When Kendrick Lamar unleashed the tracklist for his new album DAMN., amidst the overwhelming excitement and anticipation for the product was a lingering sentiment: “What the fuck is U2 doing on there?”
It’s a fair question. Constant shade-wearing and social activism aside, Bono and his bandmates are pretty far removed from hip-hop culture... but not entirely removed. After doing a little digging, we have uncovered several legitimate connections between U2 and hip-hop culture, and it’s only right we share them with you.
From a surprising amount of sample appearances to apparently inspiring one of Kanye’s greatest works, here is U2’s weird, inexplicable hip-hop history.
Danger Mouse has produced for just as many artists outside of hip-hop as he has within it, but there’s no denying that hip-hop was the foundation of his notoriety and has housed some of his most compelling collaborations.
Years after his work on The Grey Album and Gorillaz’s Demon Days, Danger Mouse was tapped by—you guessed it—U2 for production on their 2010 album Songs of Innocence.
While the album was initially slated to be produced entirely by Danger Mouse, as the album evolved other producers were brought into the fold. Ultimately, Danger was still credited as the co-producer on seven of the album’s 11 songs.
Four years after blessing the world with “My Humps,” Black Eyed Peas member and the first televised hologram will.i.am lent his production skills to Bono and company for the group’s 2009 album No Line on the Horizon.
Despite claims from Kanye West that will.i.am would be producing an entire album for the band, his presence was ultimately only existent on one track, “I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight.”
Mary J. Blige
Although not an outright hip-hop artist, Mary’s contributions to hip-hop—especially during the mid-90s to mid-2000s—are undeniable.
The story behind this collab starts with “One,” the critically-acclaimed single from U2’s 1991 album Achtung Baby, which was listed at no. 36 in Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time” in 2010. 13 years after its initial release, U2 collaborated with Blige to re-record the song for her 2005 album The Breakthrough.
It’s worth noting that The Breakthrough also featured “MJB da MVP” with 50 Cent, so if you ever want to make $5 at a bar, tell someone you can connect Bono and 50 Cent through less than six degrees of separation. You’re welcome.
During a 10 show run through New Zealand and Australia in 2010, U2 tapped Hov to open for the band, which is already fucking weird, but it gets weirder...
Jigga actually joined the band on stage during their Auckland stop to perform “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” as well as a mash-up of the band’s 1981 rarity “Scarlet” and Hov’s pre-Blueprint 3 single “History,” the latter of which was to celebrate the release of Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi.
Yes, U2’s reach extends to both halves of Watch The Throne. After opening for the group during their ‘05/’06 Vertigo Tour, Kanye was apparently inspired by the insane reactions Bono received while playing night after night in sold-out stadiums.
He was so inspired, in fact, that he set out to create anthemic rap jams by incorporating those stadium-ready sounds into his third studio album Graduation, including experimentations with slower tempos and simplified lyrics, concentrating on "speaking volumes without using too many words."
So, in a way, not only did U2 directly influence Graduation, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say they kicked off a path of inspiration that led Kanye from “Old Kanye” to the less wordy and lyric-centric sounds of 808s and Heartbreaks and ultimately, Yeezus.
I’m admittedly not a huge U2 fan, so it never even occurred to me that their stadium-ready rock anthems could make the perfect samples for a hip-hop record.
Upon some rather extensive research, however, I discovered plenty of examples of U2’s music being co-opted by hip-hop artists. These are all of the U2 hip-hop samples we could find:
- "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was sampled by DJ Shadow on "Lost & Found"
- "Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car" was sampled by ATCQ on "Skypager"
- "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was sampled by Pras on "Haven't Found"
- "Drowning Man" was sampled by Kool G Rap on "Maggie"
- "Beautiful Day" was sampled by Charles Hamilton on "Beautiful Day"
- "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" was sampled by Cormega for the intro on Legal Hustle
- "These Are The Hands That Built America" was sampled by Stack Bundles on "These Are The Hands"
And Also: Tyler, The Creator & Diddy
U2 has had several other chance encounters with hip-hop culture that, while not directly impactful, were far too entertaining and hilarious to ignore.
First, there was that time U2 made the incredibly asinine decision to partner with iTunes and have their album Songs of Innocence automatically uploaded to every iPhone user that had automatic downloads enabled on their devices (which was pretty much all of them.) One iPhone owner who was particularly (fake) upset about this release strategy was Tyler, The Creator, who went on a 20-minute, all-caps Twitter tirade attacking Bono and U2 for their invasive marketing ploy. The tweets still exist, and they’re still amazing.
And who could forget the 2014 Golden Globe awards, during which U2 received the best original song award for "Ordinary Love" from the soundtrack to Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. They were apparently met on stage by an extremely enthusiastic and possibly very drunk Diddy, who was visibly curved by Bono during a hug attempt in what ended up being one of the greatest photos I’ve ever seen.