As a child born during the 1990s, unity was often displayed through the act of many becoming one. When the Power Rangers faced villains who grew large enough to darken the sky, their separate Megazords would combine into a singular powerhouse; Voltron was billed as a robot capable of protecting the universe, but only after its five pilots fused their disconnected pieces; Marvel’s Avengers and D.C.’s Justice League united their mightiest heroes and heroines to rewarding results, a concept worth more in 2018 than during the Bronze Age of Comic Books. Strength was in the numbers, not any sole man or woman.
Collaborations in music can often feel like the gathering of many to create art that’s epic. There’s a childlike excitement just seeing certain names placed alongside one another on tracklists and in liner notes. The crossover of talented individuals can fall short of their gifts, but when they’re good, the enjoyment is up there with watching Bugs Bunny play basketball with Michael Jordan for the first time: magical.
The magnetism of musical superteams has effectively drawn listeners to certain songs all year. Even if the music wasn’t the most beloved, the awe and wonder of what certain artists sound like together created a curiosity too strong to resist.
With that said, we compiled and ranked the 10 greatest hip-hop superteam songs of 2018. These are songs impressive in execution and unbelievable in assembly. Somehow, all of these songs, we are still shocked to say, aren't figments of our imagination.
10. Everything Is Recorded – “Mountains of Gold”
Featuring: Sampha, Ibeyi, Wiki, Kamasi Washington
Richard Russell, the founder and head of XL Recordings, uses the pseudonym Everything Is Recorded for his creative ventures as a record producer. Russell is a behind-the-boards force and maestro rather than a recorded voice, with the foresight of knowing what pieces should fit where. Being able to successfully construct a four-minute single like “Mountain of Golds” that features a verse from the passionate NY rapper Wiki, the soulful singing of both Sampha and Ibeyi, and Kamasi Washington closing the song with a sax solo is like building an Olympic team. “Mountains of Gold” was initially released in 2017, but deserves further recognition and an exception to the rule as its music video and album home were both released in 2018.
9. THE CARTERS –“APESHIT”
Additional Vocals: Quavo, Offset
Produced by: Pharrell, Stuart White, Beyoncé, JAY-Z
There were few musical joys this year that equates to the fun of hearing Beyoncé levitate over a Pharrell-produced trap beat in company with Quavo and Offset ad-libs. She could easily be Migos' fourth and best member if the group extended an invite after hearing how well she performs the infamous triplet flow. JAY-Z and Beyoncé’s EVERYTHING IS LOVE was a surprise—and an overall solid offering—but nothing on the album was as unexpected as the collaborative pieces that make “APESHIT” a memorable record.
8. Drake – “Nice For What”
Produced by: BlaqNMild, Murda Beatz, Noah “40” Shebib, Corey Litwin
Additional vocals: Big Freedia, 5th Ward Weebie, Glenshie "Bobby Jean" Rowe
The brilliance of “Nice For What” is how Drake found success by minimizing his artistic approach. Where he should sing, a nostalgic sample of Lauryn Hill dominates. Where he should speak, the energizing voice of Big Freedia booms. The bounce is borrowed from New Orleans, not his home city of Toronto. Even in the song's great music video, he is just a speck in a universe of astounding women. “Nice For What” is a Drake song that benefits from knowing how to gather a cast of infectious costars, with Drake more like a director than on-camera personality.
7. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – “Feel the Love”
Featuring: Pusha T
Produced by: Kanye West, Benny Blanco, Mike Dean, Plain Pat, Francis and the Lights, Cashmere Cat
Kanye West chose to stand alongside, support, and endorse Donald Trump throughout 2018. West, who has been an avid collaborator throughout his entire career, chose the worst associate to advocate. In contrast, he made the album KIDS SEE GHOSTS with Kid Cudi, the best possible candidate with whom to make music. The Pusha T-assisted “Feel the Love” is the handy work of a team of adept producers coming together to make a haunting, sonorous, and bizarre record. “Feel the Love” is striking; a three-minute rush of cinematic ideas that couldn’t have come from just one man’s mind.
6. Jay Rock – “King’s Dead”
Featuring: Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake
Produced by: Teddy Walton, Mike WiLL Made-It, Soundwave
One of the most unforgettable verses of 2018 is housed on “King’s Dead,” when Future’s voice suddenly reaches a dog-whistle pitch as he brilliantly recites a classic Juicy J lyric. The Atlanta wizard performs the madness between the bulldozing Jay Rock, the road-running Kendrick Lamar, and a strange alien message from James Blake. Each head-spinning verse sounds perfect over the neck-breaking boom from the track's magical producer trifecta. “King’s Dead” is an all-star game highlight reel no one saw coming and won’t soon forget.
5. Mac Miller – “What’s the Use?”
Produced by: Pomo
Additional vocals: Dâm-Funk, Snoop Dogg, Syd, Thundercat
Additional keyboard and synthesizer: Dâm-Funk
Additional bass: Thundercat
Mac Miller was brilliant. He had an uncanny magnetic pull that brought artists into his orbit, and with friendship also came great music. “What’s the Use?” is a beautiful superteam gathering from his fifth and final studio album, Swimming. The song is filled with vibrant textures; it’s like being washed over by a waterfall of soothing colors. He knew who to call for this fusion of soul and funk. Consider “What’s the Use?” a collage of warmth and harmony, perfectly incorporating the endowment of each accomplished collaborator in a way only Mac Miller could orchestrate.
4. Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
Background vocals: Young Thug, Blocboy JB, 21 Savage, Slim Jxmmi, Quavo
Produced by: Ludwig Göransson, Donald Glover
Mixed by: Dereck “Mixedbyali” Ali
After the 3x-Platinum success of “Redbone,” I expected Childish Gambino to become an industry darling who sung on hooks and rapped on remixes. Surprisingly, his name hasn’t yet appeared on anyone’s album as a guest. Instead, he made “This Is America,” a twistedly fun critique of modern America that features a congregation of some of rap’s most notable ad-libbers. Their voices fill the background in a way that’s similar to how Kanye used Jeezy’s ad-lib on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” but far more creative. TDE’s Derek Ali as the engineer who mixed this gathering of greats was the cherry on top of the championship sundae.
3. Kanye West – “Ghost Town”
Additional Vocals: Kid Cudi, 070 Shake
Produced by: Kanye West, Mike Dean, Francis and the Lights, Benny Blanco, Noah Goldstein
“Ghost Town” is one of the few songs post-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that’s worthy of a placement on Kanye’s opus. Over the course of four minutes, the record soars; it’s a phoenix bursting into a gorgeous, golden hour orange flame. Each voice adds their personal touch of soul, and the instrumental explodes with emotionally riveting riffs and chords. “Ghost Town” delivers a musical experience only possible when a kitchen is filled with chefs who are adding their personal seasoning to a dish. Full of satisfying flavors.
2. J.I.D – “Skrawberries”
Featuring: BJ The Chicago Kid
Produced by: J. Cole
Arranged by: Mac Miller
Additional sax: Masego
J.I.D’s “Skrawberries” inspired this article. The song exemplifies the notion of a superteam, with every player executing their role to a tee:
- BJ’s hook is the kind of soul music that would have Motown knocking down his door in the 1970s.
- The J. Cole-produced loop is simple but eloquent, a saccharine sound completely unlike the beats he rapped over for KOD.
- Masego’s horn is just lively enough to bring a smooth jazz element.
- J.I.D’s musings somehow make the verses slick and humorous, yet still able to maintain the seriousness of working through the woes of growing in love.
- Mac Miller’s guiding hand makes sense; he is the glue well-versed in making various pieces move and strike in unison.
Altogether, "Skrawberries” is a Voltron formulation.
1. Travis Scott – “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD”
Vocal Features: BJ The Chicago Kid, James Blake, Philip Bailey
Produced by: Mike Dean, J Beatzz, Travis Scott, CuBeatz
Hums: Kid Cudi
Additional harmonica: Stevie Wonder
Travis Scott albums are Avengers films. The hottest producers will arrive and assist with co-production across his projects. Rappers and vocalists are attached to tracks where their prowess is most effective. At the center is Scott, the Iron Man who leads the best and brightest. “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” is a prime example of how the 26-year-old superstar collects and collides with artists from various music spaces and unites them to make an otherworldly record. The way Cudi simply hums, nothing more, is exceptional enough, but there’s so much magic to be found in the remaining textures: Stevie Wonder’s harmonica, James Blake’s biblical solo, and Philip Bailey’s hook are all solid gold. Let me repeat: Stevie Wonder! That’s a dream feature most will never receive.