In what’s been a relatively slow year for breakout hits from new artists, we haven’t seen a lot of first-timers climbing into the top 20 of the Hot 100 — but fewer still who debut there as a lead artist.
That’s what 19-year-old Jacksonville rapper Nardo Wick does this week with his breakout single, “Who Want Smoke??” Of course, he doesn’t appear alone on his No. 17-bowing hit: He’s assisted by a trio of more established hitmakers in 21 Savage, Lil Durk and G Herbo, all of whom appear on the song’s now-viral remix.
What’s responsible for the song’s big debut? And who steals the show on the remix? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. A top 20 Hot 100 debut is obviously a tremendous showing for an artist without much Billboard history to their name. Aside from the sheer star power of the guest list, what about “Who Want Smoke??” do you think is most responsible for its resounding debut?
Josh Glicksman: The star-studded guest list definitely has a lot to do with it, but the “Who Want Smoke??” remix lends itself well to the digital age. Between the various spins from all parties on the beat-thumping “what the f–k is that?” stretch, as well as Nardo Wick, 21 Savage and G Herbo taking their respective turns displaying their counting prowess, it’s a track primed for TikTok virality (again, as the original led to more than 170,000 user-created videos on the platform). Plus, a visual directed by Lyrical Lemonade’s Cole Bennett never hurts in steering listeners toward hip-hop’s most exciting new artists.
Carl Lamarre: Dare I say that the Cole Bennett effect remains alive and well? No one can take anything away from this starry lineup and their torrid attacks on this track, but you also can’t underestimate Cole’s colossal presence on YouTube. Boasting close to 19 million subscribers on his page, Cole Bennett has been responsible for launching careers with his directorial savvy and incredible legion of followers. Let’s not forget Lil Tecca’s “Ransom” went crazy in 2019, in large part courtesy of Bennett’s video-making prowess.
Jason Lipshutz: The guest features likely hooked curious fans of Lil Durk, 21 Savage and G Herbo, and then the quality of “Who Want Smoke??” reeled them in to repeated listens. Nardo Wick’s solo single would have found a sizable audience in time because of its combination of haunted-house menace and TikTok-ready five-knocks refrain, but having three high-level artists join the fracas and amplify that appeal ensured one of the more impressive Hot 100 debuts for a newer artist in recent memory.
EJ Panaligan: I think the level of effort and attention given to the Cole Bennett-directed, Lyrical Lemonade-produced music video can’t be ignored in attempting to understand the remix’s top 20 Hot 100 debut. The video’s 13 million views (and counting) outpace the remix’s 7.8 million Spotify streams, so it’s clear that fans are gravitating toward the chaotic, violence-riddled visuals attached to the remix. Also, Lyrical Lemonade has a tenured history of producing music videos for some of hip-hop’s biggest breakout hits in recent years, such as newly minted Hot 100 No. 1 artist Jack Harlow’s “WHATS POPPIN” or the late Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams.” Giving that same treatment to the 19-year-old Florida rapper feels like a fitting investment into his future potential.
Andrew Unterberger: The video helps, the TikTok virality helps, the starry guests definitely help — but ultimately I think “Who Want Smoke??” gets put over by just what a fun song it is. You can tell that all four rappers on it were inspired to bring their A-game on the verses by how deliciously sinister the beat and hook are. And the timing is pretty clutch too: This song could be just as big a part of this upcoming Halloween season as Hershey’s Miniatures variety packs and Jamie Lee Curtis looking terrified.
2. Do you think the relative newcomer is able to hold his own among his three more established guests? Which of the four most steals the show?
Josh Glicksman: He doesn’t quite get on level footing with his guests here, but then again, he doesn’t necessarily need to — the song is still a bona fide hit and establishes his presence as a talent to watch in the rap game. Besides, it’s hard to fault him: after 21 Savage came out swinging in his verse with “Real-deal stepper, put my toe on that boy/ You Mickey Mouse, b-tch, you went and told on that boy,” the remix’s showstopper was already determined. His work as a reporter and Celine ski mask in the music video only further solidify as much.
Carl Lamarre: Because it’s Nardo’s song, you have to give him credit for scripting such a menacing record. As far as who stole the show, it was a clean getaway attempt by 21 Savage and Lil Durk, who proved to be natural fits on the song, especially with the latter rapping: “I know they trolling me/ Outside with your big homie be on, I keep them folks with me/ Got it back in blood, y’all just don’t know, that’s how it ‘posed to be.”
Jason Lipshutz: Part of the reason why the song works is because the relative unknown at the top of the bill brings it alongside his more famous peers. Nardo Wick delivers a breakout verse here full of jittery energy and mealy-mouthed fury, as if he’s hyping himself up to go to war against every enemy imaginable. 21 Savage crushes this eerie beat, as he often does with eerie beats, but Wick ultimately wins the song.
EJ Panaligan: I don’t think Nardo’s verse really stands on equal footing to the contributions of the other three, but that’s more a testament to the three established artists absolutely bringing it to the remix — not a knock on his ability. Truthfully, Nardo should’ve penned a new verse to breathe some fresh air into the track beyond the guest features. But the memorable motifs from his verse (“1, 2, 3, 4…” and the stomping breaks leading into the “WTF is that?” line) are smartly reincorporated by the featured artists, heightening the catchiness of Nardo’s verse. My vote for the remix’s show-stealer goes to Lil Durk, who hungrily lent an intensely visual and visceral sixteen to the track.
Andrew Unterberger: I think Nardo’s a solid leadoff hitter here — not as polished or as clever yet as his co-stars, but with the right spirit and energy, and some absurd punchlines you can’t help but laugh at. But Durk and Savage are the true heavy hitters on this one, respectively bringing the slasher mania and dead-eyed steeliness to really make this horror movie sequel better than the original.
3. Nardo Wick only has a handful of other songs currently available on streaming — but based on those and “Who Want Smoke??” do you see him using this as a springboard to much bigger things?
Josh Glicksman In due time, sure, but I’d expect him and his team to try to ride the wave of success from “Who Want Smoke??” for as long as possible. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but there’s no need to immediately try to move past the breakthrough hit. The music video is already out, but who’s to say Nardo Wick can’t cobble together another remix or two? Especially with newcomers struggling to reach the Hot 100’s upper echelon this year (more on that soon), might as well empty the tank on the shelf life for this song.
Carl Lamarre: I think Nardo’s off to a great start. Remember, he’s only 19, and he also created a record that has been sizzling since the top of the year. Lil Baby and Lil Durk brought the Jacksonville upstart out during their Orlando tour stop, and now he has more rap stars vouching for his skill set and potential. These are the right cosigns needed for him to excel in this era further.
Jason Lipshutz: “Who Want Smoke??” is by far his most complete song, but his general approach on the single translates well across his other tracks. Nardo Wick possesses a seemingly unlimited supply of threats and braggadocio, and knows how to wield them over beats designed to intimidate; it’s too early to tell if any of his other tracks could break through on the level of “Who Want Smoke??,” but I could see him enjoying a nice run of success in 2022.
EJ Panaligan: An album or full-length project of sorts definitely needs to be Nardo Wick’s next move. The “Who Want Smoke??” remix has been his biggest moment yet in his early career and it would serve him well to capitalize on the success and attention paid toward the remix. At a very young 19 years of age, he’s already shown he can attract the talent of established rappers with multiple years logged into the rap game, which can serve him well if he wants more guests on a future project. Or he can go for a more feature-less outing on his debut to better showcase his ability, and prove to audiences that he can carry his own as an artist.
Andrew Unterberger: The echoes of the Friday the 13th score on the hook to “Shhh” really solidified for me that Nardo Wick is on track to be the sort of junior version of his “Smoke” co-star — 10.5 Savage, if you will. Matching 21 for wit or presence is much easier said than done, though, so he’ll have to cultivate and develop his own strengths. But it’s a promising beginning, for sure.
4. With the occasional exception of an established rap hitmaker like Polo G or Lil Tjay leveling up with their biggest hit yet, it’s been a fairly slow year for runaway/viral rap hits from non-superstars in the Hot 100’s top tier. Why do you think that is — and do you think “Who Want Smoke??” could climb to the top 10?
Josh Glicksman: Much of the Hot 100’s top 10 is currently filled with long-lasting hits — and 11 of the top 13 songs on the chart have been on the chart for at least 12 weeks — which doesn’t play well for Nardo Wick, though I’m not ruling it out. But in response to why the upper echelon has eluded non-superstars in 2021, I think it has a lot to do with a number of top artists returning with full-length projects this year. With Kanye West, Drake, J. Cole and Tyler, the Creator all delivering new albums, plenty of attention gets shifted away from on-the-rise talent in the genre.
Carl Lamarre: We have to mention mercurial rap star Pooh Shiesty. Before the embattled rapper landed in prison, he was a contender for rookie of the year because of the success of “Back on Blood,” which also featured Lil Durk. The record peaked at No. 10 and was a monstrous success for Pooh and Gucci’s The New 1017 label. Because the Hot 100 top 10 hasn’t seen too much shuffling on the latter end, I do think Nardo has a chance to break through within the next week or two.
Jason Lipshutz: The reason for the lack of breakthrough rap artists and singles is simple: 2021 has been an enormous year for the Hip-Hop Establishment, thanks to new projects from Drake, Kanye West, J. Cole and Young Thug, as well as consistent output (as well as 2020 holdovers) from A-listers like Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby, Lil Durk and Pop Smoke. Those names take up a lot of room on hip-hop radio and streaming playlists, which leaves fewer opportunities for an artist like Nardo Wick to catch fire — but that said, it sounds like future top 10 hit “Who Want Smoke??” has done just that, even in a more narrow lane this year.
EJ Panaligan: I think many of this year’s viral rap hits didn’t have the legs to really make it far up the Hot 100, and many factors can contribute to that. Even the hits from some of the genre’s titans, such as Drake, Future and Young Thug’s “Way 2 Sexy,” which in its construction sounds like a record made for its meme potential and TikTok virality, didn’t spend much time in sole possession of the No. 1 spot. I hope the “Who Want Smoke??” remix has the legs to defy this ongoing trend, because at its core, it is an addicting, grimy rap posse cut. Plus, the combined star power and fanbases attached to its featured artists gives it a great chance to break the top 10 in coming weeks.
Andrew Unterberger: I’m not totally sure of the answer to this, though obviously some of the bigger names sucking up all the oxygen hasn’t helped. It might just be a year where what’s really exciting in the hip-hop underground hasn’t quite bubbled up into crossover success yet — or maybe a whole paradigm shift in the genre’s A-list is on its way and 2021 is just the calm before the storm. In any event, the relative drought just makes breakout hits like “Smoke” even more precious and gratifying when they actually do show up. It’s got a chance to keep growing from here, and I’m certainly rooting for it.
5. Dating back to the Platters in 1958, the Billboard Hot 100 has long wanted that smoke. What’s your favorite “Smoke” or “Smoking” hit song or artist?
Josh Glicksman: “Free Smoke” by Drake. Were we ever so young as to fawn over that Instagram picture of him and Jennifer Lopez? What a time to be alive.
Jason Lipshutz: If we’re talking artists, it’s Pop Smoke. If we’re talking songs, it’s “Smoke on the Water.” And if we’re talking albums, it is, of course, Young Dro’s 2006 classic, Best Thang Smokin’.
EJ Panaligan: I’m partial to the late Brooklyn drill rapper Pop Smoke and the monumental impact he made in hip-hop circles during his brief rise to stardom before his unfortunate death. The sheer malleability he possessed as an artist, from spearheading the New York drill movement to interpolating Tamia’s “So Into You” in “Something Special,” along with his signature deep vocal delivery, had the potential to rule the charts and radio airwaves for years to come. His posthumous release Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon proved that with its No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 albums chart, and breakout smash “For the Night” peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100. Pop may be gone, but the smoke will never clear.
Andrew Unterberger: “Smoke on the Water” is the all-timer, but for my personal favorite let’s go a little further down the leaderboard to Gary Allan’s No. 76-peaking 2000 Hot 100 hit “Smoke Rings in the Dark,” a Springsteenian country heartbreaker that lingers far longer than the titular vanishing puffs.