It is impossible to stop the smash single, featuring Daddy Yankee, Justin Bieber, and Luis Fonsi, from forever embedding into your brain this summer. “Despacito” has all the qualities of a perfect ear worm, which is why you’re still humming Bieber’s chorus hours and days after you hear the tune. And since “Despacito” is now the most globally streamed song in history, surpassing 4.6 billion streams since debuting in January, there is really no way to escape what has become a worldwide phenomenon. The song of the summer has become the song of 2017.
Twenty years ago, before crowning a single as the song of the season emerged as part of the pop culture canon, Puff Daddy ruled the airwaves. 1997 was a tumultuous year: Tupac was gone, Notorious BIG would follow that March, and Diddy was striking out on his own. He was still an assembler of talent, signing artists like Black Rob and Mase to the Bad Boy label (as Jimmy Iovine states in the recent Defiant Ones docuseries, Puff has always had one of the best ears for talent), but he also was stepping into the booth, releasing his debut No Way Out in July 1997.
While “Despacito” is constantly streaming and filtering out of your radio, you couldn’t avoid Puff Daddy that summer. He had two contenders for songs of the summer: “It’s All About the Benjamins” and “I’ll Be Missing You,” which were both released within a period of roughly one month—which he then followed with “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” Life After Death‘s second single that hit airwaves that July.
Within 90 days, Puff had three songs all contending for the top spot on the Billboard charts. That is an incredible run.
There are few with an ego as outsized as Puff’s—from changing his name several times over the past two decades to Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, his recently released biopic (don’t you dare call it a documentary!), the entrepreneur-artist never strays far from the spotlight. While what Daddy Yankee et al have achieved is certainly historic, it doesn’t come close to the dominance Puff achieved that summer. As Shea Serrano explained in a 2015 excerpt from his book The Rap Year Book,
The dominance of Puffy: The song that followed “Can’t Hold Me Down” on top of the Billboard’s Hot 100 was “Hypnotize” by the Notorious B.I.G., which is the most perfect example of Bad Boy’s We Have Money, Life Is a Party mission statement. It was there for three weeks. Hanson’s ridiculous “MMMBop” ba-duba-dopped its way to the top for three weeks (Puff did not produce that one, turns out). After that, it was “I’ll Be Missing You,” a tribute song to the Notorious B.I.G. by Puff, Faith Evans, and 112. It was at number one for 11 weeks. “Mo Money Mo Problems” was next (by the Notorious B.I.G., Puff, and Mase). It was there for two weeks. And then “Honey” by Mariah Carey came after. It was there for three weeks. Puff produced that one, too. That’s a stretch of 25 out of 28 weeks where Puff Daddy was, in part, responsible for the number-one song in the nation, and he’d spread it over five songs. It had never happened that way before. It hasn’t happened that way since.