What—or rather, when—was the last rap supergroup? Supergroup, that is, as defined by consisting of three or more rappers who are not affiliated with each other on paper. A duo is not a supergroup. A bunch of artists on the same label are not a supergroup. The Firm, now there’s a true blue supergroup. And look at how that turned out….
The whole reason we’re even talking about this is thanks to Timbaland, who must’ve been bored on the set of Empire, perusing Tumblr, and posted a picture of Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar, posing the question of what would happen if they did an album together with beats by him, 40, Pharrell, Dr. Dre, and Kanye. All due respect to Tim, but this is simply absurd. Remember back in the late ’90s when Jay Z, DMX, and Ja Rule’s talk of a supergroup fell through due to ego? Well, those three actually fucked with each other heavy at the time. Drake and Kendrick have been habitually trading subliminals since “Control.” Kendrick and J. Cole can’t even get it together to complete the joint project they’ve been teasing since 2012. Drake and J. Cole have done two tracks together, but show no signs of being in the same musical sphere since the latter of those two (“Jodeci Freestyle,” a summer 2013 quick-hit implicative of two friends just fucking around in the studio). That’s to say nothing of the cross-country’s worth of miles between Kendrick and Drake; To Pimp a Butterfly and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late are sonically on different planets. There’s ego to take account for too. Drake is focused on grabbing the crown definitively; Kendrick is serving up conscious raps in a mainstream meal plan; J. Cole seemingly has no interest in playing the “rap game” as it were at all. An album from these three would never happen in a million years, and if even five tracks surfaced, three of them would be audibly awkward.
Imagine, Day 1. Drake, in a faux gracious but blatantly assertive way, invites the gang to his studio inside the YOLO Estate for the inaugural session. Kendrick brings his ill jazz community-esque entourage, knocking over Drake's studio hookah with their instruments. J. Cole rolls in like he just got out of bed. Aubrey, typically a lone recorder, is already incensed, no pun intended. He proceeds to play a bounty of beats from 40, Boi-1da, etc. triumphantly, as if he's already mapped out the project. J. Cole nods along to all, before getting up and going into a room by himself to make his own beats. Kendrick is equally nonplussed, and goes on a spiel about race issues. Drake, nervous, stealthily produces a handful of pre-prepared talking points to appear conscious and aware. J. Cole emerges having just read the latest Grantland slander—his own personal agenda for this album is to now beat the boring stigma. He's down to go out of his comfort zone and make a certified banger. Drake pulls up a fire file from Timbo, Kendrick's quartet goes for a smoke break. Drake is quietly elated—Day 1 is set to be firmly in his wheelhouse. He drops a typically killer verse; J. Cole goes full "Work Out"; Kendrick decides to take it home and mull. The next day the track suspiciously leaks, with a Kendrick verse that blows everyone else away and contains several thinly veiled subs. Drake deletes Kendrick's contact, and sends OB O'Brien to the YOLO gates to tell a patiently waiting J. Cole that Day 2 is off.
This year has brought us an incredible bounty of solo projects. But I’m positive even the magic of 2015 isn’t strong enough to make a bunch of rap stars align.
Of course, Timbo was just fucking around and trolling. Of course, there’s no such project actually in the works. But it brings up the issue of rappers joining forces altogether: how futile the dream is for fans and how futile the attempt would be on their part. Jay Z once teased that his ideal supergroup would be himself, Andre 3000, and Eminem (“for that crossover money,” said Hov, ever the pragmatist). Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, and Curren$y randomly put out six or seven songs together, (some of which were definitely worthwhile, like “Proceed”), which hinted at a larger project that never came to fruition. Why didn’t it? Because they went on with their lives and solo careers, inevitably. This year has brought us an incredible bounty of solo projects. But I’m positive even the magic of 2015 isn’t strong enough to make a bunch of rap stars align.
It’s understandable to want to see your favorite artists connect like the Justice League and join forces. It’s reasonable, but ultimately just a fantasy, to assume that three or so rappers who make heat on their own could build together to create a bonfire’s worth of material. That’s not how the game, or rather, people, work IRL. Look at how long it took, how much focus and dedication was demanded, for Jay Z and Kanye—two artists who at the time had about 11 years of working history together—to create Watch the Throne. Recall the strenuous way G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer came to completion—and that was an album featuring artists on the same label. The sad truth is your favorite artists might fuck with each other, might do a track or three together, but a whole project? Next to nah, fam.
I get the thirst, though. Recently we haven’t even been blessed with a good posse track to succeed the likes of “Forever,” “Swagga Like Us,” or “Fuckin Problems.” All we can hope for really is that another “I’m on One” is up Captain Khaled’s sleeve. He’s about the only person capable of bringing the A-listers together these days.