In hip-hop, collaboration looks like a young DJ named Kool Herc passing a hot mic to his homie Coke La Rock at a back-to-school jam in the Boogie Down. And all hell breaking loose. Over the last half century that synergy has moved from sound stages to Soundcloud, from DJs and MCs doing it in the park to producers and recording artists plying their craft in plush studios.
The best collabs still defy logic. Total strangers turn into musical conspirators overnight. A shared blunt becomes a shared aesthetic, building on the call-and-response impulse that survived the Middle Passage and laid low until it was less forbidden to bang the drums and coalesce. Even math becomes a faulty calculator: One plus one no longer equals two, but a single unified voice and sound containing infinite possibilities.
It almost seems sacrilegious to tinker with that, to tug at the loose ends, deconstruct it and see how things work. But at the heart of every rapper-producer collaboration is a human relationship. Technique is less important than trust, chemistry more essential than singular vision. If you really want to know what it takes for two creatives to make a work of art greater than the sum of their parts, it doesn't hurt to ask.
In this new season of The Formula, we're deciphering the cypher. Over five new episodes of our video series, we'll sit with some of hip-hop's rising and most respected artist-producer duos — Isaiah Rashad + Kal Banx, Tierra Whack + J Melodic, Westside Gunn + Conductor Williams, Rico Nasty + Kenny Beats, Freddie Gibbs + The Alchemist — as they dissect one or two songs emblematic of their collective body of work, be it an album, an era or a moment in rhyme. Because the true stamp of a timeless collab comes when both musicians at play find themselves forever transformed by the mix. —Rodney Carmichael
Watch all episodes of Season 1 of The Formula here.