertainment marking the second record of Pac’s to achieve diamond certification.
Eminem — Various Albums & Singles (2000-2010)
Before all the bad dad jokes and becoming Hip Hop’s embodiment of the “old man yells at cloud” Simpsons meme, the Real Slim Shady commanded the Hip Hop and pop landscape gaining an unrivaled amount of popularity in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.
Marshall Mathers provided a combination of cutting battle rap flow, witty charismatic commentary and a deeply emotional pen game wrapped into a package of a white rapper with a bad boy attitude making him a marketers’ dream. The image with the skill to back it up led to two diamond albums and three diamond singles, giving Em the most diamond certifications in Hip Hop history.
The material earning the distinction includes 2000’s Marshall Mathers LP, considered by many to be his magnum opus charged by classics like “Stan” and “The Way I Am” with Em blurring the line between his personas and himself as a person. 2002’s The Eminem Show ruminated on his success and served as an acknowledgment of his icon status with tracks like “Without Me,” “Cleanin Out My Closet” and “Til I Collapse.”
Em also notched diamond status for three of his singles including 2003’s anthem to his critically-acclaimed partly autobiographical film 8 Mile “Lose Yourself,” his return to commercial success in 2010 after a battle with substance abuse “Not Afraid” and the Rihanna-backed pop-rap ballad centered around abusive relationships “Love The Way You Lie.”
All these offerings mark vastly different subject matter and purpose but represent some of the most pivotal moments of Em’s career. Today’s generation may know Em more as the bitter old rapper who doesn’t like the new school, but his impact on Hip Hop and music overall is undeniable and shouldn’t be overlooked.