Carving out a place for yourself in music is hard, and it’s just as challenging to maintain that place. This reality is especially true for hip-hop—and adjacent hip-hop acts—in the 21st century, an increasingly crowded arena where many artists get a taste of the mainstream, but few manage to stick around.
Of course, there’s no shame in avoiding the spotlight and cultivating an underground or independent following. Still, for many artists, it’s less of a conscious decision and more of a failure to replicate a fleeting moment of fame.
For these artists, the appropriate metaphor wouldn’t be the venerable character-actor building a decades-long legacy in indie movies, with an occasional Oscar or Golden Globe to their name. Instead, it’d be the breakout major league athlete delivering eye-popping results throughout a single season, only to underperform in subsequent seasons and go back to warming benches soon after.
Below you will find 10 of the industry’s biggest one-year wonders, listed chronologically by their 12-month heydays. Whether due to personal issues, label woes, or mediocre music, these artists haven’t been able to repeat the success of their initial runs. Some of these chosen artists have remained in the comfortable shadow of an early co-sign. Others have attempted to defy expectations and move in all directions at once. Yet, the results have unsurprisingly been similar for all.
Khia, the Tampa-by-way-of-Philly rapper who made waves with “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)” in 2002, is an excellent example of how a single song can shape an artist’s entire legacy.
After bubbling locally in Florida, the unapologetically horny track became a national summer jam with its sweaty beat and commanding lyrics. Even the censored version blew up on MTV and appeared on the soundtrack to the Jessica Alba series Dark Angel. The song’s subject matter wasn’t entirely new, having arrived six years after the debuts of both Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, but it was noteworthy nonetheless and enough for Too Short to cut a response track.
But as is often true, the single’s immense success soon became a burden for Khia, who was branded a raunchy rapper despite the diverse topics and vibes on her debut album, Thug Misses. Shelving her next album certainly didn’t help her rapidly declining popularity, either.
Khia briefly regained our attention when she handled hook duties on Janet Jackson’s 2006 song “So Excited,” which, while far from a “hit,” was a fitting collab for an artist recognized and then discarded for her sexual confidence.
“Lick It,” meantime, hasn’t quite achieved the anthemic status it likely should have earned and is survived mostly as a relic of its era and an anecdote, with covers by Richard Cheese in 2010 and Miley Cyrus in 2015. Recently, however, the song was somewhat redeemed when Warner Bros. Records recording artist Saweetie used the Plat’num House and Taz-produced beat for her breakout single, “ICY GRL.”
Obie Trice (2003)
It’s hard standing in the shadow of your siblings’ success. That must be how Obie Trice felt at Shady Records, especially after the release of his 2003 debut album Cheers.
The Detroit native had a history with Eminem, performing a skit on D12’s Devils Night and contributing to the 8 Mile soundtrack, so expectations for a full-length effort were high. Cheers mostly delivered, with the same mix of shock comedy, heightened drama, and misogyny that made Em a household name.
The album was certified Gold by the end of the year, and singles “Got Some Teeth” and “The Setup” both reached the Billboard Hot 100, but releasing during the same 12-month period as 50 Cent’s iconic debut Get Rich or Die Tryin’ made the achievements pale in comparison. There was no beef between Obie and 50 or Em or Dre, all of whom lent a hand on the album. But when you consider “Got Some Teeth” was released the same day (August 12) as 50’s eventual hit single “P.I.M.P.,” it was clear who was and wasn’t the label’s top priority.
Obie eventually left the label in 2008, citing unsatisfactory promotion, but failed to build on the promise of his debut, which has remained a buried gem of Midwest hip-hop.
Mike Jones (November 2004 – November 2005)
If someone is writing a book about hip-hop’s fascination with strippers, Mike Jones deserves at least one chapter.
With custom-made songs for the clubs and a habit of giving out his phone number on wax and during shows, Jones created a buzz around North Houston before signing with OG Ron C’s Swishahouse label. In November 2004, the rapper scored his first big hit with “Still Tippin’,” featuring labelmates Slim Thug and Paul Wall, a reworking of a track that initially appeared on a Swishahouse compilation (The Day Hell Broke Loose 2). The song, Platinum-certified by the RIAA, peaked at No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Four months later, in February 2005, Jones made a second splash with “Back Then,” a slice of male pettiness that he built around a bar from “Still Tippin’” about all the girls who didn’t want him before he got famous. High-profile guest spots on Ying Yang Twins’ “Badd” and T-Pain’s “I’m N Luv (wit a Stripper)” would soon follow, as did a second Platinum certification.
Unfortunately, for Jones, “Back Then” would be the beginning of the end. Jones eventually founded his own label, Ice Age Entertainment, whose artist roster included... mostly just him, and critically, it took Jones four years to record and release a sophomore LP. Subsequent singles failed to match the strength of his golden year one-two punch, resulting in a total of one charting single (“Next To You,” 2009) and zero certifications. Today, Who is Mike Jones? isn’t only the name of his debut, but also a legitimate question.
Dem Franchize Boyz (November 2005 – October 2006)
In late 2005, as crunk was entering the final stages of its relevance, its offshoot, known as snap, started moving on a nationwide scale. Atlanta rap group D4L scored a No. 1 record with their 3x Platinum hit “Laffy Taffy,” but it was Dem Franchize Boyz, another Atlanta-based quartet, that proved to be the more persistent snap outfit.
The group, which housed members Parlae, Buddie, Pimpin’, and Jizzal Man, made a dent in 2004 with “White Tee,” but it was “I Think They Like Me,” initially released in August of 2005, that helped them take off. As a more polished version of “White Tee,” the song got the deluxe treatment on Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def, with additional verses by Dupri, Da Brat, and Bow Wow, and eventually bound as high as No. 15 on the Hot 100.
DFB's next single, “Lean wit It, Rock wit It,” released three weeks into 2006, became an even bigger hit, rocketing to No. 7 on the strength of its instructional lyrics. At the time, a song accompanied by dance moves was a surefire approach to hitmaking. The song was so effective that their second album, On Top of Our Game, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, and went Gold within a month of its February release. Collabs with Monica and, in what sounds like a drunk Collision Course, Korn, would soon follow.
DFB’s sparse and instantly catchy tunes were perfect for hip-hop’s ringtone era, and their success cleared the way for Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” and the seismic changes in music consumption that followed. But like many crunk and snap hitmakers in the mid-to-late 2000s, the group couldn’t survive the mainstream takeover that featured trap on one side and electro-hop on the other, and after one more poorly received album in 2008, they split.
Kirko Bangz (2012)
Keeping a low profile doesn't mean you gotta slow your grind, and Kirko Bangz is living proof.
Since the release of his debut single “What Yo Name Iz?” in 2011, the Houston artist has worked with some of the biggest names in hip-hop while crafting his brand of woozy, melodic rap. That list includes Big Sean, Wale, and Bun B, all of whom appeared on a remix of “What Yo Name Iz?”—a record that would set the stage for Kirko to release his lean-sipping slow jam “Drank In My Cup” the following year.
Kirko’s sung-rapped delivery on “Drank” would draw comparisons to Drake, which does sound like chopped and screwed material from Take Care. However, despite the correlation, he still managed to carve out a niche, with “Drank” earning its own remix with 2 Chainz and Juelz Santana, as well as inspired freestyles from J. Cole, Kid Ink, and August Alsina, among others. “Drank In My Cup” also proved to be a crossover hit, simultaneously topping the Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart and reaching No. 28 on the Hot 100.
Kirko managed to nab a feature on Meek Mill’s “Young & Gettin’ It” before the end of 2012. Still, bigger forces at play prevented his forward momentum, including a game of record label hot potato at Warner Bros. Music. Kirko’s debut album, Bigger Than Me, is hip-hop’s Bigfoot: continually rumored, never seen, with waning interest in a sighting.
The major-label machine is harsh and complicated, but even without its full support, Kirko Banz has continued to release mixtapes, recording with material with A-listers like YG, Migos, and Nipsey Hussle. His signature tune has been equally unrelenting over the past seven “Drank in My Cup” was finally certified Platinum by the RIAA in October 2013, more than a year after its creator disappeared from the mainstream radar.
After scoring several acting gigs and singing in a little-noticed all-girls group in the 00s, Kentucky-born, L.A.-raised singer and dancer Tinashe began releasing mixtapes that she wrote, produced, and recorded in her home studio.
The slow-burning music fit in well with the alternative R&B sound of the time, and Tinashe’s creative power was impressive enough to help her score a record contract with RCA, who released her debut album Aquarius in 2014.
The album housed “2 On,” a girls-night-out anthem with a ScHoolboy Q guest verse, DJ Mustard production, and Sean Paul interpolation, which peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. A world tour followed, Aquarius was hailed as one of the best R&B albums of 2014, and “2 On” scored a Platinum certification.
Unfortunately, none of Tinashe’s follow-up singles fared quite as well—none of her solo performances even cracked the Hot 100—proving superstardom predictions were a bit premature.
We can link some of Tinashe’s “failures” to her dedication to her craft above all else; for example, she canceled a second world tour in 2016 to work on new music. And then there’s the direction of R&B as a genre, with a new line of singer-songwriters like SZA and Kehlani—as well as household names like Beyoncé and Rihanna—moving away from radio ear candy in favor of introspective musings and racking up accolades for honesty and vulnerability along the way.
Tinashe, who is still pigeonholed by fans and media members alike as “sultry” and “seductive” in every written review, has openly discussed the limited options she has as a female artist. Still, it remains to be seen whether this consciousness can translate into a return to the spotlight that doesn't include a reality television dancing competition.
Iggy Azalea (2014)
It’s almost impossible to believe, but half-a-decade ago, Iggy Azalea was one of the biggest rap stars in the world.
The Australian-born rapper moved to the States in 2006 and garnered a co-sign from T.I. shortly after that, but it wasn't until 2014 after she parted ways with Grand Hustle and signed a new deal Def Jam, that Azalea experienced her ultimate breakthrough moment in music.
The Charli XCX-assisted “Fancy,” the fourth single released off her eventual debut album, was an absolute smash. It reached the Top 10 in May 2014 and ruled the Hot 100 the following month—the same week, Azalea held the No. 2 spot on the chart with her guest spot on Ariana Grande’s “Problem.”
The combined success of both records was a boon to Azalea’s long-awaited album The New Classic, which was released in April 2014, and helped push singles with Rita Ora (“Black Widow”), J.Lo (“Booty”), and her former mentor into the Top 40. Vast criticism and accusations of cultural appropriation would soon follow, shadows the now 28-year-old has been unable to escape.
Be it the emotional toll of these labels or the lukewarm reception of newer material, Iggy’s luck shifted drastically in 2015. She canceled an announced North American tour, and The New Classic, while packed with several multi-Platinum singles, needed a full calendar year to earn its Gold certification. Azalea’s lone joint effort with a megastar in 2015, “Pretty Girls,” a double bill with Britney Spears, failed so spectacularly that it drove the two artists to a months-long back-and-forth over who was more to blame.
Iggy Azalea is still around, still releasing new music—she is now on the sixth record label of her career—but on the heels of another botched tour in 2018, a sophomore album (In My Defense) that has been teased for three years and counting, and a Tyga collab that peaked No. 96, renewed success seems less and less likely.
Fetty Wap (December 2014 – November 2015)
Fetty Wap’s road to success with “Trap Queen” was paved by social media and the proliferation of digital service providers.
Inspired to try his hand at singing, the Paterson, New Jersey rapper recorded and released the song in March 2014. Less than one year later, that experiment proved successful—“Trap Queen” amassed millions of plays on SoundCloud, millions of views on YouTube, and millions of loops on the now-deceased Vine. We hailed Fetty as the next big thing. However, it wasn’t until “Trap Queen” was officially released by 300, later that December, that it became a cultural phenomenon.
Fetty took the song to the late-night and award show circuits throughout 2015, helping push the single to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a Platinum certification by May. “Trap Queen” was so ubiquitous and unanimously loved, Fetty performed the song with Kanye West and Taylor Swift.
Unlike countless artists who blow up online, Fetty managed to leverage his breakout hit into several more, including “679” (5x Platinum-certified) and “My Way” (2x Platinum-certified), all while breaking Billboard and Spotify records and getting the most ardent of skeptics to acknowledge his presence.
The naysayers might have had a point, though. Fetty’s ascending star power took a nosedive at the top of 2016. Outside of sporadic guest spots (Kid Ink, Fifth Harmony), Fetty’s lone post-2015 bright spot is “Wake Up,” a Frenzy-produced single that peaked at No. 50 on the Hot 100 and is Gold-certified by the RIAA.
But don’t you worry about Fetty; he’s still touring and making a decent living out of his astounding one-year run.
After releasing a grand total of one song online, Desiigner found a beat on YouTube, recorded some bars inspired by a black-and-white BMW, and unleashed “Panda.” In short order, the song was scooped up by Kanye West, who sampled the track on The Life of Pablo, leading to Desiigner signing a record deal with West’s G.O.O.D. Music.
“Panda” rocketed to No. 1 on the Hot 100 in May 2016, garnering an impressive number of award nominations, and being certified 4x Platinum before the end of the year—it’s currently 5x Platinum—but its success also sparked heated debates over his imitation Future-esque vocal approach and the validity of so-called “mumble rap.” Desiigner continued to split public opinion following “Champions,” a G.O.O.D. Music posse cut on which he appears alongside Quavo, Yo Gotti and others; and “Tiimmy Turner,” an extended version of his XXL Freshman freestyle that was later remixed with a Kanye verse and remains his only other certified song (Platinum) to date.
The Brooklyn native’s material output since “Panda” has fluctuated in quality and regularity, a problem most evident on New English, a half-baked mixtape that all but deaded his buzz.
Desiigner’s flash-in-the-pan success is a cautionary tale for developing artists: don’t forget the development part.
6ix9ine (December 2017 – November 2018)
It might be too soon to put the nail in his career coffin, but three months into 2019, and with his legal saga far from over, it’s hard to see how Tekashi 6ix9ine will be able to bounce back and continue his remarkable 2018 run.
Since exploding onto the scene (a.k.a Instagram) in late 2017 with “Gummo,” a Top 20 hit that is 2x Platinum, 6ix9ine’s brash and violent sound set him apart from the majority of SoundCloud rappers who also gained mainstream recognition. Most of the attention he received, however, stemmed from non-musical factors—his rainbow-colored appearance, his feud with Trippie Redd, his feud with Chief Keef, his affinity for using and rapping the N-word, and alarming charges.
As is often the case in the streaming era, these controversies only helped to create further interest in 6ix9ine, which in turn led to more streams, a stronger chart presence, and Gold (“Kooda,” “Keke,” “Billy”) and Platinum plaques (“FEFE”). All the while, fans doubled down on their support of the highly problematic rapper, a familiar and uncomfortable behavior in today’s rap music market.
Amid the social media-fueled debates, “FEFE,” a collaboration with Nicki Minaj and Murda Beatz, became 6ix9ine’s highest-charting single, peaking at No. 3 on the Hot 100. As “FEFE” hinted, the Bushwick native was attempting to expand his range, but when his debut album DUMMY BOY was rushed out following the rapper’s arrest on federal charges, it came and went with a whimper and failed to debut at No. 1.