How 'The Simpsons' Brought Hip-Hop to Its Historic 'Great Phatsby' Episode

Keegan-Michael Key in the Simpsons
Courtesy of Fox

Keegan-Michael Key in a preview for a new episode of The Simpsons.

The Simpsons are about to make history with a hip-hop twist. Inspired by Empire and The Great Gatsby, the forthcoming episode titled “The Great Phatsby,” its first-ever hour-long episode, will air this weekend.

In order to bring hip-hop to Springfield, the animated powerhouse tapped Snoop Dogg, RZA, Common and producer Jim Beanz. After crafting music for Empire’s first season, the acclaimed Beanz (born James Washington) said he was thrilled to work with a program he grew up on.

“I was humbly grateful and completely shocked that they called me for this episode," Beanz told Billboard. "But at the same time, I was ready for it.” He added, "Everything I went through prior to this, it was all for The Simpsons.”

Beanz's fascination with the show dates back to childhood. As a nine-year-old, he customized clothes with hand-drawn Simpsons characters. Since then, he's seen acts like 50 Cent, Cypress Hill and Michael Jackson make classic cameos. As a longtime fan, he approached this episode -- including its beloved opening sequence -- with balanced care.

“I wanted to remain true to the feeling I got as a kid,” he explained. “I wanted it to have nostalgia, but more than anything, I wanted to give it a different spin that would work in hip-hop today. Therefore, it has trap elements, 808s, cool cadences, and switch-ups to give it a little bit of a newer sound.”

With this balance, Beanz, whose past collaborators include Britney Spears and Timbaland, created about 18 songs for this episode. Executive producer Matt Selman has said that’s more than any other guest composer he’s ever worked with. Part of that prodigious output included fun collaborations with Snoop, Common and RZA.

“They’re all legends,” Beanz said. “On the show, they stayed true to their sound. These days, a lot of music sounds the same, but when they came out, each one had their own lane, musically. So when I structured songs for them, each one had a different feel.”

While Beanz pulled from multi-regional rap sounds, funk and orchestral influences for his beats, the rap lyrics came from the show’s writers. “They all have screws loose and that’s the reason they work for The Simpsons,” Beanz joked. “To have those people writing raps, it was crazy hilarious.”

Rap fans shouldn’t have a cow about that. Beanz said he and the legendary MCs added their personal touches, too. “It was very collaborative,” he added. “They let me color and allowed me to throw a few punchlines in there, jokes that a more urban crowd would get.”

For all of its remixing, Beanz promised that this episode won’t be too big of a departure from the show’s traditional sound. “Hardcore viewers won’t get anything different,” he said. “We still have those elements; we just added hip-hop, sprinkled it in to tie everything in … It was an amazing team effort and it came together pretty dope.”

Beanz isn’t the only sign of Empire’s influence on this episode. Taraji P. Henson also guest stars as Praline, a take on her scene-stealing Empire character Cookie. Elsewhere, comedian Keegan-Michael Key will play a rapper named Jazzy James. Common, RZA and Snoop will be playing themselves.

The Simpsons' "The Great Phatsby" episode is set to air Sunday (Jan. 15) on Fox.