Duos Through the Decades

two microphones in a studio

Our group’s setlist, Duos Through the Decades, was a spotlight on full-length hip-hop collaborations between pairs of artists.  For the set, duos not only included two-person hip-hop groups but also solo MCs who came together to work on complete projects.  The eight albums in the set stretched from the 80’s to current day, with two albums chosen from each decade. Beginning the set, we had debut projects from Cookie Crew (Born This Way) and Eric B & Rakim (Paid in Full). Both albums were declarations, statements of how the artists wanted to be recognized in the industry. We chose Cookie Crew, a female hip-hop duo from South London, because of their diversity and Eric B & Rakim for their pioneering efforts in lyricism and break beats.

Moving onto the 90’s, the project shifts to collaborations out of NYC and New Jersey. Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star was the debut album for both MCs, as they had yet to release solo projects. Conversely, Method Man & Redman had already been successful in Wu-Tang Clan and Def Squad, respectively, prior to partnering on Blackout!.  With so much focus on the East Coast and overseas, we wanted to give some love to the South for the 2000’s, so we looked to UGK and OutKast. These albums brought distinctive creativity and localized flavor from Texas and Georgia to the mix.

Realizing we hadn’t represented any MCs from the West Coast, we added Snoop Dogg’s collaborative soundtrack album with Wiz Khalifa to our selection before finally closing out the list with a recent concept album from Fabolous & Jadakiss, Friday on Elm Street, a project we were all excited for. While our albums varied in definition, location, style, and content, certain themes of collaboration became apparent as I reflected on the set as a whole.

In Hip-Hop collaborations, individual identities either blur together, compliment each other, or stand apart. With Cookie Crew, for example, I could not discern their separate personalities through the tracks. Outkast broke this construct with their double disc, two solo album release. While they did collaborate on a few of each other’s songs, their separate personalities were very apparent throughout.

Production & The MC
Some duos produce the majority of their projects, like UGK who had a producer/lyricist connection with Pimp C.  Other times, the combination is the classic DJ/MC pairing, as was showcased through Eric B & Rakim. Eric B set the foundation with his breakbeats for Rakim to rhyme over.  The roles of producers and DJ have changed over time in hip-hop and our decade-based breakdown highlighted this.

Party vs Knowledge
Some albums focused on providing knowledge and inspiring listeners, while others focused on creating a party record, a chill record, or a mix of both. Born This Way and Blackout! were party records: both have fast-paced production and lyrics without much complexity. Dirty Money and Mac & Devin were the chill out records, ones that focused on slower tempos with flows to match. And Black Star was all about advocating for knowledge of self and inspiration of others. Every other album in the set struck a balance between party atmosphere and conscious lyrics.

Closing Thoughts
I enjoyed our album set as a whole and appreciated that it included well-known and obscure albums. Listening to each album was a way for me to learn more about hip-hop from multiple perspectives. I enjoyed the production on every single album and discovered more about the history of each project’s creation. My least favorite albums were Blackout! and Dirty Money for their vulgarity, while Friday on Elm Street and Black Star were my favorites lyrically and musically. Mac & Devin Go to High School was a pleasant surprise.  I was not expecting to enjoy it, but it turned out to be my favorite album in terms of overall production. My goal coming into this set was to grow my exposure to hip-hop and I can definitely say I did so.