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.
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.
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).
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.
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
Ghostface Killah featuring Mary J. Blige, "All I That I Got
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.
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
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.
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.