A quick reduction of a conversation that’s gone on between rapheads over the last three decades: “man, he’d be nothing without that producer.” Yes, the producer, the unsung hero, the unknown champion of the charts, the reason Lady Gaga brought back Eurodance and why Kelly Clarkson’s seething “Since U Been Gone” makes top-10 lists. They make money and win Grammys, but they’re never invited to play Leno, their relevance only noted in comment boxes on rap-blogs. A great producer can create a legend: Kanye was Jay-Z’s secret weapon long before “Jesus Walks” hit MTV, and Drake makes special onus to consistently namedrop longtime partner 40. Hell, I doubt the public would even know who Eric B was if his name wasn’t on the record sleeves.
So these partnerships got us thinking. In an ideal world, what rapper/producer combos would we like to see? Whose talents make the most sense together? It’s a fun, albeit unrealistic fantasy to think about, music-biz bureaucracy scarcely lets talent reign free, but that didn’t stop us from writing about a few standout concepts.
Rapper – Curren$y
Producer – Clams Casino
This is probably the most likely of our proposed collaborations, simply because it makes a lot of sense, and both artists work in the just-bubbling-under range of commercial notoriety. Curren$y’s languid, permafried rasp is amongst the most tranquilizing flows out there – essentially the sole reason music-writers starting throwing the term “cloud rap” around a few months ago. Call him a weed-rapper, but Curren$y only implies the drug-talk, letting the zoned smoothness of his rhymes speak for themselves. For a guy like Clams, who practically specializes in murky, simmering, cosmogonal beats, Spitta is an ideal muse. You have to imagine he’d be right at home working in the roominess of Clams’ aesthetic – perhaps harvesting one of the few times hip-hop can be universally beautiful.
Rapper – Eminem
Producer – Noah “40” Shebib
Eminem has been on a wicked cold-streak lately, mainly because he’s checked in his psychotic, mile-a-minute, laugh-so-we-don’t-wince assault with insecure triumph over vague, uninteresting demons. Not to say he can’t pull that off, but when stadium-trash as astoundingly pandering as “Not Afraid” starts winning awards, the critical community starts looking the other way. We just don’t want Eminem sounding like U2. But hey, the dude can still rap, and the lyrics aren’t really the problem – and when a guy like 40 just built the pitch-perfect backdrop to turn one of rap’s most self-absorbed records into a critical juggernaut? It’s clear you need to call. Eminem waxing solipsistically over big-budget chorals and marching-band drums doesn’t work, but under the hood of one of Shebib’s smoky instrumentals? A heart-shot rant killing “Underground Kings?” A stagecraft talker built around “Take Care’s” singed piano? All of a sudden the 21st century Eminem doesn’t look like a lost cause.
Rapper – Das Racist
Producer – Gold Panda
Das Racist has basically spent a career rapping over shitty, low-rent electro pulses. Not that it’s a bad thing, in fact you could argue it’s part of the joke. Synthesizer burps with blasts of cartoonish, far-east, faux-ragga quips? It’s been raising eyebrows and mining bewildered chuckles for three whole full-lengths now. They’re the kind of rappers who’d be happy to stick with the semi-sarcastic silliness for a whole career, but if they were to buckle down, to get serious, there’s a kid from England who’s practically mastered the yippy, shredded-tape chant. Some of Das Racist’s best songs border on the gleaming, homemade rave where Gold Panda makes a living. Just imagine how much better “Michael Jackson” or “Rapping 2 U” might sound if they were built by a perfectionist?
Rapper – Lil Wayne
Producer – Madlib
The megalomaniacal, crafty, bullyish, and completely fucking insane Lil Wayne has been confounding analysts for years. How on earth is someone this popular so thoroughly and unabashedly weird? His diseased croak, his impenetrable slang, his utterly unparalleled wordplay – it was only a couple years ago that the densely baroque “A Milli” was absurdly ubiquitous. The dude is living proof that the pop industry still has some tricks up its sleeve. But imagine if Wayne had the balls to really step away from it all, to embrace ridiculousness with both arms, and hook up with Madlib, easily the most eccentric producer on this list. Not only would it force uber-snobby rap dudes to get over themselves and listen to a Weezy record, but it would probably result in some of the most bizarre sounds ever christened by a major label. It’s easy to see Madlib chomping for an opportunity to work with a specimen like Wayne – wrapping deformed jazz, soul and funk around that voice? It’s a once in a generation opportunity, which naturally means it will never happen.
Rapper – Drake
Producer – Dntel
Drake is arguably the closest hip-hop has come to fully crossing over into carbonated indie-pop acceptance. Right now you can walk into any Urban Outfitters in America and hear “Marvins Room." Marketing at its finest. Jimmy Tamborello has been hardly doing anything save for raking in Postal Service royalties, playing the occasional show, and redistributing old albums. If Give Up Part 2 is a pipe dream, this would be the next best thing. Drake singing delicate, turned-in hooks over crisp, computerized, crystallized blips? The stuff would live on awkward mixtapes for years to come. Just imagine how wonderful Drizzy’s cover of “Such Great Heights” would sound.
Rapper – Waka Flocka Flame
Producer – Jamie XX
Look, I just want to know how this would sound. It’s been well established that Waka needs Lex Luger like a louse needs whale nostrils, so seeing what would happen on the complete other end of the spectrum should be either hilarious or poetic. Jamie’s monochromatic quiescence has practically reinvented the bass scene, and his credits are only becoming more impressive. Just imagine reading “Get the Fuck Up" by Waka Flocka Flame (feat. Rick Ross, Gunplay, Wale prod. Jamie XX) someday. Jamie’s harsh, tension-fueled silence punctuated with a BRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICK SQUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD. A man can dream, can’t he?