Crossover: 10 Songs White Folks Grabbed And Won’t Let Go

January 23, 2013  |  
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I’m sure black musicians get into the game wishing and hoping for that crossover money. It’s one thing to have a hit in the black community, but when your songs go mainstream, that’s a wider audience and even more money. Whether these artists wrote these songs knowing they would go over well with all audiences, we can’t tell. What we do know though, is that after a while, this songs became just as, if not even more popular with white folk. Now you’re more likely to hear these songs at your company Christmas party than in the…more racially homogenous clubs some black people frequent.

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No Diggity- Blackstreet

For a while I was surprised when I’d hear white people sing all the lyrics to this song, considering much of Blackstreet’s fan base was primarily black. But back in the ’90’s black groups had the pop radio stations on lock. And this song was in heavy rotation. It’s no wonder it became something of an anthem, a karaoke classic. The song is still popular with white folk, as I just recently heard it the the new movie, Pitch Perfect.

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I Believe I Can Fly- R Kelly

This song was made epic by the film, Space Jam. A hit with the kiddies, Michael Jordan fans and cartoon heads alike, the song was exposed to people who’d probably never even heard of R. Kelly. But if there’s one thing we know about Kellz, it’s that he knows how to write an inspirational ballad. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find an American of any race, who doesn’t know “I Believe I Can Fly.”

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September – Earth Wind and Fire

This one is for the older white folks, the ones over 40 who get down to this one at wedding receptions and family gatherings. It’s really not surprising that this song crossed over, because it’s a good one; but when you look at Earth Wind and Fire’s entire catalog, there are so many songs that are better than “September.” It was featured on several movie soundtracks, including Night At The Museum, Lost & Found and Get Over It. It was used in Subway’s anniversary commercial and Al Gore chose this song for his 2001 presidential campaign.

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Celebration- Kool and The Gang

White folks have been riding with this one for years. I can’t tell you how they wore this song all the way out back in the days when we used to have birthday parties at Chuckie Cheese. It was in the 1983 Alvin and Chipmunks episode, used during the NBA playoffs in ’83 and appeared in the 1999 movie, Muppets from Space. And for whatever reason, people are not ready to let it go. You’ll still hear it at local sporting events and it was recently featured in the Disney’s latest film, Wreck It Ralph. Like, Earth Wind and Fire on the last slide, “Celebration” is a huge crossover hit but one of Kool and the Gang’s weaker songs.

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Why Can’t We Be Friends- WAR

This song was a huge hit for WAR. When it was released in 1975, it shot up to number six on the charts.  It was so popular that NASA astronauts played it from space when they were interacting with the Soviet Union’s cosmonauts. It was revitalized when  it rolled during the ending credits of the 1998, box office hit, Lethal Weapon 4. Sadly, nothing else in WAR’s catalog sounds like this. Their lyrics are usually pretty deep and their instrumentation complex; but this song with its  simple melody and repetitive chorus is what WAR is best known for. It’s kind of sad, actually.

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It Wasn’t Me- Shaggy

This song was everywhere back in 2001. So much so that it got kind of annoying after a while. Honestly, we almost didn’t get to hear it on the radio waves. Initially, the studio never planned to release it as a single. But it did and became Shaggy’s first number one single. His second was “Angel. The message was so strong, there was a phrase named the “Shaggy Defense” to describe the way a man denies his involvement in shady, seemingly incriminating situations.

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I’ll Be Missing You- Puff Daddy & Faith Evans & 112

It’s interesting to me that the mainstream picked up on this song, considering folks never even really tried to figure out who killed Biggie. But that’s a story for another day. Either way, the song, with a sample from The Police’s, “Every Breath You Take,” went on to become one of the most popular singles of all time.

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Gold Digger- Kanye West and Jamie Foxx

On the heels of his successful, future Academy Award winning portrayal of Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx teamed up with Kanye West once again for “Gold Digger.” It was number one in the U.S and became the fastest selling digital download of all time. (That record has since been broken.) For whatever reason, white folks loved this joint. I would randomly hear white folks saying things like “get down girl, go ‘head get down.” Just as long as they don’t say all the other words in the song, we’re good.

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Yeah- Usher

You couldn’t tell Lil John nothing in the early 2000s. He was flaming hot. I can’t really imagine why white folks loved this one so much, but I’ve heard that white people love to say “yeah” in their best crunk voice. It had everything you needed for a good party. The R&B, the rap and even a cute little two-step that wasn’t too hard to master. Then it was featured in one of the best romantic comedies ever, Hitch.  A classic club joint. 

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Baby Got Back – Sir Mix-A-Lot
I’m convinced that white people loved this one because it was one of the first times white folks got to hear how we think they sound. And I think it was also an opportunity for them to learn a thing or two about black beauty standards. I’m sure white folks had no idea black men loved the booty. And they were happy to take that lesson. Folks of every race and nationality can flawlessly recite every single word to this song. You’re still likely to hear it in a white or multiracial club to this day. And while you may try to fight it, before it ends you’ll find yourself singing along and popping your booty as well.

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