October 10, 2013 via Pepsi
Five Rappers Who Stepped Outside Hip-Hop
Rappers have been dabbling in genres outside of hip-hop for years. Whether it’s The Notorious B.I.G.’s gloriously off-key, “Playa Hater” (from Life After To Death) or Andre 3000’s groundbreaking half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below or Kanye West’s electronic tour de force, 808s & Heartbreak—the urge for emcees to drop down and get their croon-on dates back to before the Golden Era. Even independent hero, Murs teamed with Sasha Jenkins and punk bassist, Darryl Jenifer to release the Hard Rock album The Ghetto Is Trying To Kill Me this year. These artists have successfully pushed their talents past the margins of hip-hop and into a variety of other genres. Hip-hop began as an amalgamation of various sounds, highlighting several genres before being considered its own. Why should such progressiveness ever end? Here are five rappers who stepped outside of hip-hop, and did it well.
On June 29, 2013 Pharrell Williams, at 40, became the twelfth artist in Billboard Hot 100 history to have collaborated on the top two charted songs, “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” respectively. The origin of Pharrell’s dynamic and versatile music career began in 1992 in Virginia Beach, Virginia where he and Chad Hugo joined together to form the ultimate R&B, soul and hip-hop record production duo, The Neptunes. Their teeming success broke through after nearly a decade of hard work when the duo produced Kelis’ debut studio R&B/ hip-hop album Kaleidoscope and Britney Spears’ hit single, “I’m A Slave 4 U.” Strengthening their musical bravado, The Neptunes soon created the rock, funk and hip-hop band N.E.R.D. and the following year Pharrell through The Neptunes furthered his multi-genre career by aiding in the production for Justin Timberlake’s Disco-pop/R&B debut studio album Justified and Nelly’s “Hot In Herre.” He released a knockout remix of Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and produced Madonna’s album Hard Candy. After linking up with Robin Thicke and friends this year, Pharrell continues to broaden his musical artistry by composing the soundtrack to Despicable Me followed by the composing and producing the music for the 84thAcademy Awards alongside renowned film composer Hans Zimmer. Watch Pharrell's video for "Frontin," above and see if you can remember Pharrell back when he was a burgeoning young rapper.
Among the many talented cross-genre artists relevant to American culture in the 21st century, will.i.am stands as a true milestone maker. In his early work with Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am maintained a popular yet socially aware expression of music that was viable to a large range of audiences bringing focus to social problems amid the post-9/11 American era, like single “Where Is The Love.” More recently, will.i.am has focused on production, working with different artists to blend rap, R&B, and house to create quality hybrid popular music. After writing and producing the Pop/R&B hit “OMG” for Usher and the House/Pop single “Big Fat Bass” for Britney Spears, will.i.am put in work with Justin Bieber, featuring him on "#thatpower" off his latest album #willpower. will.i.am has also begun to help transition Korean hip-hop group 2NE1 in the American market as he collaborated on tracks “Take On The World” and “Gettin’ Dumb.” Watch the music video for "Where Is The Love," above and take a trip down memory lane with will.i.am 1.0.
M.I.A broke when she was nominated for an Academy Award for collaborating on the song “O…Saya,” from Slumdog Millionaire. The Sri Lankan went on to win a Grammy for both “Paper Planes” and “Swagga Like Us” in less than a year. Her music integrates elements of hip-hop, dance hall and electronic jungle with traditional dance and folk styles--she often raps over live instrumentation. Her politically avant-garde visuals are backed by her formal education at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design. Rolling Stone and Blender named Kala “Best Album Of The Year,” in 2007. Currently, her fans are awaiting her fourth studio album Matangi.
4. Snoop Lion
Nearly a decade after the release of Doggystyle, his debut studio album, Snoop began collaborating with the powerhouse music production duo The Neptunes leading to the creation of “Beautiful,” which peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Working with the cross-genre kings led Snoop to feature Justin Timberlake on the chorus for his third single “Signs” off of his seventh studio album R&G: The Masterpiece. During these years Snoop broadened his international network when he rapped in “Singh Is Kinng,” a Bollywood action comedy. Now a household name, Snoop completed his transformation into Snoop Lion after developing and releasing his latest musical venture signifying his transition into Reggae. Snoop Lion released Reincarnated, a documentary about his exploration into Rastafari culture, which was soon coupled with Snoop’s twelfth studio album also entitled Reincarnated. As part of his new identity, Snoop is working with global artists from multiple genres like Poland's Iza Lach. Having trouble remembering what Snoop was like back in the day when he was still Doggy Dogg? Check out the video for "Sensual Seduction" above and recall the rapper in all his glory.
Greensboro, North Carolina native Phonte Coleman first met hip-hop record producer 9thWonder and rapper Big Pooh in 1998 during school at North Carolina Central University. XXL Magazine rated Phonte’s eventual debut studio album Charity Starts at Home 4/5 stars. Between forming the hip-hop group Little Brother with 9th Wonder and Big Pooh and refining his solo success, Phonte joined forces with Dutch record producer Nicolay to form The Foreign Exchange. Together the duo combined R&B and Soul to produce the Grammy nominated track “Daykeeper,” which featured neo-soul indie pop vocalist Muhsinah. Most recently Phonte has begun collaborating with hip-hop producer Oddisee and experimental producer Flying Lotus furthering his integrative musical achievements. Listen to Tor Cesay, "The Perch" ft. Flying Lotus, Oddisee & Phonte Coleman above.