While headlining at the Glastonbury Festival over the weekend, Kanye West covered Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" from their 1975 studio album, 'A Night at the Opera.' While there has been a trend of bands covering hip-hop songs in the past, there are also notable instances of rock songs being performed by emcees. We explore some of the best.
Over the years, there have been several occasions when rock/indie bands have covered hip-hop songs - including notable and viral examples like The Fray's take on Kanye West's "Heartless," Ben Folds' spin on Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit," and Obadiah Parker's melodic rendition of OutKast's "Hey Ya!" However, very rarely have emcees paid homage to songs outside of the hip-hop genre.
Kanye West's performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody" at Glastonbury could have been a subtle jab at his detractors. Leading up to the show, 150,000 people signed a petition demanding festival organizers to "cancel Kanye West's headline slot and get a rock band." In response, West told the crowd "I'm going to say this tonight because 20 years from now, 30 years from now, 40 years from now, I might not be able to say it, but I can say it tonight... You are now watching the greatest living rock star on the planet."
It remains to be seen if this will be a new trend in hip-hop. However, there are some notable artists who have already forged into different genres - either as fans, or in a decidedly more "mocking" tone.
Vic Mensa's "Seven Nation Army" Original Performer: The White Stripes
While playing at 2014's Lollapalooza at Grant Park in Chicago, Vic Mensa tried his hand at The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" from their album Elephant. MTV noted, "But what’s really cool about this is that Vic is a rapper covering an indie rock song—it’s just further proof that the hard and fast lines between genres are disappearing into the ether, and now music of every genre is spilling into every other genre like one big happy family."
Chance the Rapper's "Fix You" Original Performer: Coldplay
Chance the Rapper has proved himself to be one of the most unique new artists in all of music. During a set in Syracuse, New York in 2013, the multi-talented lyricist/singer decided to take on Coldplay's "Fix You" from the bands album, X&Y. As Chance said on "Smoke Again" from his Acid Rap, "She like when I rap raps, but better when I sing songs."
Jay Z's "Wonderwall" Original Performer: Oasis
Kanye West isn't the first hip-hop artist without a "rock 'n' roll" pedigree to face criticism for headlining at Glastonbury. In 2008 - with Jay Z scheduled to headline the festival - outspoken Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher made headlines when he said, "Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music and even when they throw the odd curveball in on a Sunday night you go 'Kylie Minogue?' I don't know about it. But I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It's wrong."
Jay Z responded in an interview with Bizarre. “We don’t play guitars, Noel, but hip-hop has put in its work like any other form of music," he said. “This headline show is just a natural progression. Rap music is still evolving. From Afrika Bambaataa DJ-ing in the Bronx and RUN DMC going platinum, to Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince winning the first rap Grammy, I’m just next in the line. We have to respect each other’s genre of music and move forward …. I’ve never ever had a show that’s caused this much of a stir so I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve never been involved in anything this controversial. What’s the big deal about doing a show? I guess it’s heritage and people hold that dear to their heart and see it one way but that’s how the world is.”
When it came time to perform, Jay Z used Gallagher's own catalog against him as he opened his show with a cover of Oasis's "Wonderwall." While his point had been made, Jay recorded "Jockin' Jay Z" - which was intended for The Blueprint 3 - where he rapped, "That bloke from Oasis said I couldn't play guitar, somebody shoulda told him I'm a fucking rock star."
P.O.S.'s "Why Go" Original Performer: Pearl Jam
For the deluxe re-release of Pearl Jam's debut album Ten, MTV2 got various artists to do covers. One of the standout arrangements was from Minneapolis's P.O.S. who works alongside other Twin City standout, Slug of Atmosphere, under the Rhymesayers banner.
Cee Lo Green's "No One's Going to Love You" Original Performer: Band of Horses
While you could argue that Cee Lo is actually a singer more than he is a rapper these days, his work with Goodie Mob solidifies his ability to call himself an emcee. Turning to British producer Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, The Rapture), his cover of Band of Horses' "No One's Going to Love You" resulted in the band returning the favor by covering his own song, "Georgia."
Kid Cudi's "50 Ways to Make a Record" Original Performer: Paul Simon
Part of the reason live performances are ripe for covers is that they don't require an artist to seek out another artist's permission to do so. The same can also be said for mixtapes; in this case, Kid Cudi's 2008 project, A Kid Named Cudi.
In speaking with Complex about the creation of the Paul Simon-driven melody for "50 Ways to Make a Record," producer Emile said, "That was Plain Pat’s idea to use the Paul Simon thing. When I met them, they had been working a little but hadn’t recorded any of these ideas. So Pat had the Paul Simon ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’ song looped up and Cudi had it written already. That’s the first time I ever heard Cudi sing. He always had this melody-driven way of rapping, but this was like singing! He’s perfectly in key and it’s just right. I didn’t know he could really sing, so I was like, ‘Wait a minute—this is great.’"