A Brief Lineage of the Guest Vocal
Taking a look at the current Radio & Records charts, which are the charts that tell us which songs are getting the most airplay, on “urban” music stations six of the top 40 songs, including four of the top 12, feature T-Pain. Apparently the world loves the vocoder, and as much as I hate to admit it the Chris Brown song he guests on, “Kiss Kiss,” is straight fire. Seeing T-Pain singing everyone’s hooks made me want to take a look back to those who blazed the path for him. With that in mind, today I examine the great lineage of the guest vocal in modern Hip-Hop.
In terms of singing hooks it seems as though T-Pain has taken over Akon’s spot as the guy everyone feels the need to get on their album. The belt is his. This will achieve temporary fame and riches for the man who can’t actually sing (gotta respect his hustle, though. He couldn’t rap, he can’t sing, but he still finds a way to make money as a performer). It was only a year ago that every album that came out had a song featuring Akon. Now the Senegalese singer who enjoys dry humping underage girls on stage and only knows one note may have to start tuning up for his next hit, “do you want paper of plastic?”
Before Akon came the true trailblazer of the Hip-Hop hook, Nate Dogg. Hip-Hop’s very own Vegas lounge singer crooned his way on to every west coast Hip-Hop album in the mid-90’s thanks to his teaming with Warren G on the 1994 classic “Regulate.” The title of “guy we want on the hook” was his for a very long time. In fact, his title reign lasted nearly a full decade before giving way to Akon and his high pitched whine.
While those three have ruled the guest chorus division in Hip-Hop, there’s another kind of guest vocal, the “rapper we want on the album” guest verse. Lil’ Wayne is the current title holder in this division being on eight trillion albums in the past three months (writer’s approximation). Before Wayne however there was a long stay as king of the guest verse by Ludacris, who cemented his spot at the top when he dropped his near perfect guest verse on the remix to Usher’s “You Don’t Have To Call.” (“You wookin pa nub in all the wrong pwaces!”).
During Luda’s reign at the top he was challenged by a contender many may have forgotten about, Loon. For a brief shining moment it looked as if the Bad Boy rapper would get the best of the man once known as Chris Lova Lova, but Loon was a mid-carder and Luda’s always been a main event guy, so Loon was relegated to the second tier guest spots and working with fellow Bad Boy artists such as Dream while Luda continued to hold his title until he felt like dropping it.
Not to be forgotten, there’s also a women’s division when it comes to the guest vocal, but currently that title is vacant. Most recently Nicole Scherzinger of The Pussycat Dolls tried to grab it but was pulled back to the rest of the pack when the lead single off of her solo album flopped. Solo failure is a recipe for disaster when attempting to gain a title as a guest vocalist (see Loon), which is why Scherzinger is now stuck in a pack that includes a trio that constantly has their album release dates pushed back – Mya, Kelly Rowland and Amerie. I call for a bra and panties match!
So while T-Pain may be ruling the radio airplay charts right now, and no one can reasonably say that he isn’t, he should be paying homage to Nate Dogg and thanking him for the ability to make a career out of being on everyone else’s songs. He should also be prepared to take on all comers as his vocoder act will wear thin very quickly and soon enough another artist will be coming to take that “guy we want on the hook” guest vocalist title belt. Who that person will be… well, your guess is as good as mine.