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Hip-hop and R&B have a connection unlike any other genres, with artists from both sides of the fence borrowing from and collaborating with the other. From hip-hop’s earliest beginnings, R&B music has always always been in its DNA, whether it be from the soul records DJs pilfered for break-beats or rap pioneers infusing their chorus’ with harmonies and melodies. During the 80s, even as more street-wise artists like Run-D.M.C. began to usher in a more aggressive sound devoid of syrupy vocals, artists like Force MDs, TJ Swann and Full Force were all considered credible members of the hip-hop community, in spite of their vocal prowess—which can be said for countless other R&B stars over the years. However, in the realm of R&B, hip-hop was initially an acquired taste for a number of music lovers who shunned the genre, pegging it as noise and turning their nose up to its participants’ non-traditional creativity and youthful expression.
While R&B tastemakers and gatekeepers were slow to embrace hip-hop, writing it off as a fad, a new generation of artists that came of age during the rap’s Golden Era would help turn the tide during the late 80s and early 90s, resulting in the creation of sub-genres like New Jack Swing and hip-hop soul. Hip-hop and R&B would fully become intertwined with one another during the mid-90s, when collaborations like “You’re All I Need (To Get By),” “Fantasy,” “How Do U Want It,” “Touch Me, Tease Me,” and “Honey” all dominated urban radio and paired the biggest stars from both genres. By the turn of the century, no R&B single was complete without a rap verse, and R&B artists were crucial in crafting the hooks to hit records by the biggest rappers in the game.
However, while a number of rap artists have added sing-songy flows and melodies into their repertoire, only a handful of R&B artists have tried their hand at rapping, with a few actually proving themselves capable of getting off a hot 16 and turning in impressive lyrical performances.
REVOLT TV took a trip down memory lane and highlighted 10 R&B artists who have bodied a rap verse at one point or another during their career—for the love of the culture.
1 | New Edition, “Cool It Now”
One of the first R&B acts to infuse rap into a hit song was New Edition, who topped the R&B charts in 1984 with “Cool It Now,” the lead single from the quintet’s eponymous sophomore album. With Mike Bivens and Ronnie DeVoe sharing a verse and lead singer Ralph Tresvant anchoring the trap, “Cool It Now” not only furthered New Edition’s standing among R&B fans, but also ingratiated the teeny-boppers to the hip-hop community, as well.
2 | Bobby Brown, “Every Little Step”
After breaking out from New Edition in 1986 to pursue a solo career, Bobby Brown emerged as one of R&B’s hottest acts in 1988 with his sophomore album, Don’t Be Cruel. An avid hip-hop fan himself, Brown littered a number of songs on Don’t Be Cruel with rap sequences, most notably on the hit singles “My Prerogative,” “Every Little Step,” and the title track, making him one of the first singers in his genre to bridge the gap between rap and R&B.
3 | Mary J. Blige, “What’s the 411”
Upon Mary J. Blige’s arrival on the music scene in 1992, she was instantly crowned as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, a title the R&B legend continues to hold nearly three decades later. While the Yonkers native’s debut album What’s the 411? was bolstered by radio smashes like “You Remind Me” and “Real Love,” rap enthusiasts gravitated to its title track, which featured MJB kicking rhymes alongside Grand Puba, a moment that doubled as her official coronation as hip-hop’s new first lady.
4 | Monica, “So Gone”
In 2003, Monica’s continued to establish herself as one of the best acts in contemporary R&B with After the Storm, the Atlanta native’s fourth studio album and first to debut atop the Billboard 200. The success of After the Storm was due in large part to the album’s first single, “So Gone,” a slow-burning number on which Monica delivers a quick-strike couplet that is so memorable that it spurred the #SoGoneChallenge in 2016, a viral craze in which everyone from entertainers to fans tried their own hand at tackling the instrumental with rhymes of their own.
5 | Trey Songz, “Give Ya”
Trey Songz has shown his ability to get off a mean set of bars on numerous occasions, including his face-off with R. Kelly, as well as various remixes of popular hits like Beyonce’s “Ego.” However, one of Trigga’s more noteworthy rap performances came in 2007 when the Virginia crooner tested his mettle against Drake with his appearance on the Canadian’s Comeback Season track, “Give Ya,” on which Songz rises to the occasion and goes toe-to-toe with rap’s eventual golden child.
6 | Chris Brown, “Look At Me Now”
Chris Brown has always been recognized as an artist that is as talented as they come, but even his most die-hard supporters took notice when the R&B superstar began to exchange the sultry vocals and dance moves for catchy bars on tracks like his 2011 single, “Look At Me Now.” Rhyming alongside rap heavyweights Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne, Breezy holds his own with a pair of verses in a performance that foreshadowed additional lyrical showings from the Virginia native.
7 | Ciara, “Basic Instinct”/”Super Turnt Up”
R&B singer Ciara took a stab at rapping in 2013 on “Super Turnt Up,” a promotional single from her eponymous fifth studio album that saw the Atlantic native flexing her rap skills. In comparison to tracks like “1, 2, Step,” which was comprised of more melodic flows, “Super Turnt Up” is aggressive in nature and captures Ciara attacking the track with reckless abandon.
8 | Frank Ocean, “Oldie”
Frank Ocean is renowned for his prowess as a vocalist, but he is equally proficient as an emcee, a truth that became evident with the release of “Oldie,” a rambunctious cut by Odd Future. Featuring various members of the collective, the most impressive segment of the lyrical free-for-all was Frank Ocean’s contribution, as he showcases a delivery and wittiness that leaves fans pining for more rap verses from the mercurial talent.
9 | Rihanna, “Lemon”
Rihanna is as beloved for her edgy persona as she is her beauty and talent, and the Barbadian princess relied on all three of her powers for her appearance on N.E.R.D.’s 2017 hit “Lemon.” Kicking off the track with a hook and a verse that featured her spitting bars, Rihanna’s swagger was in full bloom on “Lemon,” a song that furthered solidified her credibility within hip-hop culture.
10 | Beyoncé, “Top Off”
Being married to one of the greatest rappers of all time puts even more pressure on their significant other to be able to get off a rhyme or two, which Beyoncé proved she was capable of with her performance alongside Hov and Future on the DJ Khaled single, “Top Off.” While Bey had previously skirted the line between crooning and rapping on past hits like “Upgrade U” and “Shining,” “Top Off”—which set the stage for Hov and Bey’s collaborative album, Everything Is Love—was Bey’s first full-fledged attempt at delivering a bonafide rap verse, with the result being one of the most electric guest appearances of 2018.
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