Monday, 26 September 2011

A History of Transatlantic Pop/Rap Collaborations

There were a few eyebrows raised this week when British singer Pixie Lott's latest single featured two verses from Pusha T of The Clipse. Listen below:

Having sold over a million copies of her debut album in the UK, it would appear that this collaboration - the first single from her sophomore effort - is an attempt to make an impression on the American market. In addition to a nice cheque for sending his verse over, there is also the benefit of increased exposure for Pusha T in the UK (the song was premiered on BBC Radio 1's Chris Moyles Show, which has one of if not the largest radio audience in the country), who is working on a debut solo album with Def Jam.

Bizarre as it all is, the combination of singers and rappers from either side of the Atlantic is nothing new. I have compiled a brief list of some of the previous instances I can think of. Some were number 1 hits and of great benefit to both artists, whereas others were a bemusing waste of time and money. Here goes...

Another Level ft. Jay-Z - Be Alone No More (1998)

Another Level were a short-lived British boyband in the late 1990s with a sound heavily influenced by their Stateside counterparts, as evident by their cover of Silk's Freak Me (which went to number 1 in the UK). Their debut single Be Alone No More featured a brief verse from Jay-Z no less, who whilst not yet being the megastar he is today was still a platinum-selling artist. The success of Another Level's self-titled debut album saw a repackaged version released in the US, which included a remix to Be Alone No More and a Ghostface Killah verse added to single I Want You For Myself.

Unfortunately the group split up just as the album was pushed Stateside, and the former members have been reduced to reality TV and tabloid ridicule. Yes you, Dane Bowers.


MC Romeo ft. Christina Milian - It's All Gravy (2002)

Not to be confused to the son of Master P, MC Romeo was a member of British rap collective So Solid Crew who had a string of hits in the UK chart at the beginning of the new Millennium, including the number 1 single 21 Seconds. In 2002, Romeo released a solo album and the its second single was It's All Gravy, a duet with R&B star Christina Milian that sampled Mary J. Blige's Real Love. The track reached #4 in the UK chart, but it was Romeo's last solo single after disappointing album sales. Christina Milian's music career has lasted a considerable while longer, although label issues have meant it has been 5 years since her last album offering.


The 411 ft. Ghostface Killah - On My Knees (2004)

The 411 were a British girl group who vanished as quickly as they appeared on the scene in 2004. The most notable single from their album was On My Knees, featuring Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah.


Ms Dynamite ft. Lil Wayne - You Don't Have To Cry (2005)

After her critically-acclaimed debut album A Little Deeper won the 2002 Mercury Music Prize, Ms Dynamite's sophomore effort Judgement Days was disappointing and saw her dropped by Polydor. The album included a track with Lil Wayne, who has since become the go-to guy for a feature verse. Dynamite disappeared for a while after this album, but returned this summer to the UK charts with the hit single Neva Soft.


Estelle ft. Kanye West - American Boy (2008)

London singer and rapper Estelle's first album The 18th Day wasn't particularly successful in the UK, but a friendship formed with then-unsigned John Legend - who featured on her songs Freedom (also featuring Talib Kweli) and Hey Girl - would prove to be fruitful a few years later. After rising to stardom Stateside, John Legend invited Estelle - long forgotten by those in the UK - to his new Homeschool imprint at Atlantic Records. 

The result was the 2008 album Shine, which featured the likes of Will.I.Am, Cee-Lo Green and Legend himself. Shine reached #3 in the American Billboard 200 thanks mainly to the smash hit single American Boy featuring Kanye West, the executive producer of Legend's debut album. The song reached #1 in the UK, and top 10 singles charts across the globe (including #3 in the Billboard Hot 100). Estelle's career Stateside has never looked back, collaborating with Reflection Eternal and Rick Ross amongst others.


Jay Sean ft. Lil Wayne - Down (2009)

After some decent but unspectacular UK chart success, British-Asian singer Jay Sean surprised many in 2008 with the announcement that he had joined Cash Money Records in the US. His album My Own Way was repackaged and released in America with additional material, including the single Down with Cash Money affiliate Lil Wayne. The song made Jay Sean the first UK urban act to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and sold over 6million copies worldwide. 


Jessie J ft. B.o.B - Price Tag (2011)

Already a successful young songwriter (she penned Miley Cyrus' Party in the USA), Essex-born Jessie J had garnered plenty of attention of her acoustic performances online, and in particular with the song Price Tag. When her debut album Who You Are was released this year, Price Tag was the second single and now included a guest verse from rapper B.o.B. The song went to number 1 in the UK and peaked at 23 in the Billboard Hot 100. Jessie performed at the 2011 VMAs in between advertising breaks, and is likely to make a big impression Stateside soon.


Chipmunk ft. Chris Brown - Champion (2011)
After his debut album reached #2 in the UK and one of the its singles went to #1, UK rapper Chipmunk looked to some R&B heavyweights for the hooks on his sophomore effort. His 2011 release Transition contained collaborations with the likes of Keri Hilson and Trey Songz, but the song Champion with Chris Brown was the most notable single. Despite the attention drawn from Chris Brown's rapped verse addressing his turbulent private life and a remix verse by J.Cole, the song couldn't help the album chart across the pond (though it did reach the UK top 10).


Tinie Tempah ft. Wiz Khalifa - Til I'm Gone (2011) 

Following the huge success of singles Pass Out and Frisky in the UK, rapper Tinie Tempah repackaged his Disc-Overy album with the intent to push the disc in America. Pass Out was remixed to include a Snoop Dogg verse, an Ester Dean duet and most notably the Wiz Khalifa collaboration Til I'm Gone. The album reached #21 in the Billboard 200 and found a surprise breakthrough hit Stateside in the form of single Written In The Stars which reached #12 on the Billboard 100 thanks to its use as the theme song for WWE Wrestlemania XXVII. Tinie also received some attention recently for winning a pair of Nike's Back to the Future trainers at an LA auction.


Cher Lloyd ft. Busta Rhymes - Grow Up (2011)
Cher Lloyd gained popularity in the UK and beyond for her audition on the 2010 X Factor, where she sang Keri Hilson's version of Soulja Boy's Turn My Swag On. Although her subsequent performances on the show - as the first ever contestant to incorporate rapping - were considerably polarising, Lloyd was signed to Simon Cowell's SyCo label and her debut single Swagger Jagger went to #1 in the UK. Her album is yet to be released but a series of snippets were revealed recently, one of which included the Busta Rhymes collaboration Grow Up. The playground-style of the hook sounds like an uncomfortable fit with what we get to hear from Busta, but by the sounds of it his Look At Me Now verse is being matched for tempo here.


So there you have it, those were the best and worst of the UK and US's pop/rap collaborations that I can think of. There are also a few honourable mentions that miss out on technicalities:

Cheryl Cole ft. Will.I.Am - 3 Words (2010)BEP rapper Will.I.Am only sings on this record, during a time when he was seemingly working with Cheryl Cole to get in her pants. How else can he explain throwing her on a last-minute revised version of Nicki Minaj's Check It Out ?

Shakira ft. Dizzee Rascal - Loca (2010)
Shakira isn't American, but this collaboration is just that strange I had to mention it.

Duffy ft. The Roots - Well Well Well (2010)
The Roots Crew don't feature vocally, but their horns and ?uestlove's drums are easily apparent in this excellent song.

Anything rap collaborations with Floetry or Marsha Ambrosius
The UK barely even knows they exist, whereas The States were huge fans of the Scouse duo. Marsha's album reached #2 in the Billboard Album Chart this year, and nobody in their home country cares! 

If you can think of any more yourself, I'd love if you let me know in the comments section because I enjoy finding weird collaborations such as these.

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