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January 25, 2015

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Top 13 Unexpected (But Memorable) Rap Collaborations

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steven tyler of aerosmith; run-dmc

When Run-DMC joined forces with aging rockers Aerosmith on the breakthrough 1986 hit, 'Walk This Way,' the collaboration bridged any cultural gap that had previously existed between hip-hop and rock. The partnership also made it clear that when you combine rap with another seemingly divergent genre, the resulting hybrids can actually sound pretty great when done right.

That's why for this Black Music Month feature, we've chosen a baker's dozen of the most unexpected, and memorable, rap collaborations between rappers and musicians from the pop, rock, R&B, country and jazz worlds.




13. 'Unity' by Afrika Bambaataa and James Brown.
When the hip-hop pioneer and the Godfather of Soul combined on this 1984 song, it represented an effective olive branch between Brown and the entire rap music community. For years, rap producers had liberally sampled grooves from his funk records (including his soulful grunts). This record was the first time Brown actually performed live (and perhaps, willingly) with a rapper. The chorus simply states his (and Bam's) good intentions: 'Peace, Unity, Love and Having Fun..."





12. 'Numb/Encore' by Jay-Z and Linkin Park.
This combined effort between the Brooklyn rapper and the California rockers from the latter's 2004 album 'Collision Course' proved incredibly fruitful. The song, which mashes up Linkin Park's 'Numb' with lyrics from Jay-Z's 'Encore,' won a Grammy for Best Rap Sung Collaboration and received major radio play and stayed on the Billboard charts for nearly half of 2005. Recent proof that rock and rap audiences can bang heads together.




11. 'Fallin'' by De La Soul and Teenage Fanclub
. This track is just one of many great rock-rap hybrids on 1993's 'Judgment Night' soundtrack, which also included songs with Cypress Hill and Pearl Jam, Run-DMC and Living Colour and the title track by Onyx and Biohazard. But where those aggro songs featured lots of loud, crunching guitars, this interpretation of Tom Petty's 'Free Fallin' is a mellower meditation on the pitfalls of fame -- a point that the gone-missing Teenage Fanclub can probably appreciate these days.





10. 'I'll Be Missing You' by Puffy feat. Faith Evans and Sting. Back when he was known as Puff Daddy, the Bad Boy Records exec recorded this tribute to his dead protege and friend, the Notorious B.I.G. Sampling the melody of the Police's 'Every Breath You Take,' Puff revamps the original song's lyrics to reflect his painful loss. But the unexpected part comes in when Sting actually hits the stage, singing with the choir and widow Faith Evans at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. The former Police frontman adds a refined gravitas to Puff's heartfelt but awkward performance.





9. 'Superman' by Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson. It didn't take too long for country music's and hip-hop's consummate weed smoking geniuses to reunite on a song. Just three after Nelson appeared on Snoop's 2008 album 'Ego Trippin,' the duo connect amid plumes of smoke on this country blues track. Who knew Snoop had such a great singing voice? If he ever gets too old to rap, he could easily transition to country music.





8. 'Lougin'' by Guru feat. Donald Byrd. During the '90s, hip-hop had a love affair with jazz. Groups like Gang Starr, Digable Planets and A Tribe Called Quest regularly sampled old jazz records, creating some of hip-hop's best ever songs. But Gang Starr's late frontman Keith 'Guru' Elam took that concept an inventive step further. His 'Jazzmatazz' series was the era's ultimate example of how well live jazz instrumentation and rapping could sound together. Here, he enlisted the incomparable Donald Byrd to blow trumpet over a smoothed-out hip-hop beat.





7. 'Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey' by Body Count's Ice-T and Jane's Addiction. This Sly Stone song was meant to push buttons when the funk god released it in the 1970s. But Ice-T (when he took a rap hiatus to feed his rock jones with Body Count in 1990) and Perry Ferrell turn the notch up further on this cover version. This performance is from Jane's Addiction's 'Gift,' a semi-autobiographical film about the band/singer with loads of live concert footage. Ice-T growls 'whitey.' Ferrell wails the N-word. Feel the goosebumps?





6. 'Wicked' by Ice Cube and Red Hot Chili Peppers. After Ice Cube left NWA, he seemed to really hit his stride, releasing some of the hardest-hitting hip-hop ever. This song from his 1992 'Predator' EP touched on the riots in Los Angeles which split the city after the Rodney King beating verdict. He rhymed: "April 29 was power to the people, and we might just see a sequel.' Don Gargon adds some manic reggae chatting and RHCP's Flea (on bass) and Anthony Keidis romp around, smashing whatever's in their way in this awesomely chaotic-looking video.





5. 'Friends'
by Jodi Watley and Eric B & Rakim. It's hard to imagine now but once upon a time hip-hop and R&B were musical adversaries. Most rappers denounced soul music as being 'soft.' But this 1989 track changed all that. Who better than the god MC Rakim could make rap and R&B (a decidedly uptempo quasi-club track at that) sound like they should belong together? His implicit blessing helped spawn innumerable hip-hop soul careers.





4. 'Mama Said Knock You Out,' by LL Cool J and Pop's Cool Love.
The Queens rapper ripped the stage when he performed on this inaugural hip-hop edition of MTV's 'Unplugged' series in 1991. The energy he's able to command as the band rolls through his major comeback tune is amazing. Though he gets teased for using too much deodorant - you can see the white globs caked in his pits - LL Cool J will always be remembered for this killer show.





3. 'Stan' by Eminem and Elton John. The album version of this song features an unlikely sample from pop singer Dido, but Slim Shady picked the Piano Man to sing the hook at the 2001 Grammy Awards ceremony. The duet set off a shitstorm of controversy. Gay and lesbian advocacy groups like GLAAD condemned John for doing the performance given Em's sometimes homophobic lyrics. But Sir Elton just shrugged it off, claiming the duet was a bonding moment for he and the rapper.





2. 'Bring the Noise' by Public Enemy and Anthrax. Just like Run-DMC had done a few years earlier, Public Enemy teamed with a rock act in 1991. But not over-the-hill rockers. They chose speed-metal outfit Anthrax to remake the PE track. The original song was the most in-your-face and discordant hip-hop around at the time. When Chuck, Flav joined Anthrax, the collab took the song to another level, making the militant rap group hugely popular amongst white audiences. Far from a sell-out moment, though. PE remained as edgy and as politically progressive for several more years.





1. 'Walk This Way,' by Run-DMC and Aerosmith. Legend has it that Run-DMC's late DJ Jam Master Jay would cut parts of rock records like Billy Squires' 'Big Beat' and Aerosmith's 'Walk This Way' for Run and DMC to rhyme over even before this chart-topping collaboration came to fruition. The resulting track is rap's singular breakthrough moment, when an entire genre became a legitimate mainstream phenomenon. The song both resurrected Aerosmith's flagging career and made Run-DMC international superstars in one fell swoop.

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