One of the most underrated and overlooked eras of hip-hop was the Rapper + Dorky White Guy period of the mid 2000’s. People forget, but it was a thing for singer-songwriters to collaborate with hardcore rappers. The former personify the “misunderstood I’m probably from an affluent background but I’m paying a lot of money to look like a bum” archetype. This is a stark contrast to the flashy, bombastic rap personalities they collaborated with. Let’s never forget Birdman wore a Rolex on each wrist in the “Bling Bling” video.
The best collabs after the jump.
This crossover, as odd as it may seem, worked. And it spawned some banging if underrated tracks. As such, I give you the first edition of the Rapper + Dorky White Guy Playlist.
Okay, so technically, Fall Out Boy is a group of dorky white guys. I get it. But this track was the first time I noticed that something was amiss in hip-hop. The remix to their 2004 hit “This Ain’t a Scene” featured none other than the Louis Vuitton Don, Kanye West. It’s thanks to this remix and Yeezy appearance I know who Fall Out Boy is. Actually, It’s thanks to Kanye I know about a bunch of non-rap artists. But still. I love Kanye’s sincerity when he raps “Now I don’t know what the hell this song is talking about. Do you?” An extended remix with Lupe Fiasco, Tyga, Travis McCoy and Lil Wayne soon followed.
The summer after I first noticed the burgeoning trend, Colin Munroe released his mixtape, Colin Munroe is The Unsung Hero. It could have been called “Dorky White Guy Sings With Your Favorite Rapper.” Obvi you should file Munroe under “dorky white guy” because, well, he’s a Canadian singer. But he produced the entirety of this mixtape and got some of his hip-hop friends to help out. The intro song features snippets and samples from rap’s elite and sets the tone nicely for the rest of the project. Joell Ortiz, Drake and the criminally underrated Skyzoo also make appearances.
In 2012, Munroe released his debut album, The Unsung Hero. It’s no surprise that my favorite song, and maybe the best song off the album features Kendrick Lamar and Ab Soul. Munroe looks like every guitar toting kid I went to highschool with. But boy is he talented.
“Let it Rock” was the lead single from Rudolf’s 2008 debut, In the City. I think he he was the only non rapper signed to Cash Money Records, so I suppose it made sense for label presidente Lil Wayne to cosign Rudolf by hopping on the track. The song was a summer anthem and peaked at #5 on the Billboard 100. I love the music video because Rudolf and Wayne could not be more different in style. Rudolf looks like the personification of Guitar Hero and Wayne looks like we’ll, Lil Wayne. Bonus points too because this video encapsulates the moment Lil Wayne dabbled in rock music for a short while. Remember that?! He looks so awkward holding a guitar. But good for him for trying.
If you haven’t yet listened to Black Milk or to his album Tronic, do yourself an aural favor and go. It’s an underrated gem full of quality hip-hop. Milk is a Detroit native who cut his teeth as a producer. You definitely get some J Dilla vibes on his work. Munroe, who by now you’ll see checks off the all the “dorky singer” boxes, sings the chorus and produces the album’s 4th track, “Without U.”
Sidenote: I really like Colin Munroe. Why isn’t his album on any streaming services?
The Foreign Exchange is a collaboration between Dutch DJ Nicolay and rapper Phonte of Little Brother fame.Yes, I know Nicolay is neither dorky nor a singer songwriter. But The Foreign Exchange make the list because everyone needs to hear The Foreign Exchange. Their sound and style are a refreshing take on hip-hop and with newer releases, they’ve been incorporating a soulful sound to their work.
A Waze staff favorite, Chance is THAT dude right now, comfortably amongst rap’s elite. He has one of the best projects of 2016in Coloring Book, he’s danced with Stephen Curry at the ESPYs and he’s penned original lyrics for a Nike Basketball commercial. Safe to say he’s come a long way from whipping around his mother’s Camry. In 2013, he linked with James Blake to remix Blake’s “Life Round Here.” Even though there was no official release, the video was a smash hit, amassing over 5 million YouTube views.
Some background on this track. An unmastered, early version appeared on Kanye’s first mixtape, Freshmen Adjustment. Known then simply as “Home”, the track had a more soulful interpolation and featured John Legend on the chorus in lieu of the Coldplay frontman. I was disappointed when I heard a remastered track without John Legend was going to be on Kanye’s Graduation. But the Chris Martin version was a hit! Spoiler alert: It’s a beautiful ode to Chicago and to coming home. I made sure to have this song on every mix CD I made during my first year at SDSU and I would blare this as I drove up 99 on my way to visit Modesto.
Hova and Martin had something of a bromance going on for a while. First Martin appeared on Jay Z’s comeback album, 2006’s Kingdom Come. Jay Z then returned the favor by appearing on an alternate version of the Coldplay smash “Lost.”
Interestingly, Martin almost broke up the Jay Z/ Kanye West relationship. Remember I said Hov and Martin had a bromance? Well apparently, Kanye had told Jay Z that Martin would feature on Graduation. But then, Jay Z pulled Martin for Kingdom Come, seemingly taking the luster away from Kanye’s guest feature. As Kanye raps in “Big Brother”, he felt slighted but instead of addressing the situation he spoke to mutual friends about his disdain, only worsening the rift. But it seems like they squashed their beef over Chris Martin.
I almost submitted this article without including this track from Cutter’s 2012 Indicud. The song sounds like it could have appeared in a party scene in HBO’s How To Make it America as it’s upbeat and melodic. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the song’s three artists. Honestly, the song sounds more like a Michael Bolton hip-hop track featuring Kid Cudi. But like “Red Eye” also from Indicud, and it’s featured trio of the girl band HAIM, Kid Cudi is fine with taking a step back and letting a guest star take the limelight.
The song first came out almost seven years ago as part of Kanye West’s “GOOD Friday” Series. The intro to the song samples Justin Vernon’s lyrics from his band’s Bon Iver’s song “woods.” Vernon, the lead singer for Bon Iver, secluded himself in a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin for three months. That’s some serious Thoreau shit, but the result was Bon Iver’s critically acclaimed album For Emma, Forever Ago.
A remastered version of “Lost in The World” appeared on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And while I love both versions, the original, unmastered version holds a special place in my heart. At the time of the song’s release, I was back home, living in Modesto and working in an unfulfilling job. It became an aspirational anthem for me. Although the song deals with themes of uncertainty and loneliness in the world at large, for me it became symbolic of what I wanted, namely to be lost in the world and expand beyond my horizons and comfort zone. A few years later, and the daydreams I had, whilst sitting in my beat up Ford Tempo, and getting ready to stare down another unfulfilling work shift, would come true.
I don’t usually read YouTube comments. But I found myself scrolling endlessly through the comments on this video in hopes of finding the answer to a question that’s been on my mind since 2011. What ever happened to John West? Though I haven’t find an exact answer, it seems other YouTubers are wondering the same thing. After all, dude was signed to Def Jam and had songs with Pusha T and Big Sean.
Oh, if you’re wondering why I chose this track over West’s collab with Big Sean…well Pusha could literally and metaphorically eat Big Sean.
I’m not really sure what happened to him. His SoundCloud page hasn’t been active in over 2 years and his former manager told me he has new representation. Shame really, dude could sing and I still listen to his short mixtape from 2012.
In a way, John West’s career could be seen as the metaphor for the Dorky White Guy + Rapper collaboration: once seemingly ubiquitous, it’s now a thing of a bygone era. What was most fascinating about these songs is how they combined disparate musical styles. Hip-hop continues to reinvent itself by incorporating other influences. It just hasn’t looked towards singers in some time.