Music

What Does Kanye West Scoring His First Hot 100 No. 1 Hit in Over a Decade Mean for His Career?

If the chart-topping first-week debut for Vultures 1 wasn’t sign enough that Kanye West was once again back at the mainstream’s center, three weeks later we get an even surer sign: “Carnival,” the set’s lead single, has ascended to pole position on the Billboard Hot 100 in its fourth week.

It’s Kanye’s first No. 1 on the chart since 2011 — when he was featured on Katy Perry’s fourth consecutive Teenage Dream Hot 100-topper, “E.T.” — and his first as a lead artist since “Stronger” in 2007. (It’s also his first major hit since receiving extreme backlash for his repeat antisemitic comments, for which he posted an apology in Hebrew in December.) Meanwhile, it’s the second visit to the top for co-lead Ty Dolla $ign, following his appearance on Post Malone’s “Psycho” in 2018, and the first for both of its featured artists: Playboi Carti and Rich the Kid.

Who does the No. 1 mean the most to? And does mean Kanye’s back at the vanguard of pop music like he was during his biggest years? Billboard writers discuss these questions and more below.

1. “Carnival” is not only the first Hot 100 No. 1 for Kanye West since 2011 — since 2007, if you don’t count his not-particularly-immortal appearance on Katy Perry’s “ET” — and by most measures, his first true smash in at least a half-decade. On a scale from 1-10, how important is it for him at his point in his career to have an old-fashioned HIT-hit like this?

Kyle Denis: I think it depends on how you look at it. Did Kanye need a true smash hit in 2024 to cement his overall legacy? Absolutely not. Did Kanye need a true smash hit in 2024 to re-establish himself as a viable commercial force (particularly in terms of singles) in the mainstream? Yes. So, let’s go with a 6.5-7. 

Angel Diaz: Five? Ye is going to be polarizing whether his music is good or not. The old Kanye is gone and is never coming back. While I do think it’s cool to see him go No. 1 again, I’m not sure its’s going to matter in the grand scheme of things. I do think this is his best post Pablo album, though. Someone as talented as Mr. West will always have a puncher’s chance.

Carl Lamarre: If we’re speaking on Ye’s ego, a 10. Being able to dribble past his antisemitic comments and his feud with Adidas takes hall-of-fame precision. Not only did he land his 11th consecutive No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Vultures last month, but now he can hoist a No. 1 song on the Hot 100, all while playing the game as an independent artist. For someone as audacious as Ye, expect his turn-up and ego to match that same energy. 

Michael Saponara: 6. I don’t think Ye necessarily needed a smash as he’s always going to be an influential figure in society’s mainstream and connect with his fan base. However, becoming the first rapper to earn a No. 1 in three different decades and doing it independently at 46 has turned heads and legitimized his methods to the madness creatively. If anything, the mainstream acclaim is only going to embolden his voice when it comes to future decisions, for better or worse. Even the haters have to respect what “Carnival” has accomplished without much radio play and playlisting in a genre that’s lacked serious hitmakers in recent years. 

Andrew Unterberger: An 8. Obviously Kanye was going to be a major voice in music and culture for many years to come even if he never had another big pop hit — but having one, especially at a time when even major rappers are finding a lot more trouble scoring runaway hits than they maybe used to, shows that he still knows what really moves the mainstream in 2024. He’s certainly taking it as a major win himself, as evidenced by the ill-advised victory lapping he’s been doing on IG this week.

2. While the headlines about “Carnival” will always be Kanye-focused first and foremost, three other artists also add a No. 1 to their tallies with the single: Ty Dolla $ign’s second, and the first for both Playboi Carti and Rich the Kid. Which of those three artists do you think has the most to gain from the song’s massive success? 

Kyle Denis: Probably Carti. He’s had proper hits in the past but as he’s delved deeper into his own idiosyncratic rage rap sound, traditional hits have proven a bit more elusive for him. This is a good look for him as he prepares for his next record and his long-delayed Antagonist Tour. As for Ty and Rich the Kid, a No. 1 is a towering achievement no matter how you slice it, but neither performer is the kind of artist that *needs* to top the Billboard Hot 100 to retain their fanbase and interest in their music.  

Angel Diaz: Carti 100 percent. He already has the youth and almost every new rapper these days is either influenced by him or is currently biting his style while sounding like “We got Playboi Carti music at home.” He should take advantage of this moment and drop the follow-up to his cult classic Whole Lotta Red, which is already four years old. Also, because we need more “schyeah” content.

Carl Lamarre: Rich the Kid with Ty coming in second. For many mainstream listeners, Rich’s most significant moments came during the 2017-2018 era when he unleashed “New Freezer” with Kendrick Lamar and “Plug Walk.” Though he had some highlights here and there, to the public eye, he drowned in oblivion until Ye tossed him a lifeline. The talent for Rich has always been there; he just needed the right opportunity, and on “Carnival,” he made the best out of it. 

Michael Saponara: Rich The Kid has been hibernating from the charts the last few years and he’s caught a lifeline with “Carnival” which RTK deserves a lot more credit for than Rap Radar co-host Elliott Wilson seemed to be giving him, in my opinion. With a No. 1 hit to his name, Rich will have more eyeballs on him than usual, which wouldn’t have been the case without his Vultures standout feature. Spending time around Ye and Ty will be a positive from a creative perspective, and it makes sense they’re capitalizing on the momentum and executive-producing his forthcoming project. 

Andrew Unterberger: Can only speak for myself here, but I certainly didn’t know that Rich the Kid still had the juice like that. Considering he’s only even touched the Hot 100 once this decade prior to “Carnival” — at No. 91 for precisely one week with the Lil Wayne collab “Feelin Like Tunechi” — I’m guessing he’s putting this No. 1 pretty high up on the updated CV.

3. Considering none of Ye’s past three projects have produced a breakout hit nearly on the level of “Carnival,” what do you think it is about this song that’s allowed it to achieve liftoff the way it has? Is there one thing in particular it does that puts it in league with past Kanye hits on this level? 

Kyle Denis: It’s definitely the catchiest Kanye single since the Life of Pablo era. The gospel-tinged tracks on Jesus Is King were always going to be hard sells – even though “Follow God” debuted in the top 10 – and the biggest tracks on Donda had their hit potential marred by a messy release and a comparatively less favorable period of public opinion for the rapper. 

Most importantly, however, Kanye tapped into youth culture with “Carnival” and took a literal back seat. He only has one verse on the song, while Carti (who has a massive cult following) and Rich the Kid take up most of the airtime. It feels like a latter-day Kanye record without containing too much of his actual voice; you don’t even hear Kanye at all on the part of the song that’s gained the most traction (the hook). By having rappers from a younger generation anchor “Carnival,” Kanye found the perfect primer for the song to be embraced by the TikTok streets, hence the plethora of trends that have helped the song stay viral on the platform. And, for what it’s worth, the general public sentiment towards Kanye has gotten a tiny bit kinder since his last LP. 

Angel Diaz: Playboi Carti is the easy answer here too. The kids love that dude. The honest answer, though? It’s an anthem. The football goon chant, the production, the unexpected Rich the Kid feature, the way Ty floats during his verse, Kanye’s mid verse about being cancelled or whatever, and Carti kinda, sorta sounding like a mystery rapper all makes for an unusual banger.

Carl Lamarre: Even though it didn’t chart as high as “Carnival,” I thought “Follow God” was a banger and underappreciated. For the former, it’s a matter of everybody playing their position to a tee and allowing the record to morph into this behemoth. The song has such bounce that it can elevate anything vibe-wise, ranging from a mosh pit to an intense workout. It can adapt and thrive in any environment. Expect this song to be a festival gem and sports arena go-to. 

Michael Saponara: I think “Carnival” builds off the stadium rage Ye initiated with Yeezus, which superstar artists of today like Travis Scott and Playboi Carti have carried the torch for and engrained it in rap’s mainstream. Those two, specifically, are members of the West family tree, and were clearly influenced by the futurism and rebelliousness of Yeezus. While Ye is often ahead of the curve, “Carnival” was digestible enough for hip-hop fans to spread like wildfire. 

Andrew Unterberger: Same thing that’s been true from Steam to Zombie Nation to Usher: Never underestimate the power of a good stadium chant. Especially considering most of Kanye’s new material literally makes its debut in stadium surroundings these days, it’s a natural fit that a bunch of soccer hooligans leading a partially R-rated singalong would go over with “We Will Rock You”-sized returns for him in 2024.

4. “Carnival” has proven far and away to be the biggest breakout success from Vultures 1 so far. Do you think there’s likely to be another major hit from Vultures — and if so which track do you think is the most likely candidate? 

Kyle Denis: In my head, “Do It” is the next hit from Vultures. But that all depends on how quickly the other two Vultures projects arrive. 

Angel Diaz: It’s a toss up between “Paid” and “Vultures” for me. When was the last time we got a payday anthem? I feel like artists would mention getting paid on a Friday just in time for weekend club shenanigans in every other song back in the day. Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid” immediately comes to mind, and I first thought that was the sample used at the end — but it’s actually from the Jodeci track “Get on Up” which is referencing Kemp’s hit record with the line “Friday night, let’s all get paid.” So it all comes full circle to me saying we need more payday music.

Carl Lamarre: “TALKING” has grown on me A LOT. If I’m Ye, I’m already trying to start the North West roll-out for her upcoming debut album. Imagine being the first father-daughter combo to have top 10 records in a calendar year. I’m also a huge fan of “BURN.” I can hear that song on a Rush Hour 4 or Bad Boys 4 soundtrack. It’s vintage Yeezy with a mid-90s, early 2000s feel. 

Michael Saponara: Not on Vultures 1, but other songs he’s been teasing definitely have hit potential. The Backstreet Boys-interpolating “Everybody” has been a fan-favorite at listening parties for months with the catchy chorus trading the ’90s boy band for Uncle Charlie Wilson. We’ll see if they can sort out potential clearance issues. Aligning more with the current landscape of rap, Ye and Ty have another possible banger in the arsenal with the slimy tentatively titled “Field Trip/Venom” featuring the versatile ensemble of Playboi Carti, Don Toliver and Lil Durk as guests. Those two would be my picks if they receive a proper streaming release on Vultures sequels.

Andrew Unterberger: Could definitely see “Paid” striking a vein, and the North parts of “Talking” could certainly find their way to a TikTok trend or two. But being real, Ye and Ty are already turning their attention to Vultures 2 — as will their fans in turn, no doubt — so anything that hasn’t broken out from 1 yet will probably have to wait for a random six-years-from-now revival, if anything.

5. Now that the re-mainstreaming of Kanye seems to be complete (for better or worse) following the major backlash of the past few years, do you see him once again being at the forefront of popular music like he was for most of the past two decades? Or has he been gone too long and done too much damage in recent years? 

Kyle Denis: Kanye has curated an audience that’s markedly different from the one that he pissed off with his antics over the past few years. For that reason alone, I think he’ll comfortably remain an unignorable figure in popular music. However, I don’t foresee him truly recapturing the cultural zeitgeist the way he did during his peak in the ‘00s and early ‘10s. If anything, he’ll probably continue to get more hits by way of strategic collaborations like “Carnival.” Does he get a legitimate solo smash in the coming years? I’m not sure I’d put my money on it quite yet. 

Angel Diaz: I want to say that he’ll be back on top, but I’m not sure he’s into success these days. Ye seems to be consumed by his enemies and in turn that makes him susceptible to self-sabotaging. He’s already started to do so with the latest posts he put on his Instagram Stories and feed — which have since been deleted — in which he took shots at everyone from Adidas to Christians. Someone must’ve told him to chill and enjoy his first No. 1 since 2011.

Carl Lamarre: He is enjoying a great run right now, and as a one-time super fan, despite his shenanigans, it’s interesting watching him try to bob and weave his way out of cancellation. Still, the odds of him returning to prime-time Mr. West, who was once doing blockbuster numbers in the mid-2000s, are slim because of the irreparable damage done.  

Michael Saponara: Kanye will always be part of the music mainstream scene no matter the circumstances. It definitely won’t be like the earlier portion of his career though. At this point, Ye has made it clear that he’s anti-industry, and he’s even teasing not putting his albums on streaming in the future, at least initially. Even with the backlash, he maintains the youth’s approval, but he’s just never going to operate like other music titans — and that’s what makes Ye, Ye.

Andrew Unterberger: He’s back, for sure, but he’s following as much as he’s leading now: “Carnival” has a little of that old Ye spark, but it also feels like he’s taking shortcuts to the prize rather than blazing his own path. That he can get there at all at age 46, more than two decades after his first No. 1, is certainly both impressive and meaningful. But will it inspire the same awe and reverence that his following was initially built on in the 2000s? Feels unlikely.

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