The relationship between rap and R&B has changed immensely in this new era of Auto-Tune rappers and bar-spitting singers. The two genres have always coexisted as neighbors, but in 2016, the two are more like roommates living under the same roof. It was an inevitable union, a marriage that was destined to happen.
Before the big shift in music that caused the two to practically merge, though, there were a few rappers who effortlessly blended between the lines of rap and R&B. The first name that comes to mind is Fabolous, a rare wordsmith who could give you the hardest punchlines and then appear on the most sentimental R&B song, both well received by fans. He didn’t straddle the fence, he completely removed any structure that separated the two.
2003 was the year that I first heard Fab. “Breathe” is the song that got me into Fab, but before the Just Blaze banger graced my ears, it was the remake of Tamia’s “So Into You” from his Street Dreams album. The Ashanti-assisted single was vulnerable, affectionate and tender, the kind of song women would naturally gravitate toward, but Fab’s swagger kept the song from feeling overly sappy. Before “Into You,” Fab released “Can’t Let You Go,” another R&B-esque single that strongly represents his strength at making music that can appeal to both men and women. Fab wasn’t the street rapper, he wasn’t the tough guy, but he wasn’t the cornball—more Stefan Urquelle than Steve Urkel.
Fab has spent a career bringing hip-hop’s poetic cool into R&B’s affectionate space. “Baby” with Mike Shorey, “Make Me Better” with Ne-Yo, “Baby Don’t Go” with T-Pain and Jermaine Dupri, and of course “Throw It In The Bag” with The-Dream—these are all singles that will be remembered as Fab classics. Being able to collaborate and make consistent magic with singers made him such a prominent name in music. Fab could do mixtapes and completely murder beats, but when it was time to take over the radio, he mastered a formula that utilized R&B in a way that few rappers will ever be able to mimic. This also made him a sought out name for singers who needed a rapper feature. Lil’ Mo heard Fabolous on a DJ Clue? mixtape and wanted to work with the Brooklyn rapper, which is how their collaborations came about for “4Ever” and “Superwomen.”
The classic Fab remixes didn’t come until he connected with The-Dream for “Shawty Is a 10.” His flow is simplistic, yet hypnotic. I remember standing in teen clubs and hearing every word recited. If Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram existed back then, Fab would be quoted across social media just like Drake is today. “Make Me Better” was a huge single. Fab and Ne-Yo’s chemistry was undeniable, and the two came together again for Ne-Yo’s “She Got Her Own (Miss Independent Pt. 2),” a classic anthem from 2008. The song was bound to be a hit—Jamie Foxx was a big enough feature to guarantee success—but adding Loso and his home run of a verse only added to the song's appeal. Ryan Leslie's "Addiction," Slim’s “Good Lovin’,” Trey Songz’s “Say Aah,” and Amerie’s “More Than Love,” are all memorable R&B songs that feature Fab.
I read an article today that championed Lil Wayne as the rapper who wears the R&B feature crown. There’s some truth to the statement―Wayne was able to enter the R&B space after demolishing Destiny's Child’s “Soldier” remix. He was like a bulldozer after that song, completely destroying anything and any song in his path. Lloyd's “I Want You” and “Get It Shawty” both received Wayne when he was a man on fire. Chris Brown’s “Poppin’” was tagged teamed by Weezy and Juelz Santana, one of the first times the Can’t Feel My Face duo collaborated, and it was an instant win. Wayne and Robin Thicke; Wayne and T-Pain; Wayne and almost anyone delivered results during the prime of his career. Wayne’s appearance on Solange’s “Mad” is by far my favorite song right now. Wayne also has a gift for bringing some of rap’s best qualities to R&B records. There’s no denying this, but I don’t think I’ll crown him over Fabolous.
Fab and Wayne both have immense catalogs full of classics that will be played long after their respective passings, but I find myself gravitating to Fab’s R&B records more than Wayne's. Fab has R&B records that sound nostalgic; that feel like emerging from the late ‘90s and entering the early 2000s. He also has more modern hits that show he was always aware of time. With Wayne, his career has been based on being the rapper who simply appeared and demolished. There are some incredible Wayne features and remixes, but I don’t think his R&B songs will have the same lasting admiration as Fab’s. Wayne simply entered the lane, Fab was the one who laid down the pavement. Of course, there were rappers who came before Fab—he didn’t rewrite the rules—but he played by them far better than most of his contemporaries.
Fab’s legacy is connected to the way he merged rap with R&B. He will be remembered for those singles, features, and remixes that proved it. Wayne also has a legacy that will be applauded for the mountains he moved through rapping, but the R&B moments will not be as highlighted. Especially considering that the spectrum of what is considered rap and R&B is always changing, which makes what Fab did that much more important. He came into the game rapping on Clue? tapes and was able to shoot up the charts by adjusting to a completely different sonic space. He took a bit of rap, a bit of R&B, and a lot of Brooklyn swagger to become a rapper who wasn’t pinned down by hip-hop’s macho exterior.
Fab was the best of both worlds without Jay Z or R. Kelly, and that’s why I’d place the crown on his head before Weezy F.
Editor's Note: In 6th grade, I paid a kid on my bus $5 for his nine-track, burned mix CD just because it included "Into You.” True story.
By Yoh, aka Yohso Case You Ain't No So aka @Yoh31.