Ask Billboard: Lead vs. Featured Artists: Who Has the Most Hot 100 Hits?

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Global Citizen Festival
Jay Z performs onstage at the 2014 Global Citizen Festival to end extreme poverty by 2030 in Central Park on September 27, 2014 in New York City. 

As always, submit questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, tweet @gthot20

LEAD VS. FEATURED ARTISTS: WHO HAS THE MOST HOT 100 HITS?

 


Hi Casey,

That's one of the most frequently questions that comes up in "Ask Billboard" tweets and emails, so I think it's time we finally dig into the topic.

Let's actually look at several different lists to get a wide scope of measuring some superlatives over the Billboard Hot 100's nearly 57-year history.

We can run lots of lists, actually, because it's the Internet, and we're not about to run out of space.

In fact, because it's the Internet, first, here's a cat video! (of me and my girlfriend, Michelle's, cat trying to eat spaghetti … that I'm trying to eat, but can't … because she's trying to):

Paws-itively cute.

OK, now, on to the answer. (Again, beware, several comparisons ahead.)

As featured billings have become commonplace on the Hot 100, the question often comes up of who has the most Hot 100 hits only among lead artists. While counting both lead and featured billings is entirely viable – it's an accomplishment any time you place on the Hot 100, no matter your contribution – it could be akin to, say, counting an actor's Academy Award wins combining nods for both best lead and best supporting roles. It doesn't tell quite the same story as looking at each honor individually.

So, first, here's a look at the acts with the most Hot 100 hits all-time, regardless of lead or featured credit (through the chart dated July 18):

Total, Artist
207, Glee Cast
126, Lil Wayne
108, Elvis Presley
91, James Brown
86, Drake
83, Jay Z
74, Ray Charles
73, Aretha Franklin
72, Chris Brown
71, the Beatles
69, Taylor Swift
67, Elton John
67, Kanye West
65, Nicki Minaj
63, Stevie Wonder

Now, here are those 15 acts, including their totals as leads:

Total - as Lead, Artist
207 - 207, Glee Cast
126 - 45, Lil Wayne
108 - 108, Elvis Presley
91 - 91, James Brown
86 - 45, Drake
83 - 54, Jay Z
74 - 72, Ray Charles
73 - 73, Aretha Franklin
72 - 37, Chris Brown
71 - 71, the Beatles
69 - 66, Taylor Swift
67 - 67, Elton John
67 - 41, Kanye West
65 - 26, Nicki Minaj
63 - 62, Stevie Wonder

So, clearly, rap/hip-hop has helped rewrite artists totals on the Hot 100, Lil Wayne, for instance, has charted the bulk of his 126 entries as a featured artist. That's the collaborative nature of rap and hip-hop, as acts in the genre so often guest on one another's tracks; assist on pop hits (a la Kendrick Lamar on Swift's "Bad Blood"); or, conversely, drive a song while incorporating a sung hook from a featured pop artist (such as Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again," featuring Charlie Puth).

To answer the original question, then: Who has the most Hot 100 hits as a lead artist? The list looks like this:

Total, Artist
207, Glee Cast
108, Elvis Presley
91, James Brown
73, Aretha Franklin
72, Ray Charles
71, the Beatles
67, Elton John
66, Taylor Swift
62, Stevie Wonder
57, the Rolling Stones
56, Madonna
55, Marvin Gaye
54, the Beach Boys
54, Jay Z
53, Neil Diamond
53, Connie Francis
53, the Temptations
53, Jackie Wilson

That's a much more pop-infused ranking, and one with more veteran acts who mostly hit the Hot 100 when featured credits were essentially non-existent.

And, one more list: Who has the most Hot 100 hits in featured roles?

That's, unsurprisingly, a rap/hip-hop-led ranking:

Total, Artist
81, Lil Wayne
41, Drake
39, Nicki Minaj
35, Chris Brown
31, T-Pain
29, Jay Z
27, Ludacris
26, Kanye West


(Quick break from all these stats …

Um … here's a cat joke:

Q: What type of music does a cat like?

A: … any kind, as long as it's … cat-chy.

Thank you! I a-meow-out of here …)


Continued: Rappers with the most hits as lead and featured acts

Back to the main subject.

And, back to the list of acts with the most hits as lead artists. One artist stands out: Jay Z, the rapper with the most Hot 100 appearances as a lead, 54. That stat leads to an apples-to-apples comparison: What rap acts have the most Hot 100 hits as lead artists?

First, let's look at the rappers with the most Hot 100 visits overall:

Total, Artist
126, Lil Wayne
86, Drake
83, Jay Z
67, Kanye West
65, Nicki Minaj
55, Ludacris
55, T.I.
53, Eminem
46, T-Pain (best described as a rapper/singer, and who's collaborated on many rap tracks)
41, Pitbull
41, Rick Ross

Now (as similarly analyzed above among all acts), here are the rappers with the most Hot 100 hits as leads:

Total, Artist
54, Jay Z
45, Drake
45, Lil Wayne
41, Eminem
41, Kanye West
34, T.I.
28, Ludacris
28, Nelly
27, 50 Cent
26, Nicki Minaj
26, Pitbull
25, LL Cool J

Takeaways? Jay Z, Drake, Lil Wayne, Eminem and West boast the most Hot 100 charted titles as leads among rappers. That reinforces how many hits on which they've served as the main creative force (at least going by their songs' official billings).

From that, we can come up with one more key ranking, creating a new stat in the process. What rappers have the highest percentage of claiming lead credit on their Hot 100 hits? In other words, which rappers have controlled their chart destinies the most by charting the most often with songs on which they've been credited as the lead act?

Here's a look at how rappers (with at least 25 Hot 100 hits) stack up by that stat:

Rappers With the Highest Percentage of Lead Credits on Their Hot 100 Hits
Percentage, Artist (Hits as Lead/Total)
89%, LL Cool J (25/28)
82%, Nelly (28/34)
77%, Eminem (41/53)
76%, Flo Rida (19/25)
69%, 50 Cent (27/39)
63%, Pitbull (26/41)
62%, T.I. (34/55)

And, alternately, for that matter, the rappers (with 25 chart visits or more) with the lowest percentages of showing as leads on their Hot 100 hits:

33%, T-Pain
35%, Akon
36%, Lil Wayne
37%, Rick Ross
40%, Nicki Minaj

It makes sense that LL Cool J has appeared as a lead on so many of his Hot 100 charted songs, as his career began in the '80s before featured billing became a regular element of rap. It's perhaps more impressive that Nelly (82 percent) and Eminem (77 percent) rank so high, given that they arrived in an era of widespread collaboration in the genre.

On the other side, T-Pain is the guest extraordinaire among rappers, appearing two-thirds of the time on the Hot 100 as a featured act. Of course, looked at another way: maybe those 31 (of his 46) hits on which he's guested wouldn't have been as big without his assistance. Again, any Hot 100 hit reflects a level of success worth noting, regardless of whether an act is a lead or featured.

So, those are several ways to look at what artists, and rappers specifically, have hit the Hot 100 the most in lead roles. We could add many more filters – the most No. 1s, most top 10s, most weeks on the chart, etc. – but this analysis should still provide insights regarding acts most at the forefront of songs on which they've appeared.

Wow, what a longer response than I would've guessed when I started. Of course, I can't take all the credit. I had help from an adorable, furry (and spaghetti-loving) featured act (… act being an anagram for cat …) myself.