In the world of music, artists and creators are constantly collaborating. Somewhere a producer is tucked away in a studio engineering the beats that will be become the backbone of a rapper’s album. Vocalists harmonize their voices with the rich sounds created by the instrumentalists before a concert. A singer and a songwriter huddle together working on finalizing the chorus of a song that will one day become a smash hit.
These small acts of teamwork happen every day. Collaboration has become common place at almost every level of the creative process. Some of the biggest names in music have entire teams dedicated to attaining that perfect sound. A musician need not look very far for help when his label, and the other artists on it, already acts as its own little world.
But sometimes worlds collide.
Although artists might be used to working with the teams their labels provide, they occasionally reach out to people outside of their immediate circles. Sometimes it’s an artist from a different label or even a different genre. I think this might be when the beauty of collaboration is most evident: when two artists with their own distinct sounds come together to create something that is fresh and new. When done correctly, musical collaborations can complement each other like contrasting colors on a canvas.
As such, I have chosen three pairs of artists who I believe would do just that. What follows is a short list of three musical dream teams that I think would make amazing collab albums. However, I wanted this dream list to be tethered to reality in some way. So, I decided to pick artists who I could reasonably see working together, either based on their history of past collaborations or the chemistry they seem to have.
So without further ado:
Chance the Rapper & Childish Gambino
These two are the mavericks of the rap game. In setting themselves apart from their peers, they’ve found a common link.
First, there’s Chance the Rapper. Hailing from the windy city of Chicago, Chance made it a point early on in his career to distance himself from the violence that is often associated with his hometown. Drawing heavy influences from Kanye West, Chance made rap music that just felt good. His style was defined by its youthful energy, soul, and an airy happiness. That, coupled with an eclectic singing voice and an ear for melody, eventually landed him a Grammy.
Childish Gambino, on the other hand, set himself apart from his peers well before he began making music. Prior to adopting the stage name “Childish Gambino,” Donald Glover began his career as a writer for 30 Rock. This, followed by a successful acting career and a foray into the world of comedy, proved him to be a Jack Of All Trades. He brought these experiences into his lyrics which are often marked by their humor and wit. Leaning heavily on his unconventional background, Gambino was able to push the boundaries of what a rap album was supposed to sound like.
Perhaps it’s no wonder these two would form a bond. Their artistic alliance began to take shape back in 2012, when Childish Gambino offered Chance a spot on his mixtape Royalty with the song “They Don’t Like Me.” The friendship was later cemented after Gambino had Chance star as the opening act on his tour and gave him another feature on his album Because of the Internet. Chance eventually returned the favor with “Favorite Song” where Gambino makes a guest appearance.
Every feature brought fans closer to the hopes of a full length project until popular demand for a collab album reached a fever pitch. Childish Gambino seemed to stoke the flame with a now deleted tweet implying something might, in fact, be in the works. However, it still only remains a dream.
SZA & Isaiah Rashad
These two TDE transplants are slowly building their own followings. They’ve also managed to blur the lines between label mates and family members.
SZA was the first and only female artist to be signed to the Hip-Hop label TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment). She was also the first R&B singer. Yet, despite her smooth, neo-soul vocals contrasting sharply with the Gangsta rap lyrics of her label mates, Jay Rock and School Boy Q, SZA quickly found a spot at the label and carved a name for herself in the music industry. In the years following her signing, she’s released a critically acclaimed EP and her debut album CTRL went platinum, being named the best album of the year by Time.
Isaiah Rashad’s story is one of humble beginnings. It starts in Tennessee where Rashad worked at a fast food restaurant while recording songs on his laptop in his spare time. Somehow one of these songs ended up in the hands of the CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment. Soon afterwards, the Chattanooga native found himself in Los Angeles recording alongside big name artists like Kendrick Lamar. He’s since released an EP and full length album, both of which received critical acclaim.
The chemistry between these two artists might be a natural consequence of their shared circumstances. Both were plucked from relative obscurity only to wind up on the same label just a few months apart from one another. This could be why they gravitated towards each other and collaborated so frequently. SZA was featured heavily on Rashad’s Civilia Demo EP, singing the hooks and providing background vocals on three separate songs. She then tapped on Rashad when making her own EP with the song “Warm Winds.” The two also made sure to feature each other on their respective albums.
At this point, these two have made enough music together to constitute a joint project. However, no hint of an actual collab album has been suggested. (On a personal note, these two are my favorite duo. I need this to happen!)
Kendrick Lamar & J. Cole
Lastly, the two juggernauts of the industry. Their chemistry is based in competition just as much as mutual admiration.
J. Cole might be the living embodiment of the American Dream. With hopes of being a rapper, Cole left his home in North Carolina to move to the city of New York where he received a blessing from one of his idols. That idol happened to be none other than Jay-Z, and the blessing came in the form of a record deal. And with the co-sign of arguably the biggest name in Hip-Hop, J. Cole’s ascent to fame was meteoric. He grabbed the attention of both Hip-Hop fans and other artists. Now he is one of the most widely respected rappers in the world, with several platinum records and a veritable cult following.
On the other side of the country, Kendrick Lamar’s story seemed to almost mirror that of his peer. Born in Compton, California, perhaps it was only natural that a young Kendrick would cross paths with the West Coast Hip-Hop legend, Dr. Dre. Yet, the extraordinary talent he possessed was what inspired the endorsement from his idol. Since then, Kendrick has arguably become the most commercially successful rapper of his generation. He has collected numerous Grammys, sold millions of records, and even managed to win a Pulitzer prize.
In music, as in nature, stars cannot but be drawn towards each other. This was the case for Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. The two grew in popularity in seemingly separate universes, but they were eventually pulled together with the gravitational force of a black hole. Their relationship started in 2011 after J. Cole produced a few beats for Kendrick, but the two would not feature on the same song until DJ Khaled invited them both to rap on his mix “They Ready.”
For the next few years the two worked together a handful of times while playfully entertaining the idea of a full length joint project. Their fandoms grew mad with impatience. With every passing month, the likelihood of a collab album seemed to diminish. But on Black Friday in November 2015, the two decided to fan the flames. With the recent releases of their chart-topping albums, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar surprised fans by dropping remixes of one another’s songs–going so far as to hint at a possible release date the following February.
And yet, February came and went. There’s been no news about any joint project, so just like the rest of my would-be collab albums, it remains but a dream.
Until next time,
About the Author…
Erick Boone is a native of Kansas City, Missouri and a recent graduate of Howard University. He currently lives in France where he works as an English teacher. He loves all things language. Erick also has a penchant for traveling, having visited 15 different countries. He spends his free time learning about history and culture via YouTube and literature… but mostly Youtube. His goal is to become an American diplomat