Coi Leray was already one of the bigger rap success stories of the 2020s, scoring top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hits alongside Lil Durk (“No More Parties”) and Nicki Minaj (“Blick Blick!”) while also becoming a social media sensation. But her crossover success hits a new level this week, as her viral smash “Players” climbs to No. 9 on the Hot 100.
The single marks both her first top 10 hit on the chart, and her first to come without any co-credited artists — though the song does get a spiritual lift from the legendary rap outfit Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, as “Players” lifts the instrumental hook to the group’s 1982 classic “The Message.” It also has benefited from a couple popular bootleg remixes, including a Jersey Club remix from DJ Smallz 732 which Leray has since released an official music video for.
How did “Players” bring Leray to this new level? And what does it mean for her career from here? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. “Players” moves 12-9 this week to reach the top 10 in its 12th week on the listing. What do you think the song owes its consistent growth to?
Rania Aniftos: Besides that insanely catchy hook? The initial success of the song has led to getting to know Coi a lot more, as she’s been doing more interviews and appearances. Turns out, she’s super cool and funny, which has surely grown her fanbase even more and has encouraged people to want to support her and listen to her music. She reminds me a lot of Cardi B or Doja Cat in the sense that her personality amplifies her music.
Elias Leight: The initial growth of “Players” took place at the intersection of social media and streaming. Leray teased the track early. (“F–k it, I wanted to leak music,” she told Billboard. “I like being [a] little rebellious sometimes.”) A pair of bootleg remixes subsequently became popular on TikTok. The fleet-footed Jersey Club rework from DJ Smallz 732 has been used in more than 1.8 million TikTok videos, while a mash-up with the Busta Rhymes classic “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” has been incorporated in nearly 450,000 clips; both helped drive listeners to the original. As we’ve seen with other hits, radio started to kick in after a couple months of robust streaming: The airplay audience for “Players” has roughly doubled in the last two months.
Jason Lipshutz: This is a slam-dunk radio success story: “Players” broke through online and has performed well at streaming, but Coi Leray’s breakthrough smash has crashed the top 10 thanks to a No. 1 posting on the Rhythmic chart, as well as a No. 4 peak at Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No. 10 at Mainstream Top 40. Hip-hop and pop programmers have embraced the track, and “Players” works well at both formats; it’s an old-school approach to hit-making, but one that’s paid off in this instance.
Neena Rouhani: A combination of continued TikTok hype, the Jersey Club remix, radio play and overall catchiness from Coi.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s following the path most non-immediate hits do in 2023: viral success converting to streaming prominence converting to radio play. It makes sense, because the song has all the ingredients needed for each of those three kinds of popularity: It’s catchy, it’s novel, it’s genre-blending and it feels both familiar and distinctly modern.
2. Like Latto’s breakout hit “Big Energy” last year, “Players” is a top 10 breakthrough that rides a recreated sample from the early ’80s (Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message”) that was already notably revived by a mid-’90s Hot 100-topper (Puff Daddy and Mase’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”). Does the lift feel more fresh or recycled to you?
Rania Aniftos: I don’t know if it’s because I personally love these ’80s revival hits in general, but it’s fresh to me! Coi has such a unique style to her rap flow that makes it feel modern, despite the clear throwback melody. Also, the themes about girls being players too is playful and feels very 2023.
Elias Leight: Variations on this approach feel ubiquitous at the moment: “Players” is also in the top 10 with “Creepin’,” which reworks Mario Winans’ and Diddy’s “I Don’t Wanna Know,” while Nicki Minaj’s last two singles mined Rick James’ “Super Freak” and Lumidee’s “Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh),” respectively, for source material. There’s a probably apocryphal story about Jam & Lewis saying there are only three kinds of music – good music, bad music and hits. These lifts, whether they’re fresh or recycled, appear to be a steady conduit for hits right now.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s a little bit of both, and that’s why “Players” works! Like the “Big Energy” production, the sample here is obviously iconic enough to power both a ‘90s revival and a 2020s revival of that revival — the “Message” hook immediately catches your ear when identified on a playlist or radio station, but then Leray twists it into an engaging new shape. Attempting to pull this off with a tired sample or the wrong approach wouldn’t work, but the marriage of an undeniable foundation and a cool new structure built upon it has yielded a top 10 hit.
Neena Rouhani: I actually really like both lifts, “Big Energy” and “Players.” Interpolations and samples have felt overdone lately – I think there’s a fixation on replicating a certain feeling from the past that often fails to translate – but Coi’s “Players” does it right, especially with the Jersey Club Remix. Many artists are flipping radio hits from 20 years ago (which in reality isn’t that old), but it’s another to successfully reimagine a song like “The Message,” which is embedded in the fabric of hip-hop, in such a fun way.
Andrew Unterberger: Fresher than I’d expect, partially because Leray’s vocal interplay with the sample is so playful and fun — though it’s definitely dancing on the borderline. (Then again, so was Puff Daddy and Mase’s use of it a quarter-century ago.)
3. Leray has already made a handful of visits to the Hot 100, but this is both her first top 10 hit and her first unaccompanied solo charting effort. Does reaching this level of success with “Players” establish/validate her as a star?
Rania Aniftos: One hundred percent, especially given that it’s her first solo charting effort. “Players” proves that Coi has what it takes to be a well-respected artist on her own, and that she’s a lot more than a fun collaborator. She’s introducing herself as a force to be reckoned with in the hip-hop world, and “Players” is helping rest her case.
Elias Leight: It certainly helps. But there’s a lot of confusion around the music industry right now about what it means to break an artist and become a star. Are heaps of streams and social media followers enough? Is a star an artist who receives consistent pop radio play across multiple singles, or one who is able to sell lots of tickets outside of New York and Los Angeles, or some combination of all these things? Is thinking about superstars now outdated at a time when fandom is increasingly fragmented and prominent record company executives are talking publicly about “reduc[ing] our dependency” on these acts?
Jason Lipshutz: The chart rise of “Players” has been unexpected, and it will be interesting to see how Leray harnesses the attention it brings to push her career forward. The history of pop music is littered with artists who have turned a strong sample, interpolation or cover into momentary fame, and while a flare-up like “Players” draws interest in the voice leading the hit, Leray needs to transcend the sample and present her own artistry to the masses. Fortunately, the multi-talented Leray has demonstrated a gift for rhythmic pop as a singer and rapper, and should enjoy a prolonged career from here.
Neena Rouhani: She’s absolutely well on her way; reaching the top 10 as a solo artist is no easy feat for any burgeoning star, so it says a lot about how she’s being received and the strategy of her team. She definitely has star quality, especially from her pretty unwavering sense of self. Now let’s see if she remains consistent, which I think will be the true tell.
Andrew Unterberger: It’ll certainly open all kinds of doors for her — TV appearances, pop festivals, award show consideration — though I don’t know if it’ll necessarily translate to star-level consumption for her next project, at least not on its own. It’s the kind of foot in the door that only a handful of artists get in a year, though, and she has the talent to properly take advantage of it.
4. “Players” has already benefited from a couple bootleg remixes, but we haven’t gotten an official remix commissioned from Leray’s camp yet. If she was going to try to get one final chart boost out of an official remix, who do you think would be the smartest guest for her to recruit for it?
Rania Aniftos: OK, this might sound a little random, but I’m thinking Miley Cyrus. She’s the perfect fit for the female empowerment theme in the wake of her divorce, and she’s been topping the Hot 100 for eight weeks with her own don’t-need-no-man anthem, “Flowers.” I also just think Miley’s husky voice would sound so good with Coi’s flow.
Elias Leight: Getting Diddy on it would be a cute nod to the sample’s previous history. Mase is a pastor now, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask him as well.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s hard not to imagine Cardi B demolishing this beat — adding a minute and about a dozen different quotable lines — on a “Players” remix. The wait for Cardi’s sophomore LP continues, but she’s popped up as a guest artist on a few tracks over the past year… and if she can conjure the same magic that she brought next to GloRilla on “Tomorrow 2,” we could see “Players” rise from its current No. 9 peak towards something even bigger.
Neena Rouhani: I think the most obvious choice would be Nicki Minaj. The duo have collabed before in the past on “Blick! Blick!” and show a lot of love to each other. I also think they have pretty similar energy and Nicki is a New York native, which could pay homage to the Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five flip. If she wants to enlist another rising rap phenom and fellow TikTok cult favorite, Ice Spice would be a natural choice. But I also could see her going totally left field and bringing in someone unexpected, genre or language-wise.
Andrew Unterberger: Where’s Joe at these days? He didn’t want to be a player no more 25 years ago, but if Coi Leray could convince him to temporarily play the part on the song’s revamped hook, it’d probably go over with Mario Winans-in-the-“Creepin'”-video-level excitement.
5. If you were part of Coi Leray’s team and she asked you how best to capitalize on her “Players” success once the song’s chart cycle was essentially through, what would you tell her?
Rania Aniftos: Don’t wait too long before putting out another song. What’s tough about today’s music industry is that viral success seems like just a blink of an eye before fans move onto the next hit. Those who stay on the charts and turn a viral hit into a long-term career are the ones who have planned the rest of their music rollout in some way. I’m sure she has plenty of great tracks in progress, and I’d love to see her take advantage of being in the news and her upcoming festival performances by putting out another fun single.
Elias Leight: What are we sampling next?
Jason Lipshutz: My advice would be, “Stay away from another classic sample.” She doesn’t need it! Leray has been one of the more interesting voices bubbling up in popular hip-hop in recent years, and instead of being pigeonholed as a sample vulture (to mix my bird metaphors), she has more than enough inherent talent and sonic ideas to stand on her own two feet. “Players” brought her into the game, and now, she can go wherever she wants.
Neena Rouhani: Drop another single, and continue boosting “Players” through the release cycle of the follow-up. Sort of how Latto is doing with “Big Energy” and “Lottery.” Also, remixes. A lot of them.
Andrew Unterberger: Don’t try to chase pop radio. Top 40 is more fickle than ever in the TikTok era, and if songs don’t post good streaming numbers, they’re not likely to embrace your new single regardless of how radio-ready it sounds (or how closely it follows the formula of your last radio success). Leray would be better off using the added exposure to make the kind of music she wants to make and that comes most natural to her, whatever that ends up being, and focusing her attention on cultivating the kind of sustained streaming fanbase that can ultimately launch additional “Players”-type successes without needing radio’s assistance.