From Mary J. Blige’s husky soul on Method Man’s 1995 hit “You’re All I Need”, to Ella Mai bringing her Brit-R&B stylings to Meek Mill’s Championships cut “24/7”, R&B and rap have worked in sweet harmony for decades. Often considered as an entry point to a wider, radio-friendly audience, singers are typically called upon to lighten the mood on rap cuts, or to bring out a softer, more vulnerable side in a rapper—especially if it’s about love and relationships—or, sometimes, those harsh, street-saluting rhymes just need an extra touch of finesse for the win.
It happened in grime, too: R&G singers such as Katie Pearl and Sadie Ama featuring alongside top-boy emcees Kano and Bashy, or Gemma Fox and Lady Ny using rugged backdrops to sing sweet-nothings over. Deeper underground, road rappers have used this same formula to create hood classics over the years—keeping the message gritty, but having singers come in to soften the blow. There’s just something about a catchy, sung hook on a rap song that connects for millions of music fans. Check the stats.
Here in the UK, we have a handful of notable singers who know how to get the very best out of their rap counterparts—always resulting in sonic gold—and these 7 are at the very top of that list.