Updated: Jan 12, 2022
The music industry changed quite a bit in the early 2010s. CDs were by then long a thing of the past, and by 2011 ringtone sales and iTunes downloads, once thought to be the savior of the industry’s changing landscape, had started to steadily and rapidly decline, both becoming obsolete by the mid-decade. The industry was still several years away from fully turning to streaming as an answer to their piracy problems, and so music release and consumption was probably more fractured than it had ever been. Long past the era when radio DJs and Suge Knight-style moguls were the gatekeepers that could launch careers but before the era of TikTok dances, Rap Caviar, and streaming algorithms, it was the Wild West for artists, who were free to experiment with different models with no one approach being the norm.
Blog Rap exploded, with young, up and coming artists like Mac Miller, Chance The Rapper, and the Odd Future collective opting to mostly release music for free on hosting sites like Datpiff, while building a brand and supporting themselves via live shows and merch. These young upstarts were adored on hip hop blogs and amongst the popular consensus but had almost nothing to show for it via Billboard success. A new crowd of artists consisting of Drake, Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, and others, who had been hovering around the mainstream for several years as bubbling up and comers, broke through as legitimate superstars, while many artists who ruled the 2000s would have their last taste of the top.
It was, to put it simply, a strange time in music and hip hop. So in the interest of nostalgia, I wanted to look back on the year a decade later and see how the popular artists of a decade ago have fared. My focus in doing this is not so much to see if they continued to have success in years following but more where they stand ten years later. Some are undeniably still mainstream superstars; others have faded slightly but still retain loyal fanbases eating up their every offering. Others have stepped away from the music industry entirely, and others still have done so to such a degree that just the mention of their name becomes a discussion of pop culture trivia. While their careers may be more or less forgotten, they will forever live on in throwback playlists.
In making this list, I took the top 50 songs from the 2011 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop year-end chart (some artists like Lil Wayne had multiple, I chose to mention only their highest charting song) and then listed when every artist from that chart’s most recent Billboard hit was. An imperfect methodology obviously, but it’s the best we’ve got. A quick disclaimer, several of the songs on the 2011 year-end list were released in 2010, but I included them anyways, my rationale being that if a song was still dominating airwaves to the point where it made a year-end list a year later, it’s a good indication that the artist was still popular that year. Without further ado, here’s the list.
Still Superstars Making Hits
2011: “Look At Me Now”
2021: “Go Crazy” (#3)
What else is there to say at this point about Chris Brown? A sizable majority of the country despises him, but the former teenage heartthrob keeps dancing his way out of every self-inflicted controversy. Domestic violence accusations, drug problems, beating up the most famous pop star in the world, releasing merch about skating on a rape charge, really by now it seems nothing can bring Breezy down somehow, so I guess we’re all just stuck with him. The mid-quarantine Slime & B collab tape with Young Thug was a bizarre pairing, who knew the two even knew each other much less had enough chemistry to want to work on a joint album. But was mostly successful musically, spawning “Go Crazy”, the biggest hit of Breezy’s career in more than a decade which somehow managed to peak a year after the tape’s release. Anyways, I expect Breezy to keep beating up pop stars and front flipping his way out of controversy for another 10 years or so.
2011: “I’m On One”
2021: “Every Chance I Get” (#20)
“I’m On One” was a seminal moment in 2011, as Drake chose a Khaled track as his vehicle to break radio silence with a blistering verse, out-rapping his mentors Weezy and Rick Ross and announcing to the world he was gearing up to release his sophomore album Take Care. The result was the first #1 on the Hip Hop charts for Khaled and Drake (a hilariously pedestrian stat for Drizzy a decade later). Coming just a year after mega-smash “All I Do Is Win”, which will be played at sporting events till the end of time, it seemed Khaled was poised to dominate the new era with his over-stuffed hits featuring a who’s who of rap celebrities for years to come. But a disastrous stint on Cash Money stalled the Miami mogul’s career, and it took a 2016 reinvention as a living meme to claw his way back to the top. In recent years, Khaled has been bigger than ever commercially, landing at least 1-3 smash hits on every one of his last few albums and, improbably, winning his first Grammy. But I mean by this point in 2021, are people still listening to these albums? I guess so judging by the streaming numbers, but it definitely feels like DJ Khaled ran out his welcome after his late-decade resurgence.
2011: “Moment For Life”
2021: “Trollz” (#1)
Nicki proved her doubters wrong and hushed any chatter that her pop culture relevance had somewhat slipped by breaking the internet after no-showing the Met Gala with a bona fide HOF tweet about her cousin in Trinidad’s friend’s gigantic swollen testicles that had made him impotent and ruined an upcoming wedding. Oh, I guess she also had a #1 smash hit with noted pedophile and current witness protection client 6ix9ine last year so that’s good for her. Ok now that we got the jokes out of the way, “Seeing Green” was a legitimately excellent track featuring the YM Voltron, with all 3 artists sounding more energized and motivated than they had in years. Between that and her still scene-stealing run of features, Nicki has had a better time musically in recent years than people have given her credit for after her last album Queen seemed to mark her as past her prime. Keep churning out A+ tweets like that and I’ll keep coming out.
2011: “Aston Martin Music”
2019: “Gold Roses” (#39)
Ross has had remarkable longevity for an artist whose contemporaries have mostly all more or less aged out of mainstream Hip Hop. 2019’s Port Of Miami 2 was a worthy follow up to his classic debut album that deserved its sequel status, with Drake bestowing him a gift-wrapped hit single for good measure. The Boss may not be on top of the world anymore like he was 10 years ago, when “Aston Martin Music” (featuring Drake on the hook, sensing a theme?) marked the bookend of a monster run culminating in magnum opus Teflon Don, but with consistently excellent output he’ll remain a welcome presence in the modern-day rap scene for years to come.
2011: “All Of The Lights”
2021: “Hurricane” (#6)
I’m not going to recap what Kanye’s been up to this past decade, I think we’re all more or less aware. So I’ll just draw an interesting parallel between this year and a decade ago. In 2011 Kanye had just roared back to relevancy with the stunningly masterful late 2010 release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and then followed it up with a collab album that has yet to be matched by anyone in Watch The Throne for good measure, cementing his icon status in the wake of self-inflicted controversy. A decade later, following uh, a tumultuous few years, Kanye returned with the sprawling Donda. Is it as good as MBDTF? Good enough to absolve him of his many sins of the past few years? No and no, of course not to both. But it’s undeniably his best album in a half decade and the highlights, as usual with any Kanye project, are as strikingly ambitious as ever. Overall, I’d say it's a good thing to have some artists who are legitimately insane and refreshing to hear an album that’s bloated due to megalomania and not to game Spotify algorithms. I’ll take becoming the most divorced guy in history and literally living as the Phantom of the Opera in various stadiums across the country any day over commissioning Damien Hirst to make an album cover out of emojis. Kanye lost control a while ago and while it may be grotesque to keep watching, here we are. So might as well enjoy the ride.
2011: “6 Foot 7 Foot”
2020: “Seeing Green” (#12)
Who saw this late career resurgence coming! 2011 marked the beginning of the end for Wayne’s run at the top and despite a few hits here and there in the early 2010s, by mid-decade he had been mostly left for dead, mired in a multi-year lawsuit with former mentor Birdman and lapped in popularity by one-time protégés Drake and Nicki. But against all odds, Wayne roared back with his 2018 long-awaited comeback album Carter V. Sure the tape was too long and lagged at stretches, but it showcased a motivated and hungry Weezy that hadn’t been seen in years. While he could’ve rode off into the sunset with this as a capper to a remarkable career, Tunechi has improbably regained the fire from his mid-2000s feature run where he was the industry’s premiere scene-stealing cameo killer. Popping up on tracks from the likes of Jack Harlow, Rich The Kid, Polo G, and anyone who comes calling it seems, Wayne is back to rapping like it’s 2007 again, a remarkably improbable feat almost 3 decades into his career. Who knows what the future holds from New Orleans’s favorite son; if there’s one thing we’ve learned from him since the Hot Boys it’s never count Weezy F Baby out.
2011: “Best Thing I Never Had”
2020: “Savage (Remix)” (#1)
Beyonce in between Earth-stopping projects doesn’t usually make much noise musically; her post-Lemonade output has been mostly contained to some more or less forgettable collab/soundtrack projects. But last spring at the height of Covid she did what she does best and brought the world to a standstill by hopping on the remix to the already-climbing Megan Thee Stallion track “Savage”. Her addition propelled the song to new heights, giving Meg her first #1 and Beyonce’s probably 74th. Yeah I mean nothing much else to write about Beyonce she’s doing pretty well in case you hadn’t followed. The Tiffany blood diamond Basquiat ad is a pretty funny bit though I will say.
2021: “Way 2 Sexy” (#1)
Drake has become Too Big to Fail. If that wasn’t the case several years ago (it probably was starting around Views maybe even IYRTITL), it certainly is now with his new album Certified Lover Boy breaking every single Spotify record despite not having a single memorable song. His success has more to do with the inevitability of the brand by this point than the actual musical offering (try and say with a straight face that “Way 2 Sexy” is an enjoyable song, even Drake’s most ardent defenders have given up pretending). Which is a funny and pretty unexpected position to be in a decade plus into his career. At the top of 2011 the former child star was coming off a disappointing response to his debut album, the project that was supposed to solidify his place in the upper echelon of hip hop after several buzzy mixtapes and scene-stealing features. But the played-safe-to-the-point-of-boredom Thank Me Later fizzled, and Drake was seemingly left for dead, a story all too common with hyped up rising stars that can’t fully put it together. Against all odds, Drizzy roared back with “I’m On One”, dropped his sophomore outing Take Care (still a better project than anything he’s released since), and hasn’t let up on his run of dominance since. I mean literally, in that he has very literally not left the Billboard charts at any point in the last decade.
2011: “That Way”
2019: “On Chill” (#22)
Wale always feels like he should’ve been bigger than he ended up being. He had all the support in the world as Rozay’s lieutenant in the MMG clique and his projects have always gotten consistent critical acclaim, but the DC native was unable to ever really elevate himself beyond a moderately popular mainstream artist in the way that Drake or even his labelmate Meek Mill did. The Jeremih-assisted “On Chill” was a legitimate smash hit, his first in years, so here’s hoping the Gifted One sticks around and enjoys his rekindled relevancy.
Still Big Names But Less Relevant, No Longer Making Hits
2011: “Sure Thing”
2017: “Sky Walker” (#29)
I’ve long said Miguel is lucky he has such an angelic voice because he’s an absolute dogshit songwriter. 2011 was the start of a monster couple of years for the dreamboat crooner, with back-to-back albums Kaleidoscope Dream and Wildheart landing him a boatload of hits and awards in the early parts of the decade. He’s slipped a bit in relevancy in recent years, with 4 years since his last smash hit (the breezy, Travis Scott-backed “Sky Walker), but with a new album on the horizon, a return to the top seems pretty likely.
2011: “Motivation” (#2)
Look I mean when your groupmate goes onto be fucking Beyonce it’s pretty hard not to garner the reputation of underachieving. But that would be selling Ms. Rowland short as she had a very respectable run of solo hits in the post-Destiny’s Child years (Michele, well that’s another story lol). Sure, the last of which was a decade ago (the Lil Wayne-assisted “Motivation”) and I’m sure most people like myself had just assumed she had retired and instead would be surprised to find out she’s actually been releasing music pretty steadily these last few years. But give Kelly the respect she deserves and just focus on the Michelle jokes.
2011: “My Last”
2016: “Bounce Back” (#6)
Ah Big Sean, the man who would be king, who had more opportunities to succeed than anyone and could never rise above just being an ok rapper with ok albums. It’s funny to think how similar of a position he and Drake were in a decade ago. Both were hyped up rising stars with a slew of buzzy mixtapes, both signed to a high-profile label with a famous mentor at the head (Wayne in Drake’s case, Mr. Kanye West of course in the case of Sean), and both released debut albums within a year of each other that while disappointing, underscored their vast potential. But while Drake would obviously go on to become the biggest artist of the decade, Sean could never seem to fully take the leap. Despite having the entire GOOD Music roster behind him during the label’s prime, with legendary producers like Ye, Mike Dean, 88-Keys and more crafting his beats, Sean only ever managed to top out at pretty good. With 5 years since his last hit, barring some late career resurgence, that’s probably where he’ll stay.
2011: “Can’t Be Friends”
2015: “Slow Motion” (#26)
Drake almost signing to Trey Songz’s label back in 2007 is a wild piece of trivia solely for the fact that there was a point in time where Trey Songz was a bigger deal than Drake. Trey would go on to lodge a few smashes in the years following but hasn’t had a hit since 2015 and at this point is more notable for his involvement in other rapper’s beefs than anything music related. Even in that lane it's been a few years since he’s popped up in a fun story like allegedly cucking Meek Mill so calling him still a big name in 2021 might be a stretch. Do Gen Z kids know who Trey Songz is? Someone who has a line to today’s youth enquire and get back to me.
2011: “Down On Me”
2015: “Oui” (#19)
I’ve never really been able to tell how famous or talented for that matter Jeremih is. He had some huge smash hits at the top of the decade that were mostly conventional pop-rap fare and hasn’t had a hit of his own since the mid-decade’s “Oui”. Since then, he’s settled into a behind the scenes vocalist and songwriter role, similar to what The-Dream occupied for years and what Ty Dolla seems to occupy now. Jeremih always seems to be on the cusp of superstardom but at this point might be more content to not be a starring attraction anymore. As an aside, “Womp Womp”, Jerimih’s duet with GOOD Music signee Valee from a few years back is one of my favorite tracks of the latter half of the decade.
2011: “I Smile”
Look, gospel is not my thing. My introduction to Kirk Franklin embarrassingly came during his contributions to Kanye’s Life Of Pablo and when I did some more research on the man who's apparently the king of modern gospel I didn’t and still don’t understand what exactly it is that he does given that he seems to not actually sing on any of his tracks. So he’s like the gospel DJ Khaled or something? Idk the man has something like 16 Grammys and if there’s a heaven he’s probably going there way before you or me, so I should probably limit the jokes I get off on him.
2011: “You Are”
Charlie Wilson still apparently releasing music at a relatively active rate is something I wasn’t aware of but good on him I guess. He’s an undeniable legend, so putting him in the “Completely Forgotten” category is a little harsh, but it’s hard to argue he’s what you would call a “big name” in 2021. His vocals on the hook of a Kanye or Ross project or whomever will always be appreciated.
2018: “Apeshit” (#13)
Jay like his wife doesn’t make a ton of noise musically in between projects, preferring to pop up here and there on guest verses to lend the gravitas of his presence to a track. Oh, and also continue the tradition of giving Drake his worst verses ever. Hov has been keeping busy in recent years though, evolving into a scumbag billionaire: appearing in blood diamond ads, cutting deals with Roger Goodell, endorsing Ray McGuire for mayor, etc. Musically, well we basically got a Jay Z album last year in that Jay Electronica’s debut tape ended up essentially being a collab album with the Brooklyn native and the results were surprisingly good, Louie Farrakhan references aside and all. Hip Hop has always been a young man’s game since its inception decades ago, but Hip Hop had also never really seen an artist as insanely popular as Jay Z before he came along. So I’d say Hov will probably serve as rap’s Rolling Stones for the next few decades, releasing projects that don’t necessarily tarnish his legacy but don’t really do much to add to it well into his twilight years. Which I mean, sure why not? Not the absolute worst thing in the world if we get a “Story Of OJ” every couple of years in between like news about him partnering with the Saudi Arabian government or something.
2011: “You Be Killin Em”
Look man, I’m sorry, I don’t wana write about Fabolous. The artist who was always too clever for his own good, unable to stop literally explaining his punchlines in lines following just in case anyone would miss their brilliance, is just not an interesting or particularly amusing subject for me. He’s still somehow moderately relevant despite not having a hit song or album in a decade so yeah idk, not really any more jokes to be wrung out of this one.
2011: “Black And Yellow”
2018: “Sucker For Pain” (#15)
Man Wiz really figured out the best career ever. Just make very average music so every album release is super low stakes, get a pop star to craft you a gift-wrapped hit once every 2-3 years, and tour nonstop while being so high you can barely see the crowd in front of you. Wiz is like an NBA lottery pick that never became an all-star but carved out a solid decade-plus career as a quality role player. Sure, he was supposed to be the biggest star in the world when “Black And Yellow” rocketed him to fame following a blistering run of critically acclaimed mixtapes, but a successful music career with a loyal fanbase is more than anyone could ask for as an artist. Oh, and he did randomly Shanghai his way into “See You Again”, by some metrics the most popular song literally ever, somehow technically being his song not Charlie Puth’s, so kudos on that. Quick challenge: find someone who can say literally a single line from one of Wiz’s verses on the 11x platinum song.
Still Big Names But Not Making Music at All
Waka Flocka Flame
2011: “No Hands”
Flocka is an artist whose outsized celebrity presence has never really been reflected in any significant charting success. In 2011, the Bricksquad affiliate was still riding high from his monster 2010, where he dropped his acclaimed debut album and landed 3 hits in “Oh Let’s Do It”, “No Hands”, and “Hard in Da Paint”. He’s failed to recapture that wave of initial success in years since, going through a very public falling out with former label head Gucci Mane in 2013 and in recent years talking very candidly about his overall lack of technical skill when it comes to rapping. Music may not be much of a focus for him going forward, but thanks to his charismatic personality he’ll hang around the fringes of relevancy due to something or other for years to come.
2011: “Fall For Your Type”
Jamie Foxx can do literally anything, proven by the fact that his music, acting, and comedy careers viewed independently could each be considered acclaimed. Put them together and you get a multi-hyphenate that for some reason isn’t discussed as one of the greatest entertainers of our time. I mean, the man has an Oscar, a Grammy, some of the biggest hits of the past few decades (Gold Digger, Blame It, to name a few), and still we have to read articles about how Donald Glover is blazing a trail where no one has ever gone before by merging comedy, writing, acting, and rap. Music has clearly not been a focus for Foxx in recent years, with more than 6 years since his last project, but he’s been keeping busy, focusing all that creative energy on, uhhhh, Beat Shazam.
2011: “What’s My Name”
2017: “Lemon” (#36)
What’s Rihanna been up to these last 4 or so years? Certainly not releasing music, as her perpetually-on-the-horizon ninth studio album is still without a release date after years of being teased, like Detox but for hot women. In the meantime, she’s turned Fenty into a beauty, fashion, and cosmetics behemoth, powering herself to billionaire status and forming the prettiest and most boring couple in the world with fellow-non-music-releaser A$AP Rocky. She told us to not stop the music, and then she herself stopped the music, smh.
2011: “Pretty Girl Rock”
So uhhh, does anyone have literally any idea what Keri Hilson has been up to this past decade? Given that I listen to Kanye’s verse on “Knock You Down” approximately 17 times a week still, I sort of just assumed she was a vaguely-still-orbiting-mainstream-culture-type past her prime celebrity, similar to say Alicia Keys. But on doing research for this I was reminded that she literally has not released any music at all in the past decade, a bizarre fact considering that by 2011 she was coming off a string of hits and seemed poised to stake her claim as a superstar. But then she just…stopped? It's not really clear what she’s been up to in years since as the only activity that one can gleam from her Wikipedia page and social medias is a few minor appearances in Lifetime movies and claiming that 5G towers were causing Covid. So, I mean, sure, hope she’s doing well.
2011: “Make A Movie”
Today Twista is mostly remembered only for being the fastest rapper alive at one point in the 90s, but he had a solid run of success in the mid-to-late 2000s that more-or-less ended with the Chris Brown-assisted 2010 release “Make A Movie”. He’ll occasionally pop up on a feature here and there but at 47 years old (ancient in hip hop years for anyone that’s not Jay Z) I think it’s safe to say his prime is behind him.
2011: “So In Love”
Of all the mid-quarantine Verzuz battles from last year, the Jill Scott/Erykah Badu matchup somehow ended up being one of the most popular, topping out at more than 700,000 viewers and sparking a renewed interest in Ms. Scott’s music. She hasn’t been super active in recent years but did have a #1 album as recently as 2015 and a fanbase that adores her catalogue so don’t rule out a D’Angelo-style triumphant return from extended hiatus.
2011: “Love Letter”
Can’t really think of any notable news on what this guy’s been up to recently, sorry.
2011: “Lay It Down”
Lloyd is another artist who like Keri Hilson was seemingly primed to be a huge star and then apparently just sorta willingly walked away to do…no one’s quite sure exactly what. His creative outputs in recent years seem to be limited to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in season one of Atlanta and a 2018 EP called Tru whose title track is about the pain of losing an unborn child to abortion (???) and apparently went platinum despite this being my (and I’m sure literally every one of you) first time even hearing about it. “Bedrock” is still a bop.
2010: “Far Away”
I forgot this person existed and upon doing research I’m only vaguely certain I was ever aware of her at some point in time to begin with. The late 2000s/early 2010s were a mini-British Invasion of sorts for the American music market, with some artists (Adele, Amy Winehouse, Ed Sheeran, amongst others) breaking through in a big way to long-lasting bicontinental fame and others (Marsha, Estelle, etc) more-or-less flaming out in the Americas after their initial rise.
2011: “Hustle Hard”
2013: “Bugatti” (#33)
Oh boy Ace Hood where to start. First of all, he’s somehow only 33? Which makes zero sense but ok. Mr. Hood had a few minor hits at the top of the decade and was primed to be the flagship artist on Khaled’s emerging We The Best label. Then came “Bugatti” in 2013. The song is an undeniable smash, one of the biggest hits of the decade, but have you literally ever heard someone say a single line that’s not from the hook? Could you yourself name even one word from Ace Hood’s verses? Did you even remember Rick Ross is featured on the song? Literally all anyone can remember is Future screaming “I WOKE UP IN A NEW BUGATTI” so for all intents and purposes this is a Future song. Since then, the Florida native has released a bizarrely steady stream of new music absolutely none of which has even grazed the public consciousness so yeah, better hope those “Bugatti” royalties don’t dry up soon.
Really the only reason I even know who these people are is the Lil Wayne line on his scorcher of a remix to Jay-Z’s “D.O.A.” where he raps “two women praise me like Mary Mary.” Like I said, Gospel is not something I’m super attuned to. Apparently, they’re extremely successful in that market despite not releasing music in a decade so good for them. In 2019 one of the Marys (oh wait I’m finding out that neither of them are named Mary?? That makes zero sense) announced that new Mary Mary music was coming soon. So if you’re a bigtime MaryHead, you’re in luck!
2011: “Out Of My Head”
This is almost sad to type out. Lupe really was the man who would be king. After bursting on the scene with a career-making verse in the 2006 Kanye track “Touch The Sky”, he went on an incredible run of still-beloved albums in Food & Liquor and The Cool and seemed primed to rule the new era as the decades flipped. Then came Lasers. The album was a smash hit, debuting at #1 and spawning multiple hit singles, but it was mired in a vicious creative struggle with Atlantic Records and a delayed release that only ended after a bitter 2-year battle. Upon release, it was reviled by his most ardent supporters as being too far into bland pop territory. Having very publicly already struggled with mental health problems, Lupe seemed to never really recover from the fallout of the entire ordeal and appeared to sentence himself to self-imposed exile in years following. Save for a mid-decade Tetsuo & Youth, which prompted critics to hope for an extended return to form for the Chicago MC, Lupe’s output in the last decade has been, depending on how charitable you want to be, mixed, bizarre, or just outright bad. At least the blog rap fans (who have to be like what 37 by now right?) will always have “Paris, Tokyo”.
YC was really the last vestige of what had been incredibly common during the heyday of ringtone rap in the mid 2000s: an unknown, usually southern, rapper releasing a smash debut single never to be heard from again. He’s probably gotten a solid boost in streams in recent years with people accidently searching his name in Spotify instead of YG, so that’s maybe good for him I guess.
2011: “I’m Doing Me”
“Baby Patti LaBelle” managed to carve out a solid career for herself post-winning American Idol back in 2004, winning a Grammy, scoring a few hit singles and successful albums, and transitioning successfully to Broadway. I’m sure that plenty of people will look back on her past hits fondly but let’s be honest, she is not a particularly relevant artist in the 2021 music scene.