Before Miley & Mike WiLL, there was Britney & the Neptunes and Nelly & Timbaland. We explore the pop-rap history.
BEYONCE - "CHECK ON IT" (PROD. SWIZZ BEATZ)
Before he was a business mogul (or Mr. Alicia Keys), Swizz Beatz was one of the pre-eminent producers in rap, with his frenetic, attention-grabbing beats adorning hits by Jay-Z, DMX and T.I., among many others. His first Hot 100 chart-topper, however, would come with 2005's "Check On It," produced for pop megastar Beyonce on the soundtrack for the film remake of "The Pink Panther," of all things. Beyonce had worked with producers like Rich Harrison and the previously mentioned Scott Storch before, but had never had a single as explicitly hip-hop as "Check On It," which even invited Houston underground rap legends Slim Thug and Bun B along for by far the biggest crossover hit of either's career.
NELLY FURTADO, "PROMISCUOUS" (PROD. TIMBALAND, DANJA AND JIM BEANZ)
The greatest success story of the female pop star and hip-hop producer collaboration would have to be that of Nelly Furtado and Timbaland, who helped resurrect one another's careers with their work (along with co-producers Danja and Jim Beanz) on Nelly's 2006 album "Loose." Timbo's storming beats for the likes of "Maneater," "Say It Right," and most notably, the lead single "Promiscuous," shattered memories of the innocent, free-spirited Furtado of "I'm Like a Bird" and "Turn Off the Lights," allowing the singer to adopt a more detached, sexualized image. In turn, Nelly's wispy vocals and newfound flirty persona gave the producer another muse (and/or sparring partner) in the lineage of Aaliyah and Missy Elliott.
"Loose" was obviously a tremendous success for both artists, giving Nelly her first two number-one singles on the Hot 100 with "Say It Right" and the summer-owning "Promiscuous," and marking Timbaland's return to go-to producer status, which he further cemented later that year with his work on Justin Timberlake's "FutureSex/LoveSounds."
MADONNA, "4 MINUTES" (PROD. TIMBALAND AND DANJA)
Though Madonna had spent most of the '00s working with dance producers like Mirwais and Jacques Lu Cont, in 2008, EDM wasn't really what was happening in American pop music -- what was happening was Timbaland, still riding the blockbuster success of his work with the aforementioned Furtado and Timberlake. Madge decided to get in on the action for the first single off her "Hard Candy" album, "4 Minutes," tabbing Timbaland and Danja as producers, and even hedging her bets some with a guest appearance from JT.
"4 Minutes" was a decent-sized hit, making it to No. 3 on the Hot 100 (due predominantly to strong digital sales), though its somewhat regurgitated sound -- the trumpet-synths and shuffling beats felt almost like a composite of a half-dozen other Timbaland singles of recent years -- kept it from ascending to true classic status for Madonna, and made her feel slightly behind the times.
KE$HA, "SLEAZY" (PROD. BANGLADESH, DR. LUKE & BENNY BLANCO)
Ke$ha went outside of her dance-pop comfort zone for "Sleazy," an original track from her remix EP "Cannibal." The song featured work from her regular producers Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco, but also freelance knob-twiddler Bangladesh, known for his raw, hard-hitting beats for the likes of Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj. The song's sparse, hypnotic beat was easily the most hip-hop of Ke$ha's career to that point, giving her a rare opportunity to work her unfairly maligned rapping skills over a beat more conducive to the form.
The song was never given full promotion or an official single release, but nonetheless became one of Ke$ha's most buzzed-about tracks, largely thanks to a remix featuring a stellar guest verse from the reclusive Andre 3000. "Sleazy" eventually made it to No. 51 on the Hot 100.