A few weeks after Memorial Day, the race for this year’s Song of the Summer still looked like it was going to be a competitive one.
One year after Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” basically eliminated all drama from the Song of the Summer contest by spending nearly the entire season atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the 2020 showdown included multiple hits with a real shot at supremacy — from Doja Cat’s “Say So” to Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” to The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” to the Lady Gaga/Ariana Grande collaboration “Rain On Me,” all of which spent at least one week at No. 1.
Then, one song raced out to the lead, and just kept sprinting: “Rockstar,” the smash single by DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch, spends its fifth straight week and seventh total frame atop the Hot 100 this week, and is now the presumptive favorite for this year’s Song of the Summer crown. “Rockstar” is both a streaming juggernaut — this week, the song spends its ninth week at No. 1 on the Streaming Songs chart, with 471.1 million U.S. on-demand streams to date, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data — as well as a huge airplay hit, up to No. 2 on this week’s all-genre Radio Songs chart with 62.1 million airplay audience impressions. It also sits at No. 1 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs for a seventh week each.
“The song is a perfect storm — the consumption has been through the roof, internal research has been consistently strong, and it has shown no burn on it,” says Dion Summers, VP of urban programming at Sirius XM. Carl Chery, head of urban music at Spotify, thinks it could end up being the biggest song of 2020: “If it keeps going like this, DaBaby has a shot at being in that conversation.”
How did “Rockstar” grow into such a behemoth? Here are the five ways in which DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s smash collaboration became the Song of the Summer front-runner:
1. Demand for DaBaby is sky-high.
DaBaby’s first studio album, Baby on Baby, was released in March 2019; since then, the Charlotte rapper has been unyielding in his output, releasing two more full-lengths — Kirk last September and Blame It On Baby in April — as well as hopping on more than 30 songs as a featured artist over the past 18 months.
The tonnage strategy has proven effective: beginning with his breakthrough hit “Suge” in spring 2019, DaBaby has become a regular presence in the Hot 100’s upper reaches, scoring top 40 hits with artists ranging from Post Malone to Camila Cabello to Megan Thee Stallion. Meanwhile, both of his most recent albums topped the Billboard 200 chart, despite being released less than seven months apart.
And while “Rockstar” is now DaBaby’s biggest career hit, he’s appeared on two songs, Jack Harlow’s “What’s Poppin?” remix and Pop Smoke’s “For The Night,” that entered the top 10 during its reign at No. 1. With his agile flow and alignment with some of the biggest mainstream stars in music, DaBaby’s more-is-more approach has made him an A-lister in a little more than a year’s time.
“He’s a natural star and charismatic,” says Chery of DaBaby. “Because of the cadence of his releases, I was wondering at what point he was going to maybe get to a point where people feel like he’s saturating himself… But ultimately, the album [Blame It On Baby] has such staying power, and ‘Rockstar’ as well.”
2. “Rockstar” switched up his approach (in a good way).
Prior to the release of Blame It On Baby, DaBaby was best known for songs that eschewed pop hooks in favor of relentless bars: “Suge,” “Bop” and the intro to last year’s Kirk all became top 20 hits with nary a melodic chorus in sight. Yet DaBaby’s latest album finds him incorporating more traditional refrains into his songs, and “Rockstar,” constructed around the rapper’s warbled hook, offers a soothing tone atop a guitar lick and producer SethInTheKitchen’s booming percussion. The result is a single by one of rap’s biggest new stars that also invites in traditional pop listeners looking for a catchy chorus.
“Before ‘Rockstar,’ he hadn’t really used melody that much,” notes Chery. “That’s the one thing that I [immediately] noticed with this song, that he’s using the melodic hook on this. Maybe that speaks to why it had a wider reach than anything he put out before.” Case in point: there are scores of covers of “Rockstar” on YouTube, many of them turning the hook into the basis for an acoustic ballad, and a few with over a 1 million views each.
3. Its costar also happens to be a superstar now.
This time last year, Roddy Ricch was still a rising hip-hop talent from Compton who had yet to release a proper album or move beyond the lower reaches of the Hot 100. Now, he has spent a whopping 18 weeks in 2020 at the top of the Hot 100, and has become one of the most in-demand artists in music.
Musically, Ricch balances out “Rockstar,” his helium-voiced sing-rapping arriving after DaBaby’s sharp lyrical jabs on the track. But don’t discount his commercial impact on “Rockstar” as well: After his breakout solo single “The Box” notched 11 weeks atop the Hot 100, Ricch became a brand name in his own right, making his team-up with DaBaby all the more attractive for streaming playlists and hip-hop radio rotations.
“We knew going into 2020 that Roddy was very special,” says Summers, pointing out that the rapper was part of Sirius XM’s ‘Future Five’ artists of this year as decided back in December. “When you combine him and DaBaby, it was pretty much a no-brainer in our world that this record was gonna go the distance. They are just two artists that I think the fans and the industry are genuinely rooting for.”
4. Don’t forget the well-timed promotional tools.
The circumstances of this year have made supporting new music a tricky endeavor, as the coronavirus pandemic has wiped out touring plans, upended award shows and altered late night TV bookings to include more low-key remote performances. Yet part of the reason why “Rockstar” has been able to persist at the top of the Hot 100 is due to a strategic rollout that kept injecting new life into the song well after its April release.
On June 12, during the first week that “Rockstar” spent at No. 1, DaBaby and Roddy Ricch released a “Black Lives Matter remix” of the track to coincide with the nationwide protests against police brutality (more on that in a second). Two weeks later, “Rockstar” finally received an official music video, a cinematic clip that features DaBaby and Ricch hunting zombies and playing air-guitar in the middle of a field. Combined with a virtual performance for the 2020 BET Awards that aired on June 28, streams for “Rockstar” gained 16.6% to 41.8 million during that tracking week after the video release, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data — and the song has reigned atop the Hot 100 ever since.
5. “Rockstar” speaks to our current national moment.
The aforementioned “Black Lives Matter remix” of “Rockstar” doesn’t stray too far from the original: DaBaby adds on a verse to take the place of the song’s intro, and spends 40 seconds ruminating on his past run-ins with the law while declaring, “Just watch the news, they burning cop cars, n—a!”
Yet the fact that “Rockstar” was not dramatically altered by the remix does not diminish the symbolism of the leading song of the summer being aligned with one of the biggest civil rights movements in United States history. “Rockstar” already made a statement against systemic racism and police brutality long before the remix was released; after all, the phrase “f–k a cop car” is included in the first line of its chorus. “I think it’s noteworthy, the idea that both of these artists are meeting the moment in terms of being supportive of Black Lives Matter,” says Summer.
In case the original song and its remix didn’t make the artists’ intentions explicit enough, DaBaby and Ricch’s performance of “Rockstar” for the BET Awards was also politically charged, with the rappers performing while surrounded by protestors wearing black shirts that read ‘I Am George Floyd’ and ‘I Am Breonna Taylor,’ among other phrases.
Neither artist had been particularly outspoken on social issues prior to the explosion of “Rockstar,” and Chery thinks that part of its success can be attributed to DaBaby and Ricch rising to the occasion. “Part of the reason why there was an influx of protest music is because it was hard for people to ignore what’s happening in our world,” he says. “I think it was very smart for DaBaby to put out a remix and come across as having the right intentions. It could have misinterpreted as something opportunistic. Instead, it felt like it was from the heart.”