On Aug. 8, in the year of our lord, 2011, Jay-Z and Kanye West will release the collaborative album Watch The Throne. It is expected to make enough money to fix the American debt crisis. The same week, Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka’s Ferrari Boyz will be released, and while it won’t make enough money to hypothetically save our national parks, it should make enough money to buy Gucci Mane a better lawyer. One of these albums seems like a cold, calculated move that stemmed from the same money-grubbing logic that caused KISS to release four really shitty solo albums simultaneously. Another seems like a practical measure: it’s genius to pair Gucci Mane with Waka Flocka for an entire album, especially when Waka’s got the streets on lock and it’s getting harder and harder for Gucci to stay out of jail long enough to record an album’s worth of decent verses.
For this reason, collaborative albums are a really popular thing in hip-hop. The idea is that if you combine one rapper with another for an entire album, you can add the sales of their each of their previous records together, and that’s how many albums you might be able to sell. It’s also really easy for a rapper to just rap half of the verses that they’re used to doing, so if you’re a fairly successful rapper who’s lazy and likes money, there’s a pretty good chance you have done a collaborative album before.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the history of collaborative rap discs of the past ten (or so) years. I decided that I was going to listen to a bunch of these bad boys (no Ma$e) from years past, to see how things went for those dudes, and how things might end up going for Kanye/Jay-Z and Waka/Gucci.
Before we jump in to this list that you will surely read all the way through, we need to establish some ground rules: UGK is not a collaboration. Neither is Outkast. Nor is M.O.P. They were all rap groups, and they all made classic albums (well, two out of three ain’t bad, right?), and so to include them would be cheating. The rappers in question have to bill the album as a collaboration. This, unfortunately, rules out Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, which was basically a Raekwon/Ghostface Killah album even though it was billed as a Raekwon solo jawn. Speaking of which, I’m not going to do that Ghostface/Trife da God album, because it’s not quite a collaboration if you’re a famous rapper putting on your weed carrier. That’s just called a favor.
A couple more caveats before the jump: this list is not comprehensive, and does not try to be. We will start with Method Man and Redman, and go forward from there. I will not be listening to any KRS-One or DJ Quik collaborative albums, because they’re all boring and life is too fucking short. Life is not too short, however, to listen to Bow Wow and Omarion’s Face Off.
So without further adieu, here is a spotty, incomplete and heavily biased history of collaborative rap albums of the past ten years (give or take). Oh, and if you’re interested I made a mixtape of select tracks from these albums and posted it here. Download it. The cover art is a picture of my cat.
1999 – Method Man & Redman: Blackout!
The Story:Method Man and Redman were too similar not to be best friends. Both really like rapping about weed. Both were, at one point, the focal points of their rap groups (Redman in Def Squad, Meth in the Wu-Tang Clan). Both of their names ended in “man.” After they met in L.A. while laying down verses for Tupac’s “Got My Mind Made Up,” they were basically inseparable. They also starred in How High together, which is the best hip-hop stoner movie that Bob Dylan’s eldest son ever made.
Is It Any Good? This might actually be the best album on this list. The beats are all of the late-90’s, wunky-funky Erick Sermon variety, and every song consists of Meth and Red talking mad shit with an oddly literary sensibility, especially on Method Man’s part. “4 Seasons” is actually so good that even Ja Rule can’t fuck it up. The chemistry between Meth and Red is palpable, and Blackout! ended up on all sorts of Best-Of lists for 1999.
What Can It Teach Us About Watch The Throne and Ferrari Boyz? Are either of these albums coming as a result of a bromance? I’m pretty sure Ferrari Boyz might be. Remember, about three Gucci Mane arrests ago, that the Feds nabbed him while he was at Waka Flocka’s mom’s house? They tried to arrest Waka Flocka too, but after searching his room, they couldn’t find shit. That was cool, because it proved that (a) Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka hang out in real life, and (b) Waka Flocka still lives with his mom. Regardless, if either album ends up being as good as Blackout!, I will make a video of me taking acid and trying to rap along to “Da Rockwilder” and post it on Prefix. Scout’s honor.
2002 – Chamillionaire & Paul Wall: Get Ya Mind Correct (Chopped & Screwed)
The Story:Paul Wall was just a diamond-encrusted grille jeweler with a dream when his childhood friend Chamillionaire asked him to start making mixtapes with him. The duo ended up recording some classic Houston tapes and was soon enough tapped for an album. Chamillionaire raps really fast about cars and stuff, and Paul Wall is a white guy. Yep. After having not spoken for many, many years, the two recently reunited for some shows at South By Southwest and are in the process of drinking a bunch of lean and then going into the studio in order to see what they can come up with.
Is It Any Good? I accidentally downloaded the chopped & screwed version of this. Since I do not have access to any prescription cough medication, this was pretty hard to get through. There appears to an inordinate amount of sitar on Get Ya Mind Correct, however. Take that as you will. “My Money Gets Jealous” is pretty good, plus it’s always funny when Chamillionaire raps about how he’s a lizard, but all in all the chopped & screwed version of this is sorta boring. With Chamillionaire’s speed-raps and Paul Wall’s shiny mouth, this duo is still capable of coming up with a classic album. Get Ya Mind Right is not that album.
What Can It Teach Us About Watch The Throne and Ferrari Boyz? Now that screw music is all hipster now, OG Ron C and that other guy is probably going to chop and screw Watch The Throne about ten minutes after it comes out. It will probably sound pretty cool when you’re stoned. Ferrari Boyz will probably not. R.I.P. DJ Screw.
2002 – R. Kelly & Jay-Z: Best Of Both Worlds
The Story: Why would anyone have thought this was a bad idea? In 2002, everything R. Kelly and Jay-Z touched made enough money to buy a fund a public university. So it seemed like an unbelievably genius idea to get Kellz and Jigga in the studio together. The problem was, well, they wouldn’t actually go into the studio together. R. Kelly produced the songs and recorded his parts in Chicago, and then sent to Jay-Z, who was chilling with the Trackmasters in New York, where he’d record his verses. The album suffered the P.R. napalm of being released on the heels of R. Kelly’s child pornography allegations, so it’s sort of understandable that nobody actually bought Best Of Both Worlds when it came out.
Is It Any Good? Think about it. Why wouldn’t you want to listen to fifteen R. Kelly and Jay-Z songs in a row? The beats have aged surprisingly well in that Trackmasters-y way that nobody really does anymore, retaining the retrofuturistic minimalism that R. Kelly songs always had before he started being funny on purpose. Jay-Z’s rapping is actively phoned in (just try getting through his verse about driving a cran-apple Benz), but just when you start getting bored of him, Kells jumps in and saves his ass by doing this really goofy thing where he’ll coo the last word or two of whatever Jay-Z just rapped. And this was released when R. Kelly was in the zone, his elastic voice sing-rapping with the utmost conviction, regardless of whether he’s telling a girl that her genitalia tastes like honey or threatening to quit making music so he could beat you up. Man, that dude was totally awesome. Too bad he turned out to be a creep.
What Can It Teach Us About Watch The Throne and Ferrari Boyz? Without a doubt, the weak link on Best Of Both Worlds is Jay-Z. While R. Kelly is doing verses, hooks and production work on here, Jay-Z is rapping very lazily and assuming whatever comes out of his mouth is going to be brilliant, or hell, even memorable. So Jay-Z, nine years ago, was a lazy bastard. Hopefully in the past ten years he’s gotten better at giving a shit. As for Ferrari Boyz, I’m not sure this portends either way. Waka was running his shit through AutoTune on his recent mixtape Kevin DuFlocka Rant, so maybe he’s going to be singing hooks this time around. That could be cool, or it could be terrifying.
2004 – R. Kelly & Jay-Z: Unfinished Business
The Story: Two years later, R. Kelly and Jay-Z decided that they didn’t have enough money, so they put out another album together. This time, they decided to do things right: tracks would be cobbled together from the original Best Of Both Worlds sessions, there would be a high-profile tour involved, R. Kelly would not get arrested for having sex with underage girls, and most importantly, the duo would consent to being photoshopped onto the cover together.
Is It Any Good?Unfinished Business is a slightly shittier, way less memorable version of Best Of Both Worlds. There is also a song where R. Kelly mentions he sees a dolphin. Take that as you will. The accompanying tour, however, was a quagmire wrapped in a cataclysm wrapped in a clusterfuck. Jay-Z and R. Kelly couldn’t stand each other in real life, and their stage show was on some Van Halen shit with vans crashing through walls, lots and lots and lots of Jumbotron shots of R. Kelly’s abs, and bowls backstage full of only brown M&M’s. Or something.
What Can It Teach Us About Watch The Throne and Ferrari Boyz? I guess if there were ever a sequel to Watch The Throne or Ferrari Boyz, it would probably not be very good. But we already knew that.
2006 – Lil Wayne & Birdman: Like Father, Like Son
The Story: Birdman pretends that he’s Lil Wayne’s dad instead of an older man who enjoys a predatory financial relationship with a much younger, vastly more talented associate. Lil Wayne and Birdman kissed on the mouth one time. A buncha hip-hop nerds freaked out and called them gay. Whatever. Homophobia is stupid. One time Birdman and Lil Wayne made an album together because they are friends.
Is It Any Good? Like Father, Like Son was recorded in 2006, right before Lil Wayne was the biggest rapper on the planet and he was just a manic, syrup-addled swag monster who spat unbelievable sentence-length rhymes with the same ease as most people speak actual sentences. In order to enjoy this album, you have to ask yourself: Am I willing to sift through a bunch of shitty Birdman verses to find the good Wayne ones? As a rapper, Birdman basically has one speed, and that speed is slow, show-offy, and not particularly memorable. Having to listen to him go on fetishistically about money for an entire album gets tiring, no matter how many Lil Wayne verses you get. It’s sort of astounding that Birdman doesn’t have better rhymes, actually. The best rapper alive is a guy who regularly pretends to be his son. Why doesn’t he just get Weezy to ghostwrite for him? Sheesh.
What Can It Teach Us About Watch The Throne and Ferrari Boyz? This one is more in the vein of what Ferrari Boyz is going for, minus the weird family dynamic and plus grown men enthusiastically screaming at strippers about money.
2007 – Bow Wow & Omarion: Face Off
The Story: Despite the fact that nobody liked those R. Kelly/Jay-Z albums, the Illuminati decided that the thirteen year-old girls who exclusively make up Bow Wow and Omarion’s fanbases would buy a joint album from them. Bow Wow & Omarion would outdo R. Kelly and Jay-Z by appearing on the cover twice. Unfortunately, this was right after the dynamic duo had hit puberty, which meant that all their fans had also hit puberty, discovered The Cure or whatever, and went on to categorically deny having ever liked either Omarion or Bow Wow. The album still went gold, which means I might be wrong and maybe no teenage girl actually listens to The Cure.
Is It Any Good? Do you like adequately-executed pop rap laced with all the edginess of a PG-13 movie? If so, you will not be overwhelmed by Face Off. You will, however, be totally whelmed. This album hits with gushing waves of indifference. You will listen for a bit, feel indifferent, listen a bit more, raise an eyebrow when Bow Wow suggests that he and Omarion double team some girl, feel indifferent for a while more, and then turn it off.
What Can It Teach Us About Watch The Throne and Ferrari Boyz? Nothing.
2009 – Joe Budden, Royce da 5’9”, Crooked I, and Joell Ortiz – Slaughterhouse
The Story: Take three of the most “Bring New York Back” rappers in the game and throw in the dude who was supposed to save Death Row but couldn’t, and what do you get? Slaughterhouse! You don’t need me to tell you that these four dudes were all at some point poised to take over the game, but all couldn’t pull it out because they were to much into the lyrically lyrical rappy-rap-rapping stuff and less the politicking and hook writing. The type of people who obsessively read about rap music on the Internet were really psyched for this one.
Is It Any Good? Listening to this album gives me flashbacks to the summer of 2009, where me and my boy bumped this constantly for about three days. We dropped this with a quickness because we stopped listening to the idea of this album and actually started listening to the album itself, and, well, have you heard the lyrics on Slaughterhouse? I’m not squeamish, but half the lines on this are mad vulgar, and not in that “good South Park joke” type of way, but instead in a corny, “bad South Park joke” type of way. Basically, Slaughterhouse is an exercise in proving that you can jam a million words into one song but if they’re not memorable you might as well be Canibus. Some people still love Slaughterhouse, but the type of people who do are also the type of people who would think a Canibus guest appearance on the next Slaughterhouse album would be awesome. I didn’t actually put a song from this album on my little mix. Instead, I put an unreleased joint featuring M.O.P. that made me really excited for Slaughterhouse when it came out.
What Can It Teach Us About Watch The Throne and Ferrari Boyz? This record just goes to show that just because something sounds like a good idea doesn’t mean you won’t fuck up the execution. Take note, Jay-Z/Kanye/Gucci/Waka Flocka Flame.
2010 – Nas & Damian Marley: Distant Relatives
The Story: Spurred by a shared love of weed and the mutual respect that can only come from both appearing on posters hanging in dorm rooms across the globe, Nas and Damian Marley decided to make an album together for, as Nas oh-so-poetically put it when I saw him at Rock The Bells one time, “Africa and shit.”
Is It Any Good? When I first dropped the digital needle on this joint in my iTunes, I swear to god I thought I was listening to Sublime. Then I realized that the entire album was produced by Damian Marley’s brother Stephen, which, besides the song that samples Mulatu Astatke, I was in for a long album. On the other hand, there’s Nas, who despite his terrible taste in beats/collaborators/divorce lawyers and chronic inability to not shoot himself in the foot, can still be top five dead or alive when he spits. But for every subtle “Free Prodigy!” reference he drops, there are fifteen awkward entreaties to save literally everything that we already knew needed saving. You know your album is preachy when fucking K’Naan shows up twice, and you know your album is in trouble when fucking K’Naan actually improves one of the songs he shows up on. I don’t know why I hate K’Naan, or why I hate righteousness, or why I hate the saving stuff, but listening to this album proves that I do hate all of those things. Sorry.
What Can It Teach Us About Watch The Throne and Ferrari Boyz? Though their beef is officially squashed, Nas and Jay-Z are still on two different sides of the New York Rap coin, and still subtly try to outdo each other whenever they get the chance. With this album kind of sucking, Jay-Z has an easy kill-shot on Nas if Watch The Throne is any good. You bet your ass he’s gonna take it. Meanwhile, the only thing Waka Flocka and Gucci Mane are probably interested in saving is saving a few bucks by sneaking in the service entrance of the strip club, so not much to gleam here.
So, now that we’ve gone through all of this, we must ask ourselves: what have we learned? Anything? Are Watch The Throne and Ferrari Boyz going to be awesome, terrible, or terribly awesome? Precedent says that unless either duo has a level of chemistry worthy of Method Man and Redman, nothing they come up with will be as good as an errant mixtape from Tity Boi. Which is to say, I think our best hope is that these discs will be only okay.