It feels like producer-rapper collaboration albums are more en vogue than ever over the past decade. While there have always been projects singularly crafted by one producer, icons like Madlib and Alchemist have become like contracted hitmen, lacing artists all over the country a batch of tracks at a time.
Pusha T, who already crafted Daytona with Kanye West, may be poised to create a joint album with Madlib (and may even put his Tyler, The Creator beats on one project). Gibbs and Madlib, who released last year’s Bandana, will release Montana as the finale to the trilogy. And prolific lyricists like Gibbs, Currensy, Boldy James, Smoke DZA and others will seemingly always be linking up with talented producers and knocking out marathon studio sessions that turn into projects.
We’ve put together a list of the best such collaboration projects of the past five years (because if we did 10 years, it would just be an Alchemist list). Some of these projects aren’t explicitly branded as collaboration projects, but a quick look at the production credits will reveal a sole producer behind the boards. We eschewed any projects from groups, so Run The Jewels and The Professionals duo of Madlib and Oh No weren’t considered for the list. But Madlib was an entry with another project. Find out which one below:
21 Savage, Offset, & MetroBoomin — Without Warning
There wasn’t a more apropos offering on Halloween 2017 than Without Warning, a union of MetroBoomin’s haunting soundscapes with the cold menace of 21 Savage and Offset, two of the game’s most unapologetic provosts of peril. The obvious standout of the project is “Ric Flair Drip,” an Offset solo track, but he finds a fusion with 21 Savage on tracks like “Ghostface Killers” with Travis Scott, a turbid ode to “Drug dealers in the Mulsanne, at the top of the food chain.” MetroBoomin set the stage for a massacre with a sparse canvas of eerie melodies and quaking 808s, and both 21 and Offset followed through with more gore than a slasher series.
Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats — Anger Management
Anger Management is the perfect title for Kenny Beats and Rico Nasty’s 2018 collaboration project. Kenny’s collection of ruckus production was an ideal canvas for Rico to unfurl her rambunctious mic presence over 18 minutes of intense rhyming, creative flows, and self-assured lines like, “I got b*tches on my dick and I ain’t even got a dick.” Kenny provides a caustic soundscape for Rico to reel off boasts and idle threats. “Cheat Code,” which sounds like the sonic depiction of a minefield, typifies the energy of the nine-song tornado of a project.
Little Simz — Grey Area
Little Simz’ Grey Area wasn’t specifically billed as a collaboration album, but her childhood friend Inflo produced every track on her standout 2019 project. And he did a damn good job of it, crafting well-rounded beats that were for ripe Simz’ introspection and theatrical delivery on songs like “101FM” and “Therapy.” Grey Area’s most impressive moment is “Venom,” where Inflo’s spellbinding strings get entangled by Simz’ dizzying flow where she takes on rival MCs and the rap world to task, claiming, “they will never wanna admit I’m the best here / from the mere fact that I’ve got ovaries.”
Currensy & The Alchemist — The Carrollton Heist
Alchemist and Currensy crafted a pillar of the producer-rapper collaborations with 2012’s Covert Coup, and they linked back up in 2015 for The Carrollton Heist mixtape. Currensy’s easygoing, visceral lyricism is a glove fit for the suite of smoky tracks that range from the arresting gleam of “93 AMG” to “Vibration’s” smooth sax play. The 10-track project also features appearances from Styles P and Currensy’s former Young Money boss Lil Wayne, who shows out on “Fat Albert.” Currensy and Alchemist’s chemistry is so seamless that it isn’t even their only entry on their list.
Black Thought & 9th Wonder — Streams Of Thought Vol. 1
Few fans had a second thought that Black Thought would deliver top-tier lyricism on his 2018 debut EP, but 9th Wonder demonstrated an impressive synergy with the Philly rapper throughout the Streams Of Thought Vol. 1. They took listeners on a ride from the start, as Black Thought’s ode to Philly on “Twofifteen” was soundtracked by a 9th’s riveting flip of Spanish singer Jeannette’s “L’Amour Joue Au Violon.” The rest of the project took on a similar theme of Thought tearing down 9th’s production precision. He proclaimed, “these rappers is Peter Pan I’m Pan-African” on “9th vs. Thought,” and showed the many other differences over 9th’s evocative production.
Boldy James & The Alchemist — The Price Of Tea In China
Boldy James and The Alchemist’s third collaboration project just came out in February, but it’s already a shoo-in on this list. Of all of Alchemist’s frequent collaborators, the Alc-Boldy duo may be one of the most unheralded. But that should change after The Price Of Tea In China sits at or near the summit of most hip-hop head’s year-end lists. Both Boldy and Alchemist were in stellar form throughout the 12-track confessional. Alc was deep in his sample bag, offering up a versatile gauntlet of tracks from the unflinching menace of “Scrape The Bowl” with to the extraterrestrial obscurity of “Giant Slide,” where Boldy delved into his gritty recollections of Detroit with suspenseful scribes that makes the project a must-hear.
Freddie Gibbs, Currensy & The Alchemist — Fetti
Freddie Gibbs, Currensy and The Alchemist are three of the rap game’s most prolific artists. It’s no surprise that their Fetti project may have taken just days to complete, and even less surprising that the nine-track offering will be ringing off for years to come. Gibbs and Currensy are both top tier lyricists, though their thematic wheelhouses don’t exactly coalesce. It’s a testament to their versatility (and Alchemist’s unforgettable collection of soul samples) that they sounded like a weathered duo throughout Fetti, especially on lyrical exercises like “Location Remote” and “New Thangs.”
Jay-Z — 4:44
Beyonce’s Lemonade and constant tabloid headlines about her and Jay-Z’s relationship gave us an idea of what Jay-Z would talk about on 4:44, but few could anticipate that he would delve as deep as he did on 4:44, easily his most cathartic work. The project was entirely helmed by NO I.D., who crafted the project based on songs that Jay-Z was actually listening to at the time of its 2017 recording. NO I.D.’s sonic dynamism (bore from Quincy Jones’ slam of “4-bar loops”) resulted in highlights like “Story Of OJ,” “Family Feud.” and the powerful title track, where Jay-Z pleased, “I apologize, often womanize.” The album was a late-career resurgence that reasserted his position at the top of the rap game.
Pusha T — Daytona
Pusha T’s Daytona is the jewel of Kanye West’s GOOD summer of seven-track projects. Pusha T’s detractors bemoan his single-minded focus on drug raps. Save some introspection (and slugs at Drake) on “Infrared,” Daytona was mostly the same thing — and it didn’t matter one damn bit. Pusha’s wit, slick tongue, and vivid lyricism was the perfect storm atop Kanye’s compelling chops. “These Are The Games We Play” is one of the most encapsulating portraits of “the life” ever spat on a record, while “What Would Meek Do” was searing braggadocio featuring one of Kanye’s best verses of the past five years. It was the album of summer ‘18, and maybe 2018 altogether.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib — Bandana
When Freddie Gibbs recently clarified to Russ that “we already” brought back soul samples, 2019’s Bandana, a followup to 2014’s Pinata, was exactly what he was referring to. Madlib’s rich, creative assemblage of warm samples (“Palmolive,” “Gat Damn,” and “Education”) was a ripe canvas for Gibbs to deliver his best lyrical showing ever. His melodic, gruff crime narratives are still intact, but he hits another stride on Bandana with a story of infidelity on “Practice” and subtle commentary like “Crime Pays’” “twisted in the system, just a number listed on the page,” slipped into his repertoire. He and Madlib’s 15-track album is a masterful offering of the classic sinister soul format with modern-day sonics in mind.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.