These are hip-hop's most commercially successful singles of all time.
When it comes to a track’s success, phrases such as “anthem” or “timeless” are often bandied about too lightly. In reality, there are various different degrees in which a song could be iconic, and what may be a seminal track to fans of one particular subset of hip-hop could be meaningless to another.
However, there are tracks where their status as pillars of the musical landscape-- or in certain cases, touchstones of a moment in time-- come with a very special RIAA certification attached to them.
When it comes to legendary songs, achieving the status of a diamond record is as close to a scientific classification as the music industry can provide. In order to obtain this status, a song must reach over 10 million units-- or in modern times, equivalent units-- sold. And while albums reaching this illustrious level is certainly impressive, for a song to become diamond in its own right, and not as part of a larger collection, means that the track has to become an integral part of the zeitgeist.
They’re the tracks that you hear in the club, on the radio, and even in the grocery store, to this very day. They’re the songs that you find incessantly catchy and in some cases, they’re the songs that you eventually grow to despise due to their sheer ubiquity (or perhaps, you grow to love, due to the same reason). Here, we’re going to delve into each of the diamond-certified tracks that hip-hop has spawned over the decades, in order to shed light on their conception, reception and legacies.
Without further ado, let’s dive in. And check out Diamond Certified Albums here.
Kanye West - Stronger
The latest entry to the diamond certified club, and one that inspired this list, it’s hard to believe that an artist such as Kanye and a track of this sheer enormity hadn’t already reached this status long before. The lead single from Kanye West’s third offering, Graduation, wasn’t one of those lightning in a bottle moments that some have proclaimed all the best pop songs are born from.
Instead, this Daft-Punk sampling mega-hit was the product of a rigorous recording and retooling process that led to a grand total of 75 mixes being crafted. Taking Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and dousing it in his own self-styled bravado, the song was not only a hit in its own right but bridged the gap between dance music long before the phrase “EDM” entered the cultural lexicon and spawned his first number one hit in the UK. Moreover, Ye’s Graduation-era anthem is arguably the track that took him from hip-hop crossover act to transcendent pop culture icon and it still stands up to this day.
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Flo Rida and T Pain - Low
When it comes to culture-shaking figures in hip-hop, it’s safe to say that Flo Rida and T Pain are two names that have been historically overlooked. While the auto-tune pioneer is gradually getting his flowers in retrospect, Flo Rida still finds himself left marooned somewhere between his original genre and the world of pop at large. Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the fact that “Low”, the first single from his 2008 debut album Mail On Sunday, was a mammoth hit at the time. Made all the more prominent by its prominent inclusion on the soundtrack of Step Up 2 The Streets, this club anthem has yet to ever truly go away and is still impactful enough to spawn conspiracy theories as to why the woman in question was wearing both jeans and sweatpants in its chorus.
Eminem - Not Afraid
Delivered to the world as a new decade commenced, there’s no underestimating what “Not Afraid” meant in terms of reasserting Eminem’s historic position in the game. The lead single from his second post-comeback project, Recovery, this empowering anthem served as Shady’s first real return to the fore as a bonafide hitmaker after the initially derided, but now gradually revered Relapse project. Barring perhaps “Crack A Bottle,” none of Relapse’s singles had that all-encompassing power that some of his iconic chart-toppers of the past did. Whereas in the case of “Not Afraid,” Em once again proved that when he puts it all out there for the world to scrutinize, he’ll always strike gold. Just as tracks such as “The Way I Am” and “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” had been deeply personal and yet resonated far and wide, “Not Afraid” and its rallying cries around Em getting clean and standing taller than ever, really hit home with listeners and ensured that it’ll garner a big response in stadiums to this day.
Eminem - Love The Way You Lie feat. Rihanna
If Relapse had equated to something of a drought when it came to hits for Em, it’s safe to say that Recovery made up for it. An exercise in good old fashioned hip-hop storytelling, “Love The Way You Lie” is the tale of a tempestuous love affair in three parts that's realized with the sort of vigour that only Shady can muster.
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Rendered all the more affecting by a typically show-stealing vocal performance from Rihanna on the hook, this enduringly popular track has actually spawned some retroactive backlash due to its depictions of domestic violence. But no matter what TikTok has to say, “Love The Way You Lie” isn’t going to drop out of the cultural line of sight anytime soon.
Eminem - Lose Yourself
Tied for the most diamond-selling records of any MC, we round off Eminem’s entries with the eternally rousing “Lose Yourself.” First dropped in the lead-up to his motion picture debut, this stirring, rock-imbued track encapsulated 8 Mile’s thematic concerns about the come-up while remaining innately tied to Eminem’s own journey to the top. Written during his downtime on the film set, the “Best Song” winning track was performed by Shady at the 2020 Academy Awards as a recompense for missing the ceremony where he actually won the award in 2003.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Thrift Shop
Next up, we have the lead single from what is arguably the most divisive winner of The Grammy’s “Rap Album Of The Year” ever. Although Macklemore’s legacy may have been transformed from the moment that he issued his apology to Kendrick for his win, it’s important to remember that when he and producer Ryan Lewis arrived, they were wholly inescapable.
Complete with a whimsical music video which made it evident that the Seattle MC wasn’t one to take himself too seriously, the track wasn’t an instant hit and instead, reached the number one spot a whole six months after its initial release in August of 2012, where it would stay until March of 2013.
Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines (Featuring Pharrell and T.I)
Where every other track on this list is as immovable as ever, if any has been extricated from the cultural sphere, then it’s most definitely “Blurred Lines.” Dogged by both lawsuits from the Gaye Family estate over its similarities to the late soul icon’s "Got To Give It Up" and its banning from university campuses around the UK, this longtime number one is swathed in outrage like no other track on this list.
For R&B journeyman Robin Thicke, the track was both the apex of his career and the beginning of his downfall. While for T.I and Pharrell, they’ve managed to untangle themselves from the continued fallout that swirls around both the song’s lyricism and music video.
“We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, "We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this”, said Robin Thicke at the time, “People say, "Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?" I’m like, "Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.”
Courtesy of Emily Ratajkowski’s recent revelations, it seems as though that last statement may live on in infamy.
The Weeknd - The Hills
When you consider his humble beginnings as an enigmatic artist from Toronto, the fact that Abel Tesfaye is now a diamond-certified artist is a truly astonishing accomplishment. Often cited as one of the architects of modern R&B as we know it, The Weeknd may have initially hit a few stumbling blocks when it came to making the transition from internet darling to chart-dominating star but when he figured out the formula, he never looked back.
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The first Hot 100 number one of his entire career, “The Hills” brought his trademark decadence and made it palatable for the mainstream. Certified diamond in 2019, the track went on to become one of the focal points of his exhilarating Superbowl 2021 halftime show and played a pivotal role in making him the superstar that he is today.
Charlie Puth & Wiz Khalifa - See You Again
As close as we have to a ballad on this list, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” briefly held the record for the most streams in a single day before being bested by One Direction’s “Drag Me Down.”
Commissioned specifically by the Fast & Furious franchise as a way to commemorate Paul Walker’s untimely death, the unlikely duo were given the job after Charlie Puth had penned the chorus before it was passed to Wiz. As the pair told Billboard during a 2015 interview, they believed that the universal appeal of its chorus and sentimental verses had a massive role to play in its success.
“You can relate it to so many things, whether it’s a relationship, a loved one. It goes perfectly with the movie”, said Wiz. “A lot of people remember Paul Walker’s legacy too. When you add all of these things together, it’s a really emotional point. For us to be able to do that, it’s really cool that it connects.
Defined by the Pittsburgh native as the modern equivalent of Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” in honour of the late Notorious B.I.G, it’s safe to say that whether it still strikes a chord or you’re completely sick of hearing it, “See You Again” isn’t going anywhere fast.
Drake - God’s Plan
Frankly, one of the biggest surprises of compiling this list is that October’s Very Own only has one track in its own canon that’s officially diamond certified. Undoubtedly one of the biggest anthems that hip-hop has seen in recent years, Scorpion’s lead single was the most-streamed song of 2018 and racked up over 147 million spins. To this day, it remains the most played song on Apple Music.
Laden with iconic lines and visuals that might be the closest we’ll get to Drizzy’s campaign video for a presidential run, it’s a song which told us what we already knew and that is when it comes to hip-hop icons in the commercial space, Drake exists in a lane of his own at this point.
Post Malone - Congratulations
When Post Malone’s manager Dre London offhandedly muttered the phrase "congratulations" during a studio session, there’s no way he could’ve known the hit that he would directly inspire. Produced by the crack team of Metro Boomin and Frank Dukes and featuring a memorable guest verse from Quavo, this single from his 2016 debut record Stoney was the track that elevated Post Malone from the “White Iverson” guy to a genuine star.
“You know the songs are good but you never know if they’re going to get exposed the way you would have liked it or people overlook it for another song,” Post said after its release. “But, I really feel this was a big important song.”
Suffice to say, this track got the intended exposure and then some.
Image via HNHH
Post Malone - Rockstar feat. 21 Savage
Although Post wasn’t quite a cornerstone of the pop culture landscape after Stoney, 2018’s Beerbongs & Bentleys would dismantle any concerns that he was a flash in the pan. Positioned as the first taste of the next era of his career, the 21 Savage-aided “Rockstar” not only firmed up Posty’s place as a major player, but was big enough to make his Atlantan co-star a serious chart-topping contender in the process. Co-written by none other than Joey Bada$$, “Rockstar'' may have debuted at the number two spot behind another inclusion on this list-- more on that later-- but it went on to become the second song in history, after Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” to reach over two billion streams on Spotify.
Post Malone and Swae Lee - Sunflower
Having initially debuted at number nine on the Billboard chart, Post and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower” is probably the most surprising addition to the diamond club. Although he’d made it to the number one spot previously alongside Slim Jimmi during his time in Rae Sremmurd, this mellow offering was Swae Lee’s first time hitting the summit of the pop charts as a solo artist and is perhaps best known for its association with the lauded 2018 animated film Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse. Naturally, the film and its audience’s role in bolstering the track to unprecedented heights isn’t lost in its creators.
“When Sunflower hit No. 1, that was my favorite moment because you never know in the music industry what a song is gonna do [chart-wise],” Swae told Variety. “I think it got so big because the kids love it so much.
Lil Nas X - Old Town Road
Constructed with a beat that he’d purchased from Dutch producer YoungKio, Lil Nas X took his time deploying the Nine Inch Nails-sampling “Old Town Road,” slowly drip-feeding it across TikTok and other social media outlets as a way to generate meme fodder. Sure enough, this innately 21st-century marketing tactic paid off in spades and made the country-trap offering into a global sensation. A record-breaking song that accumulated the longest-running streak at number one in the history of the charts, the initial controversy that came from it being kicked off of the country charts and the support of Billy Ray Cyrus only served to make “Old Town Road” into something far beyond your average 2-minute pop song. Loved by fans of all ages, it became the basis of a successful career that defied any notion of Lil Nas X becoming a one-hit wonder or, perhaps more fittingly for this horse-drawn anthem, a one-trick pony.
Fetty Wap - Trap Queen
Although he doesn't exactly have a foothold on the commercial landscape these days, it’s impossible to overstate just how big “Trap Queen” was when it first arrived. Launching the New Jersey-based MC into the heartland of the industry as if from nowhere, Fetty has since told Billboard that the track came at a point where he was very much languishing in obscurity.
“It was like mad cold, it was freezing outside. We didn't really have much furniture in the house, and I was sitting on the floor and I was going through this website called SoundClick.com… And now…years later. “Everybody knows the kid with the one eye from Paterson, Fetty Wap.”
The catalyst for a number one album for Fetty, it’s fair to say that “679” and “Again” were colossal hits in their own right. However, none could match the sheer magnitude of Fetty’s ode to introducing his new beau to his stove and it’s likely that no track of his ever will.
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XXXTentacion - SAD!
When this contemplative track was unveiled as the lead single from the Florida-bred artist’s 2018 offering ?, no one could’ve anticipated that it’d be one of the final dispatches that we’d ever receive from Jahseh Onfroy as a mortal man. Yet, less than three months on from his release, the rapper that’d ascended to the ranks of an unlikely icon to a generation of fans would meet a violent and vastly premature demise in his own hometown.
From the moment that this forlorn examination of his mental state was committed to tape, X and longtime producer John Cunningham knew that they had something special on their hands.
"The reactions to that song were unlike anything we'd ever seen," Cunningham told XXL, "so we knew people would like it, but we didn't know it would land at No. 7 [on the Billboard Hot 100 chart]. That shit's crazy." Released alongside an eerie visual in which X attends the funeral of his younger self before they engage in a battle for his soul, this examination of his inner turmoil would go on to give X his one and only posthumous number one and has since become one of his signature songs alongside “Jocelyn Flores” and “Look at Me!”.
While the diamond accomplishment happened in August, XXX's mom accepted the diamond plaque for the single on his behalf just this past week.
Black Eyed Peas - I Got A Feeling
By the time that BEP unveiled this all-conquering hit from the multi-platinum selling The E.N.D, they were perhaps as entrenched in pop as any act that began their career in hip-hop could possibly be. Coming in at number 5 on Billboard’s songs of the decade, this David Guetta-helmed smash was designed to uplift spirits around the world. “Times are really hard for a lot of people and you want to give them escape and you want to make them feel good about life,” Will.I.Am told Marie Claire at the time of its release, “especially at these low points.” Quickly usurping “Boom Boom Pow” as the most far-reaching track from their fifth record and has been gracing generic “party” playlists ever since.
John Legend - All Of Me
When it comes to modern-day crooners, few have the innate gift of reaching the collective heartstrings quite like John Legend. Possessing the same core DNA of delicate piano and reflective songwriting that made him a superstar on Get Lifted’s "Ordinary People," this unstoppable R&B love song was an ode to Legend’s wife, Chrissy Teigen. Unsurprisingly, it struck a resonant chord with her when she first heard it.
“There’s a song on my album that actually could be pretty good for the wedding”, John told People ahead of the 2013 release of Love In The Future. “It’s called 'All of Me' and it’s inspired by Chrissy. She loved the song and cried when she heard it.” As opposed to serving as their wedding song alone, Legend’s biggest hit of all time has allowed him to provide his own entry into the classic canon of tracks that couples use for their first dance.
Pharrell - Happy
Initially intended for CeeLo Green, Pharrell’s incessantly peppy 2014 hit “Happy” is deep-woven into the world’s songbook at this point. Complete with cameo-laden video, endless refrains of its chorus and a Despicable Me 2 tie-in for good measure, it may not be the offering from the Star Trak visionary that hip-hop heads would mark out for diamond-selling status but that doesn’t change its success whatsoever. With the original CeeLo version left on the cutting room floor by the “powers that be,” it’s a safe bet that those same label heads are now ruing the decision to let Skateboard P keep this cheerful ditty to himself.
Travis Scott - Sicko Mode feat. Drake
When hip-hop scholars revisit the legacy of Travis Scott and try to pinpoint the moment when he became one of the unabashed rulers of hip-hop, they won’t need to look much further than “Sicko Mode.” First unveiled on Travis’ now-legendary Astroworld project, neither the track nor its Drizzy feature was revealed beforehand. But as we know, that did little to stop it from capturing the cultural imagination and then some. Likely the most abstract and meanderingly structured composition on the list, “Sicko Mode” didn’t reach the number one spot on the charts until December of 2018. And by that time, it didn’t even need to as it had already torn through every party, club, and festival in the western hemisphere and will continue to do so whenever Travis steps onstage for the foreseeable future.
Cardi B - Bodak Yellow
Sparking debate over the distinction between co-writer and “ghostwriter” as it pertains to Pardison Fontaine’s contributions to the track, “Bodak Yellow” first impacted hip-hop circles before gradually inseminating the wider world with its infectious and instantly recognizable chorus as time went on,
Certified diamond in March of 2021, it’s safe to say that it likely won’t be the last Cardi track to reach this accolade.