At Coachella, thousands upon thousands shouted every lyric to Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank).” But it’s unlikely that many of those fest-goers could have done the same with his verse on English singer/songwriter Dido’s “Let Us Move On.” Likewise, we wonder, could the Coachella-ites who sang along with Lady Gaga on “Let’s Dance” do the same with her hook from Wale’s “Chillin’?”
There are any number of reasons for an artist to seek out a musical collaboration out of left field. Sometimes, it’s a chance for a younger musician to get in front of a wider fan base; Lamar’s verse on “Let Us Move On” was released two months after his major label debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. On other occasions, similar backgrounds or circumstances bring disparate artists together, like the Sarah McLachlan/DMC two-hander “Just Like Me.” And sometimes getting a cameo from an established act can help shift public perception, like when ex-Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera went “Dirrty” with the help of a Redman verse.
These 10 tracks are not always the best testaments to the wisdom of the “opposites attract” school of musical alchemy, but collectively they act as a reinforcement for a modern cliché: Genre is little more than a way for a record store to categorize albums. Check out 10 of the strangest musical collaborations below.
It’s the collaboration the world didn’t know it needed, starring the Australian King of Doom and Queen of Dance. But the first single from Cave and company’s 1996 effort Murder Ballads is this slow-burning folk-rock stunner, in the tradition of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, with his rumbling baritone and her thin soprano meshing perfectly. Years later, Coldplay would bring Minogue on stage to cover the song while touring Australia, which seems like sacrilege.
Yup. This is actually one-third of hip-hop pioneers Run-DMC and the woman from the ASPCA commercials and ‘90s cry-ballads. As the story goes, McDaniels was battling depression and suicidal thoughts while on tour in Japan; he credits McLachlan’s “Angel” (it’s now known as “the sad dog one,” a great example of a good song ruined by commercial overexposure) with saving his life. So when the emcee went back to the studio to record “Just Like Me” on 2006’s Checks Thugs and Rock n Roll, an emotional song about growing up adopted, he reached out to the Lilith Fair founder (who later included the track on her 2008 collection Rarities, B-Sides, And Other Stuff Vol. 2). The track probably won’t make your best of Run-DMC playlist, but the story behind it is sweet.
That a judge on the genre-agnostic The Voice would feature a rapper on a single is not a stretch, but the context of “Dirrty” is what made this collaboration such a surprise. Before this song was released, Aguilera was sometimes portrayed in the media as the wholesome one to Britney Spears’ fallen angel. If Aguilera wanted to prove that she had a non-Disney-friendly side, as well, then she more than accomplished that mission. A Time Magazine critic even wrote that Aguilera looked like she was “direct from an intergalactic hooker convention” in the song’s video. It almost makes “too dirty to clean my act up” Newark emcee Redman incidental to (if always welcome at) the proceedings.
The King of Pop and the King of Brooklyn united forces on the same track. Jackson was never one to shy away from an unexpected collaborator (see: Eddie Murphy on “Whatzupwitu”), but the fit of the “Heal the World” singer and the Ready to Die emcee ended up a tonal mismatch. Jackson throws in some light profanity for one of the rare times in his career, Biggie drops a couple of racial slurs, and the song ends up sounding like the mediocre mid-‘90s R&B and rap collaboration it was.
Maybe MJ got the “opposites attract” idea from his family? The last single from The Jacksons during the Michael era, it’s essentially a duet between the King of Pop and the lead Stone. Jagger, who was actually Jackson’s second choice according to legend (Queen’s Freddie Mercury was the preference), once described his experience with the star as “quick.” It’s little wonder that Jagger’s most famous performance of the song came with Tina Turner singing MJ’s part at Live Aid 1985.
The ex-Fugee has worked with everyone from Paul Simon, Celia Cruz and Kenny Rogers, so it’s hard to imagine a collaboration that wouldn’t make sense. In fact, having a wide musical palate is almost performative for Jean. “It Doesn’t Matter” literally comes from an album with the pun-tastic title The Ecleftic that also featured Rogers, Whitney Houston and Youssou N’Dour. Meanwhile, pre-Hollywood Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson got in two of his wrestling catch phrases, and then was never heard from again. Oh wait.
Both parties have been dragged for this unfortunate track, in which Cool James actually thought it’d be a good idea to say, “if you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains.” It may be a more recent hip-hop and country mashup (did it kill the mini-genre completely?), but not the only entrant: Nelly and Tim McGraw have recorded together and Kenny Rogers has been in the studio with Wyclef Jean and Coolio. The good news is that a better product of this pairing—“Live For You”—ended up on LL’s Authentic in 2013.
Appearing on an album for each artist (Dion’s These Are Special Times and Kelly’s R.), the duo would seem like the angel and devil on the listener’s shoulder. But this is “I Believe I Can Fly” Kelly, not “Bump and Grind” Kelly; the song’s lyrics could easily pass for the theme song to a family-friendly cable TV show. Now, if Dion makes a guest appearance on the next entry in the Trapped in the Closet rap opera series, that would be something.
Wale is one of biggest rap star to ever come out of Washington D.C., thanks in part to the city’s preference for go-go music during hip-hop’s development. Still, to hear a pre-“Bad Romance” Gaga doing her best M.I.A. impression on the song’s chorus is jarring at first. Introduced by producer-in-common Mark Ronson, Wale and Gaga (with a lot of help from samples from “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” and “Top Billin’’”) made sure that the emcee was seen as more than a clever mixtape rapper (see: 2008’s The Mixtape About Nothing). Special mention goes to the video, too, in which Gaga’s outfit—a light blue mini-dress with two massive bows—is remarkable casual.
Dido has soul. She got her start singing in her brother’s trip-hop group, Faithless (“My Lover’s Gone” from her debut album first appeared as the hook of “Postcards,” a Faithless song from 1998). And she rolled nicely with the attention garnered when Eminem sampled her for “Stan” in 1999. But even though his verse was likely recorded before 2012’s star-making Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was released, it’s still surprise to hear how hard the emcee attacks the track. Just like with Eminem beforehand, Dido’s and Lamar’s vocals work beautifully and powerfully together.