While last week’s post looked at real life, flesh and blood collaborations between rappers and pop/rock musicians, today we highlight musical fusions of a slightly different sort. These are hip-hop tracks that borrow not just a piano loop or vocal sample but entire melodies and choruses from popular rock. Part cover track, part homage, and all kinds of weird: these are 8 of the most audacious rock-referencing raps.
The track: The Lox – “If You Think I’m Jiggy”
The reference: Rod Stewart – “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
It’s hard to be mad at this classic slice of early 2000s hip-hop. With all the requisite car brags, gun-talk, and strange board game similes, it’s a fun reminder of what pre-Kanye, pre-Drake rap used to be. Still, listening to Sheek Louch and the other guy who isn’t Jadakiss hasn’t gotten any easier in the 11 years since it’s release. Let’s all be happy we we’ve moved past the era of the mandatory 10-man rap crew.
The track: Jay-Z & Justin Timberlake – “Holy Grail”
The reference: Nirvana – “Smells like Teen Spirit”
It wasn’t a good idea when Paul Anka did it for his covers album and it isn’t a good idea here. How could it have been? Jay-Z and JT are two of the biggest stars in the world—artists far more comfortable singing about their art collections or NBA franchise ownership than connecting with Smells Like Teen Spirit’s message of teenage ennui. Amazingly though, the song’s foray into grunge isn’t even its worst part. With it’s multiple suites and strange transitions it feels more like mash-up of disjointed parts than any one cohesive work.
The track: Wiz Khalifa – “The Thrill” (Walking on a Dream remix)
The reference: Empire of the Sun – “Walking on a Dream”
Mix Wiz Khalifa’s druggy cloud raps with Empire of the Sun’s even hazier Parisian chillwave and you have yourself a dynamite combo. Unrushed and charismatic as ever, Wiz is on point spitting over Empire of the Sun’s original instrumentals, about the high life of a touring superstar rapper. And I do emphasize the “high” part.
The track: Flo Rida – “Spin me Round”
The reference: Dead or Alive – “You Spin Me Round” (Like a Record)
Flo Rida is not so much a MC as a guy who says words in a semi-melodic fashion over EDM-harnessed samples of grating 80s hits (think Pitbull or Black Eyed Peas but with a better gym membership). On Spin Me Round—a marvel of crossover badness—it’s almost as if Mr. Rida is stepping up for a turn at the Karaoke booth, but due to prompter malfunction is forced to make up words on the fly. Nowhere is this more hilariously on display than in the chorus, where ‘Flo’ trades the original track’s oblique, menacing sexuality for a more direct statement on the cause and effect of a good blow job.
The track: Lupe Fiasco – “The Show Goes On”
The reference: Modest Mouse – “Float On”
It may not come anywhere near the stratospheric heights of its musical source material, but this is a worthy effort from a talented artist. Utilizing Float On’s delay-heavy verse riffs and luminous chorus melody to decidedly more mainstream ends, The Show Goes On, has Lupe at his most positive, willing the listener to stay strong in the face of adversity. While at times it veers dangerously close to the cloying self-esteem pop of Katy Perry or Gaga, it eventually prevails on the strength of Lupe’s strong rhymes and excellent choice in samples.
The track: Black Eyed Peas – “The Time” (Dirty Bit)
The reference: Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes – “Time Of My Life”
If you thought Flo Rida was as low as it goes, it’s only because you haven’t heard this yet. With all the youthful immediacy and Williamsburg Hipness of a Barry Manilow Hannukah record, Time of My Life removes any of the remaining charm from Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ original, leaving it a denuded hellscape of dance-pop prattle. Note to rappers: if the song you want to sample is the final number from Dirty Dancing, maybe get a second opinion. Note to Black Eyed Peas: the world is still waiting on an apology.
The track: Pras feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard & Mya – “Ghetto Superstar”
The reference: Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton – “Islands in the Stream”
Sure Pras and the gang may have taken some creative license with the lyrics and subject matter, but at the end of the day, it more than does justice to the Kenny Loggins original. Great video, great performances, and ODB actually earning a paycheck, what’s not to like?
The track: Bone Thugs N’ Harmony feat. Phil Collins – “Home”
The reference: Phil Collins – “Take Me Home”
If you can get past the hilarity of Phil Collins mugging beside various Bone Thugs like somebody’s embarrassing dad in the video (and at other times awkwardly staring off into the distance as the other performers look directly toward the camera), this is a pretty serious banger. Combining the best tendencies of Collins (the stuttering world percussion, arena sized hooks) with Bone Thugs’ buttery, street-worn sing-raps, Home is collaboration gold… If only the world had more Bone Thugs N’ Harmony and less Black Eyed Peas… And the exact same amount of Phil Collins.