Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella records caved on a lot of their promises concerning the Black Album. There was indeed promotion, when said there would be none. There were singles (and poorly picked at that, in my humble opinion). There were overlapping producers and the final list was nowhere near the projected opus. But despite all my pessimistic criticism, I still consider the Black Album a classic for one quality that Jay-Z not only promised, but delivered: No guest appearances. With the exception of background vocals (laid in the beat) from Pharrell and Madonna, you wont hear any guest drops on the album. This, from a man who couldve had verses from anybody (living or dead). This, from a man who five years ago clouded his Volume 2 LP with every notable guest imaginable. Jay-Z did the unthinkable for a successful major market Hip-Hop album in 2004. And it got me thinking…
Remember when collaborations in Hip-Hop used to be DOPE? Like Nice & Smooth and Gang Starr on DWYCK. If you dare pull any of the four minds behind that record out, it falls. What about The Juice Crews The Symphony, Organized Konfusions Fudge Pudge, or De Las Buddy? I know, I know. Im being that guy that lives in the way back past. But no. There were great collaborations in recent years like I Shot Ya, Scary Movies, or even Off the Books. All great. Its not just an East Coast thing either. Shyne and Kurupt smashed it on Behind the Walls a few years ago. Tupac worked with every artist from Oregon to San Diego in his last days. In the South, Trick Daddy and Cee Los record last year was blazing, and arguably the best Nas guest verse ever is found on Scarfaces The Fix. By the way Im talking, youd think that collaborations were good, and youd be wrong.
Journalists dwell on guests on an album. Its basically a flashy way of asking who are you down with, this year? And, its bullsh*t. For the majority, the collaboration has made Rap music look more and more like tag team wrestling. Jay-Z is recording with 50 Cent. Nas has been seen with Irv Gotti and Murder Inc. lately. Yeah, dont front like you werent buying into that a year and a half ago. Many of todays stars dont even record with the producer, let alone whoever else they decide to tack on. Whats the point? The label cant afford to make it a single anyway. Theyd have to break off royalties, and pay out of pocket to try to get a video made with out-of-house artists. Do you realize how hard it mustve been for the Ruff Ryders to make World War III a few years back? No wonder Jin gets pushed back monthly.
Another thing that gets me is this charge. Both Fat Joe and Too Short have actually spit verses in regards to how much it costs to get them on your album. I love Joey and Todd Shaw, but come on. If you have to pay artists out of pocket to get them on your record, save it. Now, in major labels, theres an exception. If youre on a major, sure. Use your album budget. Blow the labels money and put crisp bills in your peers hands. Write a check to your homies and give some back. But when I see these hood-rich amateurs advertising their indie albums in magazines with guest drops from Daz Dillinger or Lil Cease, Im going to wonder. Is it hype? Do you know how many records a cat like Daz gets on? Open a Murder Dog magazine. Most of these reaching collaborations dont show any real chemistry. Most of the time the guest spots look like tax write offs used to show just how allegedly real an artist keeps it.
If there is a purpose in a collaboration besides making a dope record, its giving back. For Jay-Z, that meant making tracks with mentor Jaz while they still got along. To boot, those early efforts were incredible. For Nas, it meant putting MC Shan and Craig G on for building his Queensbridge Hip-Hop reputation. For other folks, like Lord Finesse or Big Daddy Kane, it has always meant giving it back to the family and neighborhood with fresh mics for fresh voices. Theres also something to be said for how much the listener respects the artists opinion. Because Nas premiered AZ, suddenly Nature, Jungle, and Lake were worth consideration. These are tolerable and encouraged conventions of the collabo. But for the Featuring Featuring Featuring, save it for the producers compilation.
The R&B/Rap collaboration? Save it for Ron G and Puffy. Do you truly think its Hip-Hop when Kelly Rowland and Nelly hum nursery rhymes back and forth together? That garbage of cross-promoting fills OUR space on the countdowns? Nelly appeals to the harder side of the soft, and Kelly Rowland appeals to the Pop masses. Mary J. Bliges remixes to the 411 album. Those were Hip-Hop. Gang Starr and Total or K-Ci and JoJo, both…dope. I thought Mariah Carey and Jay-Zs Girls Best Friend was even tolerable, as was Truth Hurts and Rakims single. But if you keep making Hip-Hop slow down to R&B tempo, it will lose its voice of rebellion. The genre-mixing collaboration is too often a marketing scheme. That goes for you wackass Rock stars that put rappers on your albums just because. Its almost never a single, so why try? Remember when KRS-One and R.E.M. did Radio? That was art. How about Public Enemy and Anthrax, that was bold. But for some reason, it deeply hurt me to see MTV finally recognize the X-ecutionerz AFTER Linkin Park spotlighted them. Any press is better than no press. But I hold a grudge.
Ultimately, I think very few MCs can spit forty-eight bars on the same topic. Today, a verse is a song. If you bring in enough others, youll cover your weakness. This is true across the board. In the underground, the mainstream, indie, major, whatever. I challenge every MC and group to start making albums with a stronger presence of self. Of course there are exceptions. Doggystyle and The Chronic were chock full of guests, unknowns at that. But are those not the two records that essentially commercialized Hip-Hop? Are those not the records that made 1994 the final dosage of complete mainstream support of real Hip-Hop? Like Mos Def says, its all mathematics.
Before 1996, guest verses were used a lot more sparingly. They were worth the conversation, and every effort had a bit of chemistry. Since then, weve seen these blown out attempts: Puffys Forever, Snoops The Last Meal, and who wouldve ever guessed that the Wu-Tang Clan would invite guests onto group albums? Dont you miss being able to distinguish groups and artists from each other. Everybody had a signature sound. The more we dilute the concentrated formulas with un-needed collaboration, the less we stand out.
The views expressed in this editorial are that of the writer but hit us up and let us know what you feel. Editorial@allhiphop.com or PaineHipHop@cs.com