Worlds collide

20 years of mixing rap with R&B

Unfinished Business, the new album of collaborations between R. Kelly and Jay-Z, represents the latest - and possibly most successful - phase of the ongoing flirtation between R&B and rap. The set is expected to debut at No. 1 on Billboard's album charts after selling nearly 250,000 copies in its first week of release. There was an accompanying tour, but it was ultimately scrapped after an incident in New York City where a member of Jay-Z's entourage allegedly attacked R. Kelly with pepper spray. But, regardless of the messy tour situation, the pairing of the two superstars still stands as an example of how far the fusion of R&B and rap has come since the days when such match-ups were considered commercially and creatively risky. We decided to take a look back at some of the most significant rap/R&B combos of the past 20 years, and we asked a number of artists and industry observers to give us their good and bad takes on these memorable jams.

Chaka Khan and Melle Mel — "I Feel For You"

Date it debuted on R&B chart: Sept. 15, 1984%
%%Highest chart position: 1%
%%I don't remember this song because the rap was very good. I remember it because it was just a good R&B song. The rap was almost forgettable. It was more of Mel just talking on the mic. It wasn't really that deep of a rap. I didn't even really know it was Melle Mel until recently. It could've been anyone.

-- Erik Parker, music editor, Vibe

That was so wack.

-- Chaka Khan, upon first hearing Melle Mel's rhyme [from her autobiography, Chaka! Through the Fire].

Jody Watley and Eric B. & Rakim — "Friends"

Date it debuted on R&B chart:
May 27, 1989%
%%Highest chart position: 3%
%%"Friends" came about because I was a huge fan of Eric B. and Rakim. I just love Rakim's voice and he's one of the best MCs of all time. I'd written "Friends" and I could just hear Rakim on it. When I went to MCA, which was my label at the time, and told them I wanted to make a record with him, they thought I was nuts. They didn't think it would work because it was kind of unheard of at that time and because my background is R&B/pop. They suggested Will Smith because he was more pop or whatever, but I stuck to my guns and eventually they made it happen. When they approached Rakim, he was totally into it. He was digging what I was doing, which was fortunate because he could've said no and not seen the potential of it. It was like we were both from different worlds but it worked, and I'm really proud to have started something that these days is so commonplace. But I was the first.

-- Jody Watley

"Friends" was the original R&B and rap formula. Rakim was so well established as a straight street hip-hop artist. It wasn't as soft as the Chaka Khan and Melle Mel collaboration. Jody Watley and Rakim somehow went together. It set that formula where the rapper seems to always customize his lyrics and let everyone know he wrote these lyrics in collaboration with the R&B artist.

-- Erik Parker, music editor, Vibe

Back when I heard about this song, I was like, "Shit, this is going to be wack. Rakim is killing himself." But when it came out, it was only one of the hottest collaborations ever.

-- Jermaine Dupri, CEO, So So Def Records

Al B. Sure! and Slick Rick — "If I'm Not Your Lover"

Date it debuted on R&B chart
: March 11, 1989%
%%Highest chart position: 2%
%%This came out when Slick Rick's The Ruler's Back was hot. Slick Rick was from the Bronx and Al B. Sure! had that real uptown sound. Around this time, New Jack Swing was really blasting off. So you had the New Jack Swing just killing it and Slick Rick sounding really good on the record. That was the perfect blast-off right there. You can't even really compete with that.

-- DJ Mars, World Famous Superfriends

Patti Labelle and Big Daddy Kane — "Feels Like Another One"

Date it debuted on R&B chart: Sept. 21, 1991%
%%Highest chart position: 3%
%%Patti Labelle is just the greatest, and then you have Big Daddy Kane, who's a real good MC. What they did together was very beautiful. And the song had meaning behind it. He wasn't just rhyming about anything and she wasn't just singing about anything.

-- Almighty KG, Cold Crush Brothers

Mary J. Blige and Grand Puba — "What's the 411"

Date it debuted on R&B chart
: Oct. 24, 1992%
%%Highest chart position: 42 (It was not an official single.)

This wasn't one of those formulaic R&B/ hip-hop collabos where they sing, break, put a little rap in there and then go back to singing. It was an actual give and take of Mary J. Blige and Grand Puba. They were going back and forth and Mary was even kind of rapping on there. They were kind of playing it like the rap song "Excuse Me Miss" with Positive K and MC Lyte.

-- Erik Parker, music editor, Vibe

Uptown Records [Blige's label] was Andre Harrell, P. Diddy and Kurt Woodley. Kurt was one of the people who started giving people the idea to go into the category of hip-hop/R&B. I used to go [to Uptown] like every day, basically giving out my cassettes trying to be a part of the label. I recently looked at an interview with Andre Harrell and he said that he took the "Uptown sound" and he transformed it into a company. He didn't say he really took Ron G's sound. But I knew what he had done. A lot of people didn't want to mention where that sound came from. So what Puff would do, he'd say, "Yo, I was listening to all your joints, all your cassettes and I loved the energy on them." And I would be like, "Cool." And the next thing you know, Jodeci would come out with a remix, and the remix would have "Funky President," which is a James Brown beat [that I used on one of my tapes]. The only thing different would be the melody. But they would take the whole concept, the whole energy and everything that I put out. So that sound became a national sound when Mary J. Blige did her whole album [What's the 411?] mixing hip-hop beats with R&B music. They wound up selling millions and millions of records. After that, I realized that what I had done had become a part of history.

-- DJ Ron G

SWV and Wu-Tang Clan — "Anything"

Date it debuted on R&B chart
: April 9, 1994%
%%Highest chart position: 4%
%%This was one of my favorite songs. It was Raekwon and Method Man on that record. On paper it didn't [seem like a good idea], but when they put it down, they took over the song and made it Wu-Tang. They didn't just blend into what the normal formula was.

-- Erik Parker, music editor, Vibe

Method Man and Mary J. Blige — "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By"

Date it debuted on R&B chart: May 6, 1995%
%%Highest chart position: 1%
%%To me, this was the first real R&B/ hip-hop collaboration that got the light for being that. The beat was hot, Mary was singing and they had the Biggie sample on it. And Method was blazin'! It was really a duet instead of just someone singing a hook.

-- Jermaine Dupri, CEO, So So Def Records

Jodeci and Ghostface Killah and Raekwon — "Freek'n You (Remix)"

Date it debuted on R&B chart: June 10, 1995%
%%Highest chart position: 3%
%%There was a problem when you threw that on, because Jodeci was so ill. They were an R&B group but with crazy street beats. And at the time, Ghost and Raekwon were the illest combination. So you do the knowledge. With them artists? Crazy!

-- DJ Mars, World Famous Superfriends

Mariah Carey and Ol' Dirty Bastard — "Fantasy (Remix)"

Date it debuted on R&B chart: Sept. 30, 1995%
%%Highest chart position: 1%
%%People said, "She did ballads and then suddenly she ... became like this hip-hop girl. [But] anyone who heard "Fantasy" in 1995 with Ol' Dirty Bastard knew that's what I was into. I was a Wu-Tang fan."

-- Mariah Carey, from a 1999 article in The Washington Post

At the time, those two didn't make any sense together. But in hindsight they do, as far as their erratic behavior.

-- Erik Parker, music editor, Vibe

Other Notable Rap/R&B Collaborations:

1. Rick James and Roxanne Shante — "Loosey's Rap," 1988%
%%2. En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa — "Whatta Man," 1994%
%%3. LL Cool J and Boyz II Men — "Hey Lover," 1995%
%%4. Total and the Notorious B.I.G. — "Can't You See," 1995%
%%5. 112 with the Notorious B.I.G. and Mase — "Only You (Remix)," 1996%
%%6. Nas and Lauryn Hill — "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)," 1996%
%%7. Puff Daddy and Faith Evans — "I'll Be Missing You," 1997%
%%8. Ja Rule and Lil' Mo — "Put It on Me," 2000%
%%9. R. Kelly and Jay-Z - "Fiesta (Remix)," 2004%
%%10. Kanye West and Syleena Johnson — "All Falls Down," 2004%