Within the last decade, the world has witnessed larger-than-life collaborations from artists that have truly shaken the culture for the better. In those years, artists were very selective about who they worked with and the type of sounds they wanted to create. For example, never in a thousand years did anyone think artists such as Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I, and Jay-Z would even come together for the now-classic 2008 hit, “Swagger Like Us”. Fast forward to 2009, and the energy continued with the monumental “Forever” collaboration between Drake, Ye, Eminem, and Wayne. These type of collaborations came off as a sort of “what if” or dream partnerships if you will… and spawned even bigger musical masterpieces.
Don’t forget the legendary 2010 Kanye West hit “Monster”, featuring Rick Ross, Hov and Nicki Minaj, which even today leaves music lovers breathless. Nicki and Eminem would later link up for the unexpected “Roman’s Revenge”. Then, 2011 gave birth to one of the most unforgettable joint projects ever, Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne. The album truly revolutionized the hip-hop genre and left everyone shaking in their boots. 2013 maintained the same energy, as J. Cole got with Nas on the refreshing remix to “Let Nas Down,” leaving fans wanting more. The list goes on and on. Many did not ever expect these records to happen, but they did and changed the rap game forever. These records not only had the production, but also maintained amazing flow, trembling delivery, and monumental lyrics. The question that arises however is, are these new wave collaborations hindering the culture or bettering it?
With a new energy with hip-hop, new stars like 21 Savage, Migos, Future, Young Thug, Rich the Kid, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Baby, BlocBoy JB, Lil Yachty, Lil Pump, Famous Dex, and many others have risen to fame with their creative sounds and innovative flow. Many would consider these artists “mumble rappers” and not real “lyrical” rappers. However, in recent years, many seasoned artists who have built their reputation on skills have collaborated with these artists.
Nicki Minaj worked with Lil Uzi Vert on their melodic “The Way Life Goes (Remix)” and Future on “You Da Baddest.” She also has worked with Young Thug several times with various collaborations, such as “Danny Glover Remix,” Rae Sremmurd’s “Throw Sum Mo,” and one of Thug’s newest tracks, “Anywhere,” from his Hear No Evil release. Her newest feature, “Poke It Out,” is with the charismatic Playboi Carti, off his Die Lit project. Then, you have Drake, who has worked with 21 Savage (“Two Birds, One Stone”), Young Thug (“Ice Melts” and “Sacrifices), BlocBoy JB (“Look Alive”), and most recently, Lil Baby (“Yes Indeed”). Also, in 2015, Drizzy and Future came together for their collaborative What a Time to be Alive project. The album produced a number of hits, including “Diamonds Dancing,” “Jumpman,” and more. This year alone, Kendrick Lamar linked with Rich the Kid for the insanely contagious “New Freezer” song; A$AP Rocky got with Famous Dex for the high-energy “Pick It Up” collab; and not even a full month ago Kanye worked with Travis Scott and Uzi on Travis’ “Watch” track.
The point is, while some may find that these tracks get you hype, make you want to sing, dance, and wild out, others feel that they really are not meaningful collaborations, like the aforementioned collaborations of the past. Lyrically, these songs are not up to par and they make purists of the culture wonder if they are doing hip-hop justice, or honestly, making it look foolish. In today’s hip-hop, collaborations and collaborative projects are rushed and released without much thought and actual skill. While the production of these pieces is generally great and grab listeners, the lyricism, flow, and delivery are not there (when compared to works in the past, now considered classics).
Are these type of collaborations a slap in the face to the artists who helped build the genre, especially over the past 10 years? Do these catchy tunes take away the magic of what collaborations once were? Or instead, do they further innovate hip-hop as a whole and lead to higher creativity and expression within the genre?
Truthfully, I feel today’s collaborations — although catchy — do not possess that same timeless factor seen in previous years’ collabs. I’m not sure if five years from now, we’ll be playing even half of the joint projects that dropped this year… They sound good at the time you’re listening, but afterwards, they are easily forgotten. While every song is not bad, it seems as though quantity is being valued more than the actual quality of the music, whether you’re talking full-length projects, mixtapes, singles or collaborations. The collabs today (for the most part) will never really mirror that same energy of those from the last decade. However, a part of me does still feel hopeful for hip-hop collaborations. Many of rap’s biggest star continue to create amazing records and are keeping the culture alive! As long as these artists stay true to themselves and their music, collaborations will thrive. They simply cannot be overshadowed by (or conform to) this new wave of watered down, meaningless hip-hop.