At its core, hip-hop is built on a healthy spirit of collaboration, and the onus that’s been placed on finding a like-minded individual to serve as the yin to your creative yang has never wavered – there’s a reason why the very dynamic which was celebrated on Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock’s 1988 classic "It Takes Two" remains so ubiquitous to this day. But in spite of how crucial these relationships have been, there is another more ill-fated story that we’ve seen play out time and again. Inspired by a perceived stylistic compatibility or mutual respect, two previously unrelated (or at least, previously solo) forces in music convene to try and pool their talents on record.
In some cases, this concept has birthed some remarkable projects that have turned culture on its axis, such as JAY-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne, Madvillain, and Black Star right up to present day examples like Run the Jewels and Kids See Ghosts. But there have also been innumerable occasions where a sought-after meeting of the minds has failed to deliver on their audiences’ lofty expectations. Unevenly split between finished products that bolster the catalog of each artist and those that its creators would rather banish to the annals of history, this well-documented duality does little to deter fans from lusting after these projects. This notion has recently surged into the foreground once more with rumors of collaborative bodies of work by not only A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator but lauded MCs Chance the Rapper and Childish Gambino.
Amid a recent voyage around Europe’s biggest festivals that allowed their schedules to regularly intersect, Tyler and Rocky found time to deliver a jovial freestyle in the form of "Potato Salad." Initially slotted into the third installment of Flacko’s AWGE DVD compilations, this offhand rework of Monica’s 2003 hit "Knock Knock" would soon take on an unheralded life of its own due the promise of ‘Wang$ap Coming Soon’ at the tail end of its Parisian visuals.
Rather than being the result of an impromptu track, the resurgence in interest around a link up between Chance and modern-day renaissance man Donald Glover manifested after a particularly unfiltered interview from Chano himself. Where other artists would’ve been purposefully cagey about divulging their schedule so extemporaneously, he spoke freely of a rumored seven-track suite with fellow Chicagoan Kanye West and this oft-discussed record with Gambino. Planned as an album that would incorporate “more than 14 songs,” the chat gave a new lease of life to an idea that had been swooned over since the two first made strides into the public eye together.
In the wake of these wry teases, the cumbersome burden of hype now rests firmly on each artists’ shoulders as fans and critics begin to ponder whether these records will be an errant misstep in otherwise prolific careers, or could epitomize the enduring power of the hip-hop hook up at its most rewarding. In order to become more than an ambitious misadventure, the collaborative process itself has to meet certain criteria in order to result in a polished and, above all else, enjoyable finished product. Since the concept of these potentially paradigm shifting crossovers rose to prominence, there is always an enshrined number of variables and extenuating factors which both duos will have to contend with in order to produce something worthy of all of the hyperbole that currently surrounds them. With that in mind, each of these pairings have been subjected to this series of potentially fateful or fatal criteria in order to discern which of these hotly speculated releases looks most promising on paper.
One of said requirements that neither of these records would be waylaid by is a lack of rapport between its artists, in spite of the fact that the dynamics of their relationships are diametrically opposed. At the outset of their careers, it would’ve been hard to envision Tyler and Harlem’s Pretty Flacko on amicable terms, never mind embarking on a creative project together. Far from being likeminded in either sonic footprint or target audience during their rise to prominence, the one common thread which seemingly existed between the moral panic magnet at the head of Odd Future and Harlem’s DJ Screw-indebted breakout star of A$AP Mob was that they existed as part of a larger collective. Due to their comparable growth spurts around the same era, the two groups soon developed a mutual disdain for one another which can be traced back to an inflammatory tweet from OF’s Hodgy Beats from 2011 that succinctly stated “asap copy” after Rocky donned Supreme in the "Peso" video.
With that, the verbal mudslinging had commenced and would run roughshod for years to come. Far from being above it, Tyler and Rocky would actively take part with the former, even delivering a scathing assessment of Flacko’s "Fuckin’ Problems" by stating that it was merely a “new song with the same four people that we expected to be on it with the same shitty “trap beat.” Little more than two years on from this skirmish, things would take an unexpected turn when the two emerged side by side, promoting a joint tour of the US. Informed by nothing more than the logic of ‘why not?’, this run of shows alongside Danny Brown and Vince Staples would be the makings of a friendship and infrequent musical partnership that has endured ever since. Speaking on the inner workings of their creative dynamic that has led to tracks such as "Who Dat Boy," "Telephone Calls" from A$AP Mob’s Cozy Tapes and more, Rocky has cited an ingrained desire to outdo each other as the force that drives them forward:
“Yeah, we had to [compete] because I bring a certain energy out of Tyler. Tell me if you’ve ever heard Tyler, the Creator rap like that in your life.”
For Chance and Childish, their alliance has been one that’s always veered more towards that of mentor and mentee. After hearing Chano’s incendiary debut 10 Day, the spark of ingenuity that the high schooler exhibited was not lost on the rapper/singer/screenwriter Glover, which led to their first collab on Gambino’s Royalty mixtape and Chance acting as the main support on his 'CAMP' tour. In addition to Chance regularly espousing his gratitude towards Glover for these early opportunities and labelling the wisdom he receiving from the wizened vet of the entertainment industry as indispensable, future on-record dalliances continued to electrify and, on paper, strengthens the case for a project that seems to have been a long time coming.
When it comes to collaboration, it could certainly be argued that a healthy spirit of competition may be of use to Rocky and Tyler as opposed to the more nurturing bond that has typified Chance and Gambino’s friendship.
The Gestation Period
While it seems that both of these albums are predestined to come out, everyone remains distinctly apprehensive about giving any concrete timeline as to when we can expect the fruits of their labor. Almost as soon as the off-hand declaration of a new project emerged at the end of the "Potato Salad" visuals, Tyler was promptly trying to quell the storm that had surrounded it by tweeting:
Where Tyler is playing his cards close to his chest to allow time to craft the most impactful project that he can, Rocky has coyly desired to craft a joint release since their very first hook-up. At the onset of "What The Fuck Right Now" – their hyperactive remix of Kanye’s "Freestyle 4" from The Life Of Pablo – Rocky can be heard giving Tyler the forewarning that "they ain't ready for the Wang$ap!" The video’s description insisted that it was forged out of "boredom" alone, but it clearly depicted the synergy the two had while trading bars, and they seemed predestined to be parlayed into something more substantial sooner rather than later. Until now, this has seemed to be mere speculation, and there’s been no real indication of work getting underway.
When it comes to Chance and Gambino, there never seems to have been any shortage of mutually-assured enthusiasm about a longform meeting of the minds. In fact, tenured fans of both artists are acclimated to coy (though sometimes explicit) references to their elusive project since 2014, when Gambino would speak of finishing "the rest of our EP #hinthint.” It seemed a foregone conclusion at the time, but Chance’s recent remarks about the project’s status seems to place it more in the middling stages than in the refinement process. As opposed to reiterating Glover’s assertions that it was nearly complete from four years ago, Chancellor Bennett deemed the project to be “30%” complete, which would insinuate that much of the previous work had been consigned to the cutting room floor or has since been repurposed.
Once again, the approach of Chance and Gambino sets off far more alarm bells than that of their counterparts from New York and LA due to the litany of examples of how long-gestating projects tend to pan out. Though Rocky may have made allusions towards making a ‘Wang$Ap’ project since 2016, there is no indication that they’ve broken ground only to then postpone, and therefore the fear of them being at odds creatively isn’t as pronounced as it is for Chance and Gambino. In their case, the notion of trying to pinpoint exactly what the sound of a project between Bennett and Glover would be and how they’d delegate the labor in itself could prove to be one of the biggest hurdles that they would have to overcome and, given the myriad of roadblocks that their record seems to have encountered since it was first conceptualized, it may have already proven to be an unwavering stumbling block.
When an old adage sticks around in the vernacular for long enough, it’s hard to argue that it lacks validity, and the notion that 'too many cooks spoil the broth' holds serious weight when it comes to the creative industries. Ranging from soul and gospel influences to dabblings with funk and more conventional hip-hop tropes, there are ways in which Chance and Glover’s sounds harbor commonality, and others in which they fundamentally differ. Although their status as self-made men may suggest that every new addition to their catalog is solely of their own devising, both of these multi-talented artists have the good sense to surround themselves with a team that bring their own distinct takes to proceedings and open the gateways to directions that may have not been apparent to them. For Chano, his faithful compatriots come in the form of The Social Experiment. Consisting of Chance, Nico Segal (fka Donnie Trumpet) and Peter Cottontale, The Social Experiment rose from the ashes of the SaveMoney collective in order to become an integral cog in Chance's work, from the divisive Surf to the Grammy-Award winning Coloring Book all the way through to new his four new singles.
In much the same way he uses director Hiro Murai as a visual pathfinder for his TV series Atlanta, Gambino’s most trusted aide for musical endeavors is Swedish virtuoso Ludwig Goransson. Before he would find acclaim of his own for his original scores for Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther, Goransson has been a cornerstone of Glover's musical output since 2010's Culdesac and has maintained this role up until today’s vibrant and culturally pertinent era that gave us the explosive "This Is America."
Where Tyler and Rocky are concerned, the delegation of labor should a bit more of a streamlined process, as it would be more in the vein of a traditional rapper-producer methodology. On the whole, Flacko himself doesn't produce beats in the conventional sense, instead opting to work in conjunction with his longtime collaborator Hector Delgado and others in order to influence and oversee the direction without physically sculpting the musicality. In this sense, Tyler; who has ardently self-produced the lion’s share of each project since he first emerged with Bastard, could seamlessly segue into Delgado’s normal role in order to flesh out the musical direction, allowing Rocky to offer his creative guidance and allot more of his focus to his verses.
On the one hand, it is heartening to know that there would be such a wide array of creative viewpoints from which Chance and Gambino could draw inspiration,. but that doesn’t detract from the insidious danger of having too many opposing viewpoints and energies at the helm. While this very divergence could bring their work to revolutionary territory and turn in something the likes of which we haven’t heard before, it is impossible not to correlate the hints of derailments or setbacks that Gambino and Chance’s work has been subject to, while Tyler will have relative free reign to sculpt the musicality as he sees fit.
More than any other difficulty that may have to overcome, what is most pivotal to the inception of these projects is whether the hectic schedules that come with the modern-day superstardom they all contend with will allow for them to actually put in the work and bring them to fruition. Now that both of Tyler and Rocky's promotional cycles for Flower Boy and TESTING appear to be drawing to a close, it seems that the close of 2018 and early stages of 2019 look relatively encouraging for the two to converge and lay the record down. Aside from a tour of Australia in September, Flacko’s touring commitments presently concludeswhen he reaches Tyler’s very own Camp Flog Gnaw Festival at Dodger Stadium on the 10th-11th November. With Tyler similarly set for some respite from the road, it seems as though the pair have an abundance of time to flesh out what Rocky so teasingly implanted in the "Potato Salad" visuals.
In striking contrast to how the stars appear to have aligned for Tyler and Rocky, Chano and Gambino may have to make some compromises in order to gain any ground. While the release of his four new singles may indicate that a follow-up to Coloring Book could be looming ahead, Chance’s obligations would appear relatively sparse compared to Gambino, who is about to embark on a lengthy excursion around the US dubbed the 'This Is America' tour. Beyond that, the factor which may prove most prohibitive in getting Chance and Glover in a room together is the latter's outstanding commitments to the world of celluloid, with 2019 slated to see him embroiled in the filming of Guava Island and The Lion King, alongside a third highly sought-after season of Atlanta. Unless Flacko is on the cusp of unveiling a fresh batch of tour dates in support of TESTING – which seems entirely possible as there has been no prolonged venture around America or trips to the UK – he and Tyler appear to have a wealth of time, whereas Chance and Gambino could be stunted now that Donald Glover’s onscreen prominence is at an all-time high.
From an analytical standpoint and based on the evidence that’s presented itself, the scales seem to tip overwhelmingly in favour of Wang$ap not only arriving first but doing so in a more cohesive form than a team-up between Glover and Bennett. With that said, the common strain that motivates each of these artists is the premium they place on construction of genre-defining art in itself and, therefore, this could theoretically leave each party apprehensive about unveiling anything less than their finest work. If this means that these projects may take an excruciatingly long time to see the light of day or end up shelved due to a sense of incompletion, then it would arguably be for the best rather than besmirching their collective legacies.
While it would be short-sighted to entirely write off Chance and Gambino due to how regularly they’ve defied the odds in their respective careers, there is far less creative and logistical debris strewn in the path to a Wang$ap record, and the evidence suggests that it could well be earmarked for the same lofty esteem as the classic hook-ups that helped set the precedent for them to embark on this journey to begin with.
For more like this, take a look at our deep dive into determining the album of summer 2018 right here.