Best Unexpected Collaborations of 2018 (Staff Picks)

Young Thug and Elton John, Joey Purp and RZA—our favorite unexpected but great collaborations of the year.
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Best of 2018: Best Unexpected Collab

Say what you like, 2018 has been a marked year for music. While critique is very serious business, we are also human and what we like is all the more special than the critical appraisal of an album. For the next month, every day, you will find our staff picks for our favorite facets of music from best features to worst songs and everything in-between, based solely on what strikes us as diehard music fans first, and critics second. It's been an incredible year for hip-hop.

These are our favorite unexpected collaborations of 2018.

"Brossface Brippler" — Westside Gunn ft. Benny & Busta Rhymes

Right around the point that Busta Rhymes raps, “Mastered the chef, I cook the coke, they call me Salt Bae,” my face imploded and my body exploded into the purest-cut angel dust known to man. I don’t ask for much from Westside Gunn’s music because he almost always delivers with some of the most technically proficient and sonically masterful music in hip-hop. Yet, adding a New York legend like Busta Rhymes, and listening to Busta slow his cadence down to a crawl with nothing but bare-knuckle haymakers over the gnarliest of Alchemist beats, wasn’t just unexpected. It was downright unfair. —Matt Wilhite

FM! — Vince Staples & (Woah) Kenny Beats

Alchemist, Freddie Gibbs, and Curren$y would have won for best-unexpected collaboration if they didn’t tease their joint offering in January of 2017. While unlikely—the fact we have Fetti is an underground rap miracle—they foretold of what was to come and delivered the blessing. On the other hand, Vince Staples and Kenny Beats moved in silence like garden gnomes to make FM!, one of the best surprises to drop this year. Vince and Kenny’s union is the best kind of collaboration: two opposite worlds colliding in a cosmic harmony that only a higher power could’ve made happen. —Yoh

"Godbody (Pt. 2)" — Joey Purp ft. RZA / "In the Morning" Joey Purp ft. GZA

On his slept-on QUARTERTHING album, SaveMoney’s secret weapon Joey Purp nabs a guest spot from not only RZA but fellow Wu-Tang swordsman GZA. That’s like having a shadowless Charizard and Mewtwo in your deck as a kid (I guess that makes Raekwon Blastoise. Okay, I’ll stop the Wu-Tang-Pokémon comparisons there). While The Genius’ cameo is limited to a brief (albeit beautiful and poetic) spoken-word outro, The Abbott’s booming voice puts the “God” in “Godbody (Pt. 2).” In case you haven’t noticed, RZA and GZA only leave their chambers for special occasions these days (see: Logic “Wu-Tang Forever,” Earl Sweatshirt “Molasses”). QUARTERTHING may have flown under the mainstream radar, but Joey Purp has himself an invaluable co-sign from two veterans. —Andy James

"Going Bad" — Meek Mill ft. Drake

We all saw it coming. In September, while on tour with Migos, Drake brought Meek Mill out on stage in his hometown of Philadelphia. They shook hands, they hugged, "Dreams and Nightmares" echoed from the rafters—it was a made-for-TV hip-hop moment. Two months later, Drake showed up on "Going Bad," one of the 19 tracks on Meek's first post-prison full-length album, Championships. Sure, rappers reconcile after beef all the time—who saw JAY-Z and Nas sharing space on wax?—but I never expected Drake and Meek would be working together again in less than four years. Let's just be thankful that this time around, Drake promoted the new album on Instagram. —Z

"High" — Young Thug ft. Elton John

The long-rumored collaboration between Young Thug and Elton John was, for years, a piece of internet lore, and nothing more than that. Yet, when “High” was finally released in late September, despite the fact that there was no way of knowing exactly what a collaboration between these two musical pioneers would entail, the song immediately became everything the hip-hop community could have wanted, and more. Thugger’s Auto-Tuned crooning pairs surprisingly well with the seamlessly-incorporated sample of John’s 1972 hit “Rocket Man.” Plus, Thug blessed us with the line “All I got is a chicken for the thots,” which automatically makes “High” a smash. —Stephen Barston

While you could make the argument that this is a Young Thug song that samples “Rocket Man” rather than a true collaboration, I’d argue that this would make you a huge nerd, so you should shut up. A vocal, albeit unlikely supporter of Young Thug’s, Elton John is formally credited on this song as a featured artist, so the facts are on my side regardless. In any case, if you’ve listened to this song even one time, you don’t need a detailed explanation to appreciate how euphoric it is. This song makes me feel like soaring so much that it almost turned me into one of those very specific flight-simulator nerds who spends way too much money on this hobby and then never experiences human contact ever again. —Hershal Pandya

"King's Dead" — Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake

I laughed at the memes, I scoffed at the verse’s lack of seriousness, I did everything I was supposed to do, but I can’t help it: Future’s verse on “King’s Dead” really does it for me. Kendrick, Jay Rock, and James Blake did everything they could to make this song straight-faced, but Future proves that none of that matters when the chips are down and the concert or club crowd wants to launch a fulfilling and high-pitched “la di da di da” into the heavens. I wanted to be above it; now I just want to be a part. —Ben Taylor

"Love Is a Funny Thing" — Evidence ft. Styles P, Rapsody & Khrysis

In hindsight, Evidence and Rapsody linking up in 2018 makes perfect sense, but when I saw her name on the Weather or Not tracklist, I was quite surprised. Good surprised. Both Ev and Rap have steady and methodical flows, and their voices soothe and smooth out any production they find themselves floating overtop. If Mr. Slow Flow and one of the wisest on the mic made a joint album, I would patron their cause. "Love Is a Funny Thing" is an airtight commentary on fickleness, but neither Ev nor Rap have a wavering bone in their bodies. Call these steeled-heart raps. —Donna-Claire Chesman

"Paramedic!" — SOB X RBE (with Kendrick Lamar)

Who would have guessed a Vallejo foursome of regional stature would have exploded into the mainstream consciousness with the runaway standout on the soundtrack to the ninth-highest-grossing film of all time? Kendrick Lamar tapped Slimmy B, Lul G, DaBoii, and Young T.O.—better known as SOB X RBE—for Black Panther The Album's seventh track, chipped in a hook and ad-libs, and, according to T.O., "done flipped it, added hella extra shit to that shit" to start off 2018 with the best and most unexpected collab of the year. "TDE and SOB, we can't lose." —Brendan Varan

“Stay Long Love You” — Mariah Carey ft. Gunna

Mariah Carey has worked with plenty of rappers in the past, but her collaboration with Gunna on Caution’s “Stay Long Love You” is a left turn in a career full of them. Gunna's Auto-Tuned melodies mesh with Mariah's pipes in a way that my Drip Season 3 fandom never could’ve predicted. Plus, this just means I can talk to my aunties about Gunna for the next six months. It’s the small miracles, y’all. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

"SUMMER" — THE CARTERS (Beyoncé & JAY-Z)

Looking back on the past year, the words “unexpected” and “collab” simply can’t be mentioned in the same sentence without considering the surprise album EVERYTHING IS LOVE by Beyoncé and JAY-Z. “APESHIT” certainly made the biggest splash with its unrestrained energy and Migos ad-libs, but the regal, lofty ambiance of “SUMMER” might still be even more enjoyable. As the lush instrumental slowly rolls out the red carpet, Beyoncé strolls into the scene with grandeur before Hov follows suit, presenting the most powerful couple in hip-hop in full glory. —Kenan Draughorne

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