20 Years Ago: Santana Hit No. 1 With ‘Maria Maria’
Supernatural was a perfect name for Santana’s comeback album in 1999.
With one project, the band achieved feats most artists only dream of, landing a 12-week stint at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and collecting an armful of Grammys, including Album of the Year. And this was nearly 30 years after the group’s debut.
After hitting the top of the Hot 100 with the LP's first single, the Rob Thomas-assisted juggernaut “Smooth,” Santana struck gold again with “Maria Maria,” featuring the Product G&B. On April 8, 2000, the track took the top spot, where it remained for 10 weeks.
Its recipe for success included a mixture of hip-hop, R&B, Latin and Broadway inspiration, concocted by Wyclef Jean. The Fugees rapper, guitarist and producer was brought in by Clive Davis, the record-company mastermind behind Supernatural’s commercial sound. Jean was riding high following the release of his hit solo album The Carnival, as well as the hit song “My Love Is Your Love,” which he co-wrote for Davis’ superstar protege Whitney Houston.
For “Maria Maria,” Jean borrowed a beat from hip-hop collective Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 song "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit," and transformed it into the high-pitched guitar riff that shows up each time the Product G&B sings “played by Carlos Santana.”
“[I thought], What if I could pull a Wu-Tang riff inside of a Santana record, so that my generation, when they heard it, would be able to identify with it?” Jean recalled in a 2017 interview.
The title and lyrics are inspired by the musical West Side Story, which opened on Broadway in 1957. A fan of the 1961 film adaptation, Jean said he wanted to borrow the storyline but “put it in the middle of the hood.” In Jean’s version, the leading lady, Maria, is from Spanish Harlem — just like Thomas’ “Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa” in “Smooth.” She falls in love in Los Angeles, which, coincidentally, was proposed as the original setting for West Side Story.
Jean brought in two artists he was working to develop - Marvin "Money Harm" Moore and David "Sincere" McRae, aka the R&B duo the Product G&B (“ghetto and blues”) - to sing on the track. In a 2017 interview with Billboard, they admitted they weren’t familiar with Carlos Santana before recording the song.
“He came in with magic marker drawn on his sneakers, and we were thinking he’s a guy who brings in the guitars or something, and he’s actually Santana," Moore laughed. "You would have thought he was somebody’s grandfather coming from the bus stop, real talk."
Watch Santana's Video for "Maria Maria"
“Maria Maria” helped introduce Santana to a new generation, the goal of the entire Supernatural album, which featured many guest artists, including Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill, Cee-Lo Green, Dave Matthews, Everlast and Eagle-Eye Cherry. That play for mainstream radio rubbed some older Santana fans the wrong way.
“If you cared about Santana before Supernatural, you probably hated Supernatural,” Steven Hyden wrote for the AV Club. “It was Santana’s “Kokomo.”
The success of “Maria Maria” was bittersweet for the Product G&B. At the 1999 Grammy Awards, the song won for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal. But the singers didn't receive a trophy for that or the Album of the Year win.
“We weren’t that important to Arista for them to give us a trophy,” Moore said in a 2007 interview with XXL. “We were young, black and uneducated. Without us, there wouldn’t be no ‘Maria Maria.’ … Our spirits were broken because of what we went through.”
The group’s feelings have softened over time, especially with the resurgence of “Maria Maria” as a prominent sample in DJ Khaled’s 2017 hit “Wild Thoughts,” which features Rihanna and Bryson Tiller.
Watch DJ Khaled's Video for "Wild Thoughts"
“It’s a blessing,” Moore told Billboard. "It now is bringing other kids, who had never even heard 'Maria,' to be like, 'What’s that?' … They think that 'Maria' is the remix now!"
Rocker Jack White was less enamored; he erupted into a memorable, sarcastic rant about "Wild Thoughts" in a 2018 cover story for Rolling Stone. “It’s just Santana’s song in its entirety,” he said. “It was nice of DJ Khaled to sit down and write and perform and record that – that was good of him! He’s an incredibly talented man.”
The most important opinion belongs to Carlos Santana, now introduced to yet another generation.
"'Maria Maria' was and will always be that feel-good summer song that speaks to women, and 'Wild Thoughts' is an extension of that summer-song vibe that is timeless," he told Billboard. "I am honored that DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Bryson felt the intense intentionality of 'Maria Maria,' and have shared this summer vibe with the world.”