Ebony and Ivory: Some of Music's Best Colorblind Collaborators
Beyond Paul and Stevie
Everyone knows that even though Ebony and Ivory is one of the most dynamic collaborations in music, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder are two icons who are so big that you forget they can work so well together.
While that may be the case for them, there are other duos who made beautiful music together for long periods of time and have continued to redefine relationships in the music industry. So in honor of this great song, here goes my version of Ebony and Ivory.
Hip Hop's Dynamic Duo: Eminen and Dr. Dre
Eminem broke the color barrier for hip hop almost a dozen years ago. While he wasn't the first, he has surely become the most dynamic and fascinating. And when he initially burst onto the scene, he had the backing of none other than the premiere authority on breaking new hip-hop talent, Dr. Dre.
Dr. Dre met Eminem after hearing his mixtape. At first, Dr. Dre was blown away by Eminem's skills. He had no idea about who he was, but he really didn't care. All he knew was that Eminem was the real deal and he flew him out to meet him.
When Eminem got the call, he couldn't believe it. He finally had his chance after years on the Detroit circuit doing freestyles and mixtapes. When Em made it to California, Dre was surprised to find that Em was white but it didn't matter.
They wasted no time in crafting Eminem's first full length major label debut on Dr. Dre's Aftermath and Interscope, The Slim Shady LP. Filled with now classics like My Name Is, it quickly cemented the chemistry between the two.
Songs like "Guilty Conscience" displayed the playful banter as Dr. Dre and Eminem portrayed both sides of a man whose wife was just caught cheating in his own home. They followed that up with 2000's The Marshall Mathers LP featuring further gems like "The Real Slim Shady" and "Stan".
Eminem also helped Dr. Dre with his second studio album Dr. Dre 2001 guesting on "Forgot About Dre". In 2002, Dr. Dre allowed Eminem to shine on his own by producing most of his own tracks on The Eminem Show but guested on lead single "Without Me" among others
Their bond was anything but limited as through the years they helped develop new artist 50 Cent. And while in recent years their musical collaborations haven't been as high profile, it is obvious that their relationship has been mutually beneficial.
2011's "I Need A Doctor" is probably the best example of how deep their bond runs. While they initially connected through hip-hop they have shared many tragedies and struggles including Eminem's addiction and Dr. Dre losing his oldest son. If anything, their relationship has translated into how hip-hop is more than just beats and rhymes or black and white.
Through their collaborations the world has seen how colorblind music can make the world and how much our realities are shared whether than dividing. And we can only hope they can continue to blaze trails for others in hip-hop and music in general for looking beyond the obvious.
A Motown Love Affair: Rick James and Teena Marie
If you've seen Chappelle's Show, you could probably recall the bizarre and interesting relationship between Rick James and Eddie Murphy, however Rick James was responsible for more than just quotables and fights in the 1980s. He helped discover and mentor the Ivory Queen of Soul, Teena Marie.
Rick James was a free spirit at Motown, crafting gems for many acts including The Temptations and Smokey Robinson but not limiting himself to one sound or musical experience. Teena Marie was one of the most notable young signees to the legendary label with a lot of promise, but unfortunately did not have much to work with.
That all changed when Rick and Teena met in the hallowed halls of Motown in the late 1970s. They began work on Teena's debut Wild and Peaceful which features classics like "I'm a Sucker For Your Love." This album famously didn't feature Teena Marie's face because of fear that the black audience wouldn't accept her.
She returned the favor by collaborating on Rick James's Street Songs which became an instant classic. Their most famous collaboration, "Fire and Desire" has become the stuff of legend. And so had their relationship at that point.
Rick and Teena had become involved in a real-life love affair and were even engaged for a short period of time. As she later described in her 2009 episode of Unsung, it was just as intense and passionate as their musical relationship. While they eventually broke up and parted ways after Teena Marie's infamous departure from Motown, they later reconciled in the 2000s.
Tragically, the back and forth had taken its toll on James and while he was beginning to receive recognition again he died in 2004. It was shortly after he and Teena reunited to sing "Fire and Desire" on that year's BET Awards. In December 2010, the music world was shocked again when Marie herself tragically past after a grand mal seizure.
Thankfully their musical legacies live on in their individual works and their collaborations. They should that music and love are both colorblind expressions of the soul that free us to be our true selves beyond the labels of music and identity.
Justin Timberlake and Timbaland: Opposites Attract
A mere ten years ago if you had said that Justin Timberlake would leave N'Sync behind, most people would agree with you. They may have even agreed if you would have said he'd become a well known actor. But if you had predicted that he would go on to make some of the most dynamic music of the post millenium alongside premiere hip-hop genius Timbaland, I'm sure you would have been called crazy.
However, now you can almost not think of one without the other musically. Not only have they redefined each other's careers, but they have also managed to help other artists by writing and producing. And just to think it all started with four tracks in the summer of 2002 in Virginia Beach.
Justin Timberlake was just beginning to make plans for his album in May 2002 when he decided to work with hip-hop producers The Neptunes and Timbaland. His collaboration with The Neptunes was not unexpected, they had helped JT and the fellas on the last N'Sync album as well as collaborated with pop acts like No Doubt and Britney Spears. Timbaland, however, was still primarily a fixture in urban music working famously with the likes of Missy Elliott, Aayliah and Jay-Z.
But after one phone call and a fated meeting, Timbaland decided it was worth the risk. The results total four tracks on JT's Justified, but the most famous offering was undoubtedly, "Cry Me A River" the post-disco, hip-hop fused shuffle of heartbreak.
After that, Timbo began to work with acts like The Pussycat Dolls and Nelly Furtado but he and JT reunited after Timberlake left a message on his answering machine saying he wanted to make, "5 or 6 more 'Cry Me a River's.'"
So they set out to create an entire album of music which would become the mid-2000s smash, FutureSex/LoveSounds, featuring hits such as the now iconic "SexyBack" and "My Love". They also collaborated on Timbaland's 2007 solo effort, Shock Value. Timbaland even opened for JT and their chemistry that was so magical in the studio, became even more palpable on stage.
Even though JT did go to acting for the past few years, he was still working with Timbaland collaborating on new material for other artists, such as Madonna's "4 Minutes." Justin also found time to make another track for Timbaland's follow up album 2010's Shock Value II, "Carry Out".
While "Carry Out" seemingly fell short of the duo's previous work, it still topped the charts. However, it wasn't the last song and dance from the duo. After a cryptic tweet in early January 2013, Justin Timberlake released his first solo single in over six years "Suit and Tie". Not everyone thinks this song is as epic as it should be for a comeback single, but someone's buying. The song is on track to boast the best digital sales record of Timberlake's career, beating "SexyBack" with sales around 350,000. JT's third album, The 20/20 Experience, drops later in the year.
They continue to work together to produce exciting and interesting music. But what their collaboration has proven is that labels such as musical genre and race are insignificant to the creation of great music and good times. Their friendship is only an extension of how they have both helped to open the doors within music.
Honorable Mention: Jay-Z and Chris Martin
One of the more recent notable collaborations in music has been between Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and hip-hop icon Jay-Z. While they have seemingly different backgrounds, they share a lot in common and have worked together a few times.
Martin collaborated with Jay-Z on the song "Beach Chair" for his Kingdom Come album and Jay-Z appeared on the Coldplay song "Lost+." Aside from that they are close friends who spend quality time together. Martin's wife Gwyneth Paltrow was even quoted as saying that their children call the rapper Uncle Jay.
While they have a close friendship they haven't collaborated to the extent as the other artists I've mentioned previously. But I'm sure that will be changing in the future.
That's All Folks!
Once again, thank you for reading and I hope you have enjoyed this hub. I look forward to your insight as well as any collaborations I may have left off as well as your favorites mentioned in the hub.
And below, I will leave you with my favorite version of "Ebony and Ivory" :)!