The year 2014, which will mercifully conclude in a matter of hours, was not very kind to rap music, or at least rap music with designs on crashing the Top 40.
True, it wasn't as bad as 2013, which had the dubious distinction of sending exactly zero black artists to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100—this year, John Legend and Pharrell finally broke that streak. But with Iggy Azalea, Meghan Trainor, and Taylor Swift taking over from there, it's still safe to say that crossover rap by and for black people has seen better days.
Still, the fact that very little rap truly crosses over anymore doesn't mean that it's entirely absent from the pop world. In fact, an increasingly common phenomenon is that once a pop song reaches a certain popularity threshold, a rap remix suddenly emerges in hopes of spreading that nascent hit across additional formats, or at least netting Kid Ink another paycheck. Either way, here's our ranking of the least logical rap remixes of pop songs from perhaps the 21st century's rudest year yet.
8. Beyoncé, "***Flawless (ft. Nicki Minaj)." This is the least commercially successful song here, but also objectively the best, so here it sits at No. 8. Any collaboration between these two is cause for celebration, but the fact that Beyoncé actually out-raps Nicki is also cause for alarm: Nothing Minaj manages here, or on the whole of this month's underwhelming The Pinkprint, hits as hard as Ms. Carter's declaration that "Of course sometimes shit go down when it's a billion dollars on an elevator." There are levels to this royalty shit.
7. DJ Snake & Lil Jon, "Turn Down for What (ft. 2 Chainz, French Montana & Juicy J)." That the original went from novelty fluke to legitimate EDM hit to one of the biggest songs of early 2014 in any genre is a real accomplishment. Not that it matches you-know-who's crunk classics or even his late-period work with LMFAO—"Shots" is a classic, people—but this song certainly was doing just fine without any rappers lousing it up. The magic of "Turn Down for What" lies in its sparseness and exuberant sense of release; adding those three guys only results in overcrowding. Who would've thought that Lil Jon, of all people, would crassly sacrifice artistic integrity for a few extra spins.
6. Ed Sheeran, "Don't (ft. Rick Ross)." That redheaded Brit folkie Ed Sheeran had a not-so-secret rap phase is one of the more underappreciated chapters in the career of a singer who went from slinging gentle guitar ballads to impersonating Justin Timberlake within one album cycle. But it's true: Ed teamed up with Southern rapper Yelawolf on an immediately forgettable EP a couple years back, is allegedly sitting on a full-length collaboration with L.A. gadfly the Game, and isn't shy about laying down a bar or two on his newer, much softer stuff. So the Rick Ross cameo here isn't that shocking, though hearing The Bawse call himself "thick smoke" over a track that might as well be wafting out of a country dive bar at 1 a.m. is an odd and not entirely welcome sensation.
5. Magic!, "Rude (ft. Kid Ink, Ty$ & Travis Barker)." How do you improve on perfection? Add Blink-182's drummer, I guess. Kid Ink's nondescript personality fits the blankness of the original a little too well, and since every guest verse from critically hailed R&B lothario Ty$ relies on weird come-ons and half-assed attempts at courtship, the pieces here couldn't fit together any better. Plus, yeah, Travis Barker is here, because even though Magic! hail from Canada, this song is perfect for a California radio culture too scared to play rap, but also too afraid to not play it, and TB's got some experience with this sort of thing.
4. Disclosure "Latch (ft. Sam Smith & Schoolboy Q)." Well, this took forever. The original "Latch" is two years old and was a HUGE hit—enough time has passed that then-unknown falsetto-wielding singer Sam Smith now has a booming, Grammy-nominated solo career. But it finally caught the attention of urban radio, so might as well get a buzzing rapper like L.A.'s Schoolboy Q and stretch this timeline even further. If you didn't physically make it to a music festival in 2014, it sounded exactly like this (and smelled of weed and corporate-sponsor beer).
3. Maroon 5, "Maps (ft. Big Sean)" and "Animals (ft. J. Cole)." So Adam and the Levines are still steadily morphing into a post-EDM big-beat band, which is not exactly a style friendly to rappers hoping to lay down a fresh 16 bars, but that doesn't stop two B-listers from chipping in two sets of uninspired rhymes here. Both Sean and Cole have their charms, but you're well advised to look for them elsewhere.
2. Katy Perry, "This Is How We Do (feat. Riff Raff)." She's good at the rap-pop thing, you know, as evidenced by "Dark Horse" (this year's big hit with Juicy J) and 2010's Snoop-assisted smash "California Gurls." By contrast, this fledgling single peaked at No. 24, but apparently still merited a bizarre remix costarring Riff Raff, who is generally taken either way too seriously or not seriously at all; in any event, the best artistic collaboration between these two remains the matching Versace suits they wore to the VMA's.
1. Mr. Probz, "Waves (ft. Chris Brown & T.I.)." OK, deep breath. So last year Netherlands singer Mr. Probz scored a No. 5 hit in his own country with the original singer-songwriter slow jam "Waves"; an uptempo remix from German producer Robin Schultz somehow became an international hit across the rest of Europe, and even cracked the U.S. Top 20. What's next? Get T.I. and Chris Brown to emote all over the remix to the remix. This was a weird year.
Photo by Christopher Polk / Getty Images.
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