In The Ones of the ’10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.
Wiz Khalifa- “Black and Yellow”
HIT #1: February 19, 2011
STAYED AT #1: 1 week
Never underestimate the power of sports team fight songs. Throughout sports history, there are many stories of teams who use a popular song as a rallying song to help them win important games and in many cases it helps them in achieving victory. Such examples include the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team using Sister Sledge’s of the moment disco anthem hit “We Are Family” to help them win the 1979 World Series and more recently the St. Louis Blues hockey team using Laura Branigan’s 1982 dance hit “Gloria” during the 2018-2019 season to help them bounce back from the worst record in the NHL to winning the 2019 Stanley Cup (“We Are Family” peaked at #2. It’s an 8. “Gloria” also peaked at #2. It’s a 9.).
In 2011, another Pittsburgh team, the Pittsburgh Steelers football team wound up playing against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV and to rally the team and their fans they began using a song then rising up the charts from a breakout rapper from their home city who wrote said song about his car but whose title alluded to the team and city colors. The Steelers would wind up losing the Super Bowl so the song didn’t help them but it didn’t matter in terms of its chart run.
The early ‘10s, in general, were a pretty lean time for hip-hop on the pop charts. After dominating for much of the 2000s, hip-hop began to fall off the wayside as electropop club music began dominating. Hip-hop acts like JAY-Z and Kanye West could still do fine on the charts not giving in to the popular trends but the moment wasn’t about them. If rappers were big on the charts during the early ‘10s, it was usually with club-oriented acts like Pitbull, Flo Rida, and the Black Eyed Peas who while rapped in their songs bore little resemblance to hip-hop and thus were largely ignored by hip-hop audiences. Even the rappers who had hip-hop cred were largely scoring hits on the Hot 100 with more pop-oriented material as with B.o.B, Nicki Minaj, and Drake. You also had rappers, even legends like Snoop Dogg, who were scoring hits by collaborating with pop stars contributing emailed-in guest verses that were below their talents. Meanwhile, pop stars like Kesha leaned into hip-hop flows and aesthetics and become huge as a result.
So looking back, it’s pretty amazing that a regular old hip-hop song like “Black and Yellow” could break through and get big enough to hit #1. It’s a song that had a slow rise to its one week at #1 and one that largely owes its rise to being adopted as an anthem for the artist’s home city football team for a game they ultimately lost.
Born to military parents in North Dakota, Cameron Thomaz moved around wherever his parents were serving which included living in Germany, United Kingdom, and Japan all while his parents divorced when Khalifa was three. Eventually, Khalifa and his mother settled in Pittsburgh when he was nine and it was there where Khalifa began to develop his music career. During high school, Khalifa recorded in a local studio known as I.D. Labs. The studio people became so impressed by Khalifa’s rapping skills that they would give him free studio time and beats. It was there where Khalifa developed his stage name with Wiz shortened from wisdom and Khalifa coming from the Arabic word for successor. Soon after, Khalifa attracted the attention of Benjy Grinberg who was L.A. Reid’s former executive assistant at Arista Records. By the time he had discovered Khalifa, Grinberg had created his own independent label Rostrum Records and after meeting Khalifa was impressed enough that Grinberg offered him a record deal to which Khalifa signed to at 16.
Soon after, Khalifa released his first mixtape and first album during 2006 immediately garnering attention from major labels and music publications. In 2007, Khalifa went to the major label with Warner Bros. Records which garnered his first major-label singles, “Young’n On His Grind” and “Say Yeah” with the latter making the Top 20 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Tracks chart. But the major label stint wouldn’t last long as Khalifa left Warner Bros. in 2009 after disagreements with the label arose over his major-label debut album. This led Khalifa to go back to Rostrum Records where he released his second album Deal or No Deal. Khalifa’s buzz kept growing to where he was being featured on XXL’s coveted Top Ten Freshman cover. Meanwhile, Atlantic Records took notice of Khalifa’s work offering him a record deal to where he signed with them right away. In September 2010, he released “Black and Yellow” as his first single for Atlantic.
In interviews, Wiz Khalifa stated he wrote “Black and Yellow” as a tribute to his car, a Dodge Challenger painted in black and yellow in honor of Pittsburgh. The colors black and yellow are used on the city’s official flag as well as on every Pittsburgh sports team. It just so happens that during the time that “Black and Yellow” was climbing the Hot 100, the Pittsburgh Steelers football team had made their way into the playoffs. Naturally, the Steelers and their fans began using “Black and Yellow” as their fight song during their journey to the Super Bowl. The song ended up being so powerful that Lil Wayne released a response record “Green & Yellow” in support of the Packers (Lil Wayne will eventually appear in this column.). The song was already high on the charts around the time of Super Bowl XLV so it’s likely it would’ve been a #1 hit regardless but all the attention it got from its usage from the Steelers no doubt played a role in its success.
For “Black and Yellow,” Wiz Khalifa hooked up with Stargate, the Norwegian production duo who were already on a hot streak by this point producing #1 hits for Rihanna and Katy Perry. This was their first major dip into hip-hop music which as they pointed out, “We’ve always loved hip-hop, but because some of our early stuff was more melodic, we were never given the chance.” From comments both of them made, “Black and Yellow” came out of Stargate giving Khalifa various beats to rap over to which they were impressed. As Khalifa himself put it, “It was just a good mixture. When we got in the studio, I think the first day in the studio with them I did two songs and a hook. They kept throwing me beats and I kept knocking out hooks and verses over them. So I think just the vibe was there. The music that we were making is real potent. It was like, ‘We got to do it [and collaborate].”
The funny thing about “Black and Yellow” is that if you didn’t know about the title’s relation to Pittsburgh or its use by the Steelers then you’d be forgiven for not thinking it was about hometown pride. Aside from this line in the chorus, “Reppin’ my town, when you see me you know everything,” repeating black and yellow throughout the song, and its music video showcasing Pittsburgh very prominently, the song doesn’t have much to do with Pittsburgh. Instead, Wiz Khalifa spends the song bragging about his car and how it allows him to indulge in excesses like sex, drugs, and jewelry. On the chorus, he talks about how when he pulls in with his car then you’ll know where he’s from, “Reppin’ my town, when you see me you know everything/Black and yellow, black and yellow/Black and yellow, black and yellow.”
“Black and Yellow” is a hip-hop song but with Stargate’s production, they almost give it a touch of the electropop club music dominating the charts at this time. Wiz Khalifa even sings during the chorus assuring the song’s catchiness and mainstream acceptance. For what it is, the song does its job. Wiz Khalifa while not a particularly striking rapper delivers his lines with the type of enthusiasm that lets you know he’s proud of his car and his city. And he delivers the chorus in a style that will lodge its way into your brain and stay there long after you’ve listened to the song. Stargate’s production does a good job of setting a fun and anthemic theme but it doesn’t leave much impact. Outside the context of its usage and its reference to Pittsburgh, the song isn’t that interesting. It’s fine enough but nothing more than that.
After “Black and Yellow,” Wiz Khalifa continued charting with his subsequent singles and features as with Maroon 5’s “Payphone” which peaked at #2 in 2012 (It’s a 2. Maroon 5 will eventually appear in this column.). It’d be a while before he’d get back to #1. By the next time we talk about Wiz Khalifa, instead of repping for his car and his home city he’ll be paying tribute to Paul Walker with a funeral ballad collaboration for the Fast and the Furious movie series. Popular music can be weird sometimes.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Paul Rudd singing “Black and Yellow” in a 2012 Madden ’13 video game commercial while playing with Ray Lewis
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Wiz Khalifa performing “Black and Yellow” on a 2014 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! as three sign language interpreters compete with each other interpreting the song