R. Kelly Plus Bjork and Other Unexpected Musical Marriages

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So, as you may have heard, R. Kelly and Bjork are going to do a full set together at this year's Pitchfork music festival in Chicago, July 19-21. According to Thought Catalog, R. Kelly had this to say of the performance: "“It’s gonna be funky you know. She do what she do, and I do what I do. I like her style. I think I can bring a little of what I do to what she do. And you’re gonna like it. We just gonna have fun. So bring all yo friends. Tell them there’s this Icelandic lady, and it’s Kellz, and we’re gonna get down.”

American culture can be real "Gemini" sometimes. On the one hand, we don't like people of different sorts mixing too much, and we pass all kinds of laws and perpetuate social practices that make sure everyone stays in their own lane as much as possible. On the other hand, we also love collaborations between unlikely pairs -- perhaps in part because it's a little taboo?

I remember back when this country cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice" by The Gourds came out, people thought it was SO FUNNY. Like, OMG country music and hip hop, what could be more different? Nothing! Well... sorta. The stereotype is that black people listen to hip hop, and poor white people listen to country music, and also that black people don't like white people and that poor white people are more racist than other kinds of white people. With this as a foundation, when there's a "redneck version" of Gin & Juice, we are surprised! Of course, the truth is, country and hip-hop both have roots in blues music, and poor white people and black people have a lot of parallel struggles in this nation -- it makes sense both groups would relate to each other's music.

One of my favorite hip-hop x country moments is this awesome cover of "Irreplaceable" by Sugarland, in which Queen Bey makes a surprise appearance. I remember reading somewhere that when Neyo wrote the song, he set out specifically to do an R&B version of a country song. He also wrote it thinking a man would sing it. Anyway, while this clip does make me feel a little bad for Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles when Beyonce kind of slays her vocally, I also get a real girl-power-sisterhood-across-cultures feeling when I watch this video.

Circling back to R. Kelly, I recently came across this clip of Joseph Gordon-Levitt covering "Remix" to Ignition on acoustic guitar. Now, while country music and R&B and hip-hop are like, genetic cousins from fueding families, JGL's brand of hipster ukelele music really does feel disconnected from R. Kelly's musically sophisticated lyrically vulgar bump & grind R&B. Also, hipsters love things that are "random," and probably are nostalgic for the turn-of-the-century, when they were young and listening to Top 40 before they discovered "real" music. While my scare-quotes and sarcasm may lead you to correctly assume that I find this particular kind of nostalgia condescending and obnoxious, I happen to also be totally-crushed-out on JGL in all his surrogate-lesbian glory, which I think makes me automatically some percent hipster.


KQED, what unexpected collaborations do you love? Tell us in the comments!