Collaboration or aberration? That’s the question we ask this week in part one of our three part series about the best, worst, and weirdest intersections between hip hop and rock n’ roll.
Kanye West feat. Chief Keef & Justin Vernon – “Hold My Liquor”
Kanye is no stranger to the soft-rock crossover. In the past decade he’s worked with everyone from Chris Martin (Coldplay) to Adam Lavine (Maroon 5) to the Cottenelle King himself, Big Sean. Still nobody has sounded better on a Kanye track than Bon Iver front man Justin Vernon did on last year’s haunting, slow burner “Hold My Liquor”. Unlike some of the other tracks on this list, “Hold My Liquor” was the rare case of high profile collab that met expectations and then some.
Danny Brown feat. Purity Ring – “25 Bucks”
Danny Brown is an exceptionally tough artist to pin down. One second, he’s grim and introspective, recounting horror stories from a violent Detroit youth. Next, he’s in full on party mode, wide-eyed and squawking in his signature codeine-fueled double-time. Add his unorthodox looks—Part Robert Smith on speed, part Rick James with a gap tooth—and you have a pretty unique figure. Perhaps most interesting of all though is Brown’s wide-ranging love of indie music. On “25 Bucks”, Brown enlists the help of Edmonton synth pop futurists Purity Ring for one his most affecting narrative works.
Vampire Weekend feat. Danny Brown, Heems, and Despot – “Step Remix”
Did I mention Danny Brown has excellent taste in music? While Vampire Weekend might not have seemed like the most obvious choice for a hip hop collab a few years ago, it’s hard to argue with results. “Step Remix” finds three of hip hop’s most talented indie rappers (including a particularly electric turn from former Das Racist MC Heems) waxing romantic over VW’s elegant, harpsichord-heavy single.
Jay-Z and Linkin Park – Collision Course
For a man who’s built his entire career on being cool, Collision Course seems, in retrospect, like a fairly glaring misstep for Hova. At the time though, Jay-Z hooking up with Linkin Park for an album of mash-up magic made perfect sense. Here were two mainstream giants, both moving toward a more “electronic sound” and willing to water down what made them each so beloved in the first place to make some cash. And make cash it did. Off the strength of its hit single “Numb/Encore”, Collision Course went on to sell over five million copies worldwide. The aughts were a weird time.
K-OS feat. Sam Roberts – “Dirty Water”
Sam Roberts collaborating with K-OS on a track is like Neil Young tipping in a Celine Dion slap shot from the point to beat the 1972 Soviet team in the Summit Series (and then inexplicable eating vegan poutine out of the Stanley cup they’re given for winning). It is that Canadian… Also “Dirty Water” is a really great track. So there’s that.
James Blake feat. Chance the Rapper – “Life Round Here”
There are good hip hop/rock collaborations and then there are bad ones. In the year that gave us perhaps the single most cringe-inducing crossover in history, “Accidental Racist” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J (as if I even need to say), the indie world was also treated to an outstanding collab between rising Chicago artist Chance the Rapper and golden voiced Brit James Blake. And there was balance in the universe.
Gorillaz feat. Del La Soul – “Feel Good Inc.”
“Feel Good Inc.” Really does make you feel good. Brash, playful, and deceptively catchy, it’s the musical equivalent of kindergarten finger painting (but in a good way)—a work of art drawn completely outside the lines with purple grass, green sunshine, and all manner of multicolored valences. Before the song became a Grammy winner in 2005, Damon Albarn was best known as the man behind Blur. Thanks to hip hop features from left of center legends like Del the Funky Homosapien throughout Gorillaz’s debut, those days are now long since passed.
Run DMC feat. Aerosmith – “Walk This Way”
Didn’t think we’d forget about this one did you? Recorded way back in 1985, (when Aerosmith still knew how to flaunt their shit) “Walk This Way” is the genre-mashing collab that started it all. Combining two top dogs in their respective primes (though one could make the argument that Aerosmith didn’t really climax until the Armageddon movie), with a wall-smashing Music Video and some conspicuous product placement, “Walk This Way” led to some real life barrier breaking, when it became the first rap song to crack the top 5 of The Billboard Hot 100.