I don’t mean a rapper’s guest verse in a pop track, and I don’t even mean a novelty rap a la Do The Bartman. What I mean is when a pop singer decides to switch tack and talk-rap or rap-rap their way through an unholy passage. This was big in the ‘90s and early ‘00s when rap was blooming ever closer to the zenith of music culture, but there’s no cap on the phenomenon’s limits. Here are our favourite examples.
Mike Will Made It, 23 feat. Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J
Mike, you already had Wiz Khalifa in the bag to rap the verses. Why’d you let Miley do it? Here at the peak of her ‘thug’ iteration in 2013, Miley does sing the track’s chorus (“I’m naughty by nature, like I’m hip hop hooray,” if you will), but she also bangs on about being messed up on purp (cough syrup mix) in the club, looking like a model who just got a cheque. Seems paradoxical.
Duran Duran, 911 Is A Joke
911 Is A Joke was originally written by Flavor Flav, and recorded by his group Public Enemy – a politically-engaged, all-black, American hip hop collective from NY. Duran Duran are an all-white synthpop band from Birmingham, England. Being an ally is important, but gee whiz this is nonsensical. It’s from the group’s 1995 covers album, Thank You.
Brian Wilson, Smart Girls
“My name is Brian and I’m the man! I write hit songs with a wave of my hand!” This is how the most famous Beach Boy opens Smart Girls, one of 13 tracks from his unreleased 1991 album Sweet Insanity. It’s definitely weird, but author Jason Hartley makes two awesome points: Wilson was embracing rap as a legitimate style back when his peers pooh-poohed it as unworthy of attention; and the whole point of the song is to demonstrate Wilson’s appreciation for womens’ inner beauty (he even quotes/compares old Beach Boys lyrics, effectively calling himself out).
Rapture has a pretty cool, understated disco beat, but Deborah Harry’s long (way, way too long) rap in the middle is painful. It suffers from that thing where the writer thinks just rhyming a bunch of random nouns which barely match on every second beat (“Take a tour, through the sewer/ Don’t strain your brain, paint a train/ You’ll be singin’ in the rain, I said/ Don’t stop, to punk rock”) is clearly all a rapper is doing. How hard could it be?
Wham!, Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)
It hurts me to repudiate George Michael in any way, and to be fair he’s got so much spunk he could probably rap out of a Dimmey’s catalogue and you’d want to dance. But maybe it’s because we don’t typically associate Michael or Wham! with “Get! Get! Get on down! I saida get-get-get on down!” that this sounds so bloody cheesy. Still, this live performance of the English group’s debut single on Top Of The Pops in ’82 is killer diller… okay fine, this one isn’t terrible at all.
Madonna, American Life
I get that there’s a kind of self-reflexive angle to this rap – Madonna lists all her material possessions (a driver, a jet, nannies, so on) with the aggressive bombast that befits the style, but then flips it back with the line “Do you think I’m satisfied?” – but the slang seems rammed in there like brie through a keyhole. It’s not like there’s some gatekeeper’s rule which says Madonna can’t say “you know this sh-t is dope.” It’s that it doesn’t fit her jag, and then the whole thing becomes unconvincing. Which sucks, because this song’s pretty great.
Aaron Carter, That’s How I Beat Shaq
In 2009 Aaron Carter was 13, which made him perfectly positioned for the ridiculous pop-rap. He doesn’t actually sing a note in this song, but that’s okay because we learn his pals call him “AC” and they all sit around facing one way like the Ghostwriter gang. Bless you Aaron. Best YouTube comments: