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Top 10 R&B/Hip Hop Duets

  • July 28, 2009 – Rhapsody’s picks for 10 Greatest R&B/Hip-Hop Duets of the past decade

Over the past decade, hip-hop and R&B have become the musical equivalent of peanut butter and jelly. When R&B was looking for direction in the '90s, it turned to hip-hop's thundering bombast, and when hip-hop began falling from grace this decade, it adopted R&B’s sexy swoon. And though genre purists from both sides have cried foul, this cross-pollination has resulted in some great music. In honor of this week’s release of the T.I./Mary J. Blige single "Remember Me," Rhapsody has picked the 10 greatest R&B/hip-hop duets of the past decade.

10. T.I. featuring Jamie Foxx, "Live in the Sky"

Though this wasn’t T.I.’s most popular duet (that honor would have to go either to his collaboration with J.T., “Dead and Gone,” or his turn with Rihanna, “Live Your Life”), but this is the most endearing. T.I. delivers one of his most mournful, heartfelt lyrics to date, exhibiting a wrenching vulnerability as he recounts his friends and family members who passed too early. The backing piano line adds a gospel tinge, and Jamie Foxx delivers a raspy, soulful vocal turn.

9. Mariah Carey featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard, “Fantasy (Remix)"

The Tom Tom Club sample that anchors the production is a perfect sonic foil, providing a bubblegum veneer. And you also have these two superstars in prime form. Mariah’s voice never sounded better, and you also have a great verse from O.D.B. The chemistry between the two is great, with O.D.B. declaring, “Me and Mariah go back like baby and pacifiers.” Mariah, for her part, teasingly asks, “Whatcha gonna do when you get out of jail?” When O.D.B. finally did get out of prison, where he was serving time for various drug offenses, Mariah was present at the press conference.

8. Young Jeezy featuring Akon, "Soul Survivor"

The R&B/hip-hop duet is a little more difficult to pull off when both performers are male. You can't create any sexual tension, that’s for sure, and usually the stars opt for party jams (see T-Pain) or more soulful tracks (see the aforementioned T.I./Jamie Foxx track). But Young Jeezy more or less has one setting -- menace -- so this 2005 collaboration with Akon is probably the most sinister entry here (it's certainly the only one where the singer talks about having his gun cocked).

7. T-Pain featuring Mike Jones, "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)"

Not too many R&B songs manage to sound both sleazy and wistful, but the very unordinary T-Pain pulls it off on “I’m N Luv.” Traditional logic (or at least traditional feminist logic) says that stripping is degrading and creates a warped power dynamic between the male and female, but on T-Pain's 2005 smash hit, he seems genuinely vulnerable to the stripper's charms. The verse sung by Mike Jones (who?) is kind of an afterthought, but it certainly doesn’t take anything away from the song.

 6. 2pac featuring K-Ci & Jo-Jo, “How Do U Want It”

It’s a testament either to 2pac’s failure to stay on concept, or his depth as an artist, that the song begins as a pretty straightforward player anthem (first verse: "Approachin' hoochies with a passion/ Been a long day, but I've been driven by attraction”) before veering into more political territory (second verse: "Mr. Bob Dole/ You too old to understand the way the game is told") before finally settling into 11th-hour paranoia (third verse: “My only hope to survive if I wish to stay alive/ Gettin' high, see the demons in my eyes”). K-Ci & Jo-Jo’s contribution is swirling gospel harmonies, and it reminds us why they were one of the hottest R&B duos in the '90s.

5. [tie]
Ghostface Killah featuring Mary J. Blige, "All I That I Got Is You"..AND...
Method Man ft. Mary J. Blige, "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By"

It’s funny. Back in the ‘90s, Wu-Tang Clan used to always complain about commercial rap acts that would soften their approach by adding an R&B chick on the hook, but the Clan would occasionally do this with remarkable results. Both of these songs are among the most memorable in the Wu’s catalogs. "You’re All I Need" is a more traditional love song, with the occasional 5 Percenter doctrine thrown in for good measure, while few songs are as beautifully bittersweet as Ghostface’s five-minute 1996 memoir of growing up poor in a single-family home. There are roaches in the cereal, four to a bed and a friend laughing as a young Ghost goes to “Tex’s house with a note/ Stating, ‘Gloria, can I borrow some food I'm dead broke.’” Throughout the "snotty-nosed" winters, Ghost’s mother blunts a childhood "sharper than cleats" as she "wipes the cold out my eye." As Mary J. coos the coda, try to not tear up. Even though Wu Tang had a guest vocalist, they still maintained their gritty Shaolin sound.  

3. Beyonce featuring Jay-Z, “Crazy In Love"

Jay-Z has a lot of songs that could make this list, many of which include Beyonce (“Bonnie and Clyde”) and some of which don’t ("Umbrella," featuring Rihanna, and "Can't Knock the Hustle,” featuring Mary J.). In many ways, Jay-Z is Mary J.'s hip-hop counterpart, the go-to talent for this sort of thing, so it’s difficult to narrow it down to just one song, but "Crazy In Love" is among the most euphoric, lovestruck songs of the decade. Rich Harrison’s gogo-infused production sounds like a thousand engines firing simultaneously, while Beyonce rises to the occasion with a yelping, barely hinged vocal performance. Jigga has probably had better punchlines (the "star like Ringo" line in particular is corny), but he’s wise not to draw thunder away from the production and Beyonce's performance.

2. The Roots featuring Erykah Badu, "You Got Me"

Originally, the vocals were supposed to be provided by Jill Scott, but, as legend has it, the label interceded and foisted Badu upon the Roots. No disrespect to the extremely talented Scott, but Badu is perfect here. Her vocal performance is disciplined and restrained, yet still carries that sexy Erykah slur. The Roots, meanwhile, rarely made such concise pop music. The song earned them and Badu a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 2000. It was produced by Scott Storch, who, at the time, was the keyboardist for the Roots.

1. Nas featuring Lauryn Hill, "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)"

Conscious rap never sounded as good as when Nas teamed up with Fugees vocalist Lauryn Hill. On this 1995 hit, Nas plays king and imagines the world under his rule. His fantasy involves "smoking weed in the street without cops harassing" as well as setting free all black prisoners and sending them back to Africa. And while Nas' lyrics are on point, it's Hill’s vocals that steal the show. Arguably, almost every hip-hop song that she contributed vocals to could be on this list (especially "Killing Me Softly"), but this wins out because it effectively introduced her to the world.

Rhapsody Staff


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