’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”
The one hundred fifth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” by Puff Daddy f/ Mase. This track was the first No. 1 hit for both rappers, who at the time of this release were relatively new artists. As a credited performer, Puff Daddy would go on to have four more chart-toppers: two in 1997 as Puff Daddy, and two in 2003 as P. Diddy. All five of those songs were collaborations with other artists. In fact, all of Puff Daddy’s 37 Hot 100 entries (to date) have been collaborations, a tremendous testament to his networking prowess if not his musical talents. Mase would go on to have one more No. 1 hit, later in 1997, again paired with Puff Daddy. Mase charted most recently in 2004. His discography would be more extensive had he not spent most of the new millennium in some form of “retirement.”
Whether as a performer, songwriter and/or producer, Puff Daddy dominated music in 1997. He had a hand in five of the nine tracks that went to No. 1 that year. Beyond the three on which he was a credited artist, he also co-wrote/produced “Honey” by Mariah Carey as well as “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G. Because Puff Daddy relied so liberally on samples, his legacy is nebulous, as it’s debatable whether his music career begat any notable contributions to the universe. Ask someone to recite a hook from their favorite Puff Daddy song, and you will soon hear a rendition of something borrowed from another song. “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” for example, samples 1982’s “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five for the instrumental, and lifts the chorus from 1983’s “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder. What, then, is Puff Daddy’s talent, exactly? Resourcefulness? Taste? As an emcee, he’s average at best. Mase is generally more highly regarded by Hip-Hop historians, some of whom consider him clever and influential, although we never much cared for his slurry delivery style.
It’s worth noting that, as we wrote about previously, 1997 is a year of particular frustration for music business historians because Billboard’s rules prevented airplay-only singles from charting, and record companies were increasingly, at this time, withholding singles to drive album sales. The result is a chart archive that excludes some important and popular material that might otherwise have gone to No. 1. Puff Daddy is perhaps the most clear beneficiary of Billboard’s policy, as he ruled the roost on the Hot 100 in 1997 despite the fact that nothing he had a hand in creating topped the Airplay chart. Had the rules been adjusted more swiftly, we would almost certainly be spending this time writing about “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt, which topped the Airplay chart for 16 weeks. Instead, we’re writing about Puff Daddy, as we’ll do time and again over the coming posts, to the doubtless dismay of Shawn Colvin, Jewel, Will Smith, Third Eye Blind, Sugar Ray and Chumbawamba, all of whom topped the Airplay chart in 1997 but not the Hot 100, the official chart of record. Blast!
“Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” is a generic track on which the protagonists boast about their lifestyle, purporting themselves to be armed, wealthy and street smart.
Take a few minutes to revisit “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.”
Sometimes with this blog, we’ve found that we like some of the Hip-Hop songs we revisited more than we originally did at the time. “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” is not an example. We hated it then, and hate it now. It’s remarkable that a song can be simultaneously so annoying and so boring. It slogs sloppily and lazily along, subjecting us to unpleasant, out-of-tune vocalizations and trite tough-guy signaling. Frankly, it’s a brutal listening experience. Its only redeeming quality is its instrumental bed, which was stolen from a better song. This track was an important coming out moment for Puff Daddy and Mase, so good for them. But, man, it’s just terrible.
Does it hold up? Not especially. Hip-Hop is a genre that evolves (or devolves) so rapidly that anything more than a few years old tends to sound dated. FYI, “Don’t Speak,” which was ruling radio during Puff Daddy and Mase’s run at No. 1, currently has 490 million views on YouTube, compared with 7 million for “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.” That indicates that “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” has minimal staying power.
Dopeness: 1 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?