2017 has been year of the collab.
Everyone’s at it. From N.E.R.D and Rihanna’s ‘Lemon’, to Chance the Rapper and Daniel Ceasar’s ‘First World Problems’, to Drake and Jorja Smith’s ‘Get it Together’.
XL Recordings even released a whole EP of collaboration goodness, which featured huge names like Giggs, Kamasai Washington, Sampha and Syd – to name a few.
Conclusion: collaborations are to 2017 what avocados are to the millennial food world. Ripe AF and absolutely everywhere.
This got me thinking, is there something more to this? Do I, like everyone else, jump on the collaboration bandwagon just because two + two of my fave musicians = one fire tune, aka quick maths?
I got to mull over this conundrum during Red Bull’s Paths Unknown events, a weekend of music workshops, informal chats and a closing gig, all with the theme of collaboration in music. Syd headlined the lineup, fresh from the release of her Always Never Home EP. There was a workshop with Gucci Mane and Migos engineer, Kesha Lee, as well as performances from IAMDDB, Buddy and Emmavie. All these artists have collaborated extensively, and with huge names too, including Pharrell, Kaytranada and Kendrick.
Let’s start with the obvious: collaboration is, by definition, an exchange of ideas. I’ve met plenty of musicians who say that when they write new material they stop listening to music because they want to come up with something ‘original’. But the reality is, much like all good writing is re-writing, all music has, in one way or another, re-worked other music. That’s the beauty of it. Syd spoke extensively about how each party brings their own music influences to the table and how bouncing off each other’s energy, perspective and inspiration is how the most genre-defying, innovative tunes get created.
And we see it everywhere, right? Syd’s D’Angelo inspired lyrics and Badu-esque harmonies shine through clearly on ‘Show Love’, and Sampha’s unmistakable voice and distinctive, space-like percussion have got a slight ‘Plastic 100’ echo to them. Together, the song is musical perfection. From the Internet bandmates’ solo work, we hear how Steve Lacy’s chords on the guitar add a Mac DeMarco-reminiscent vibe to their grammy nominated album, Ego Death.
Collaboration also creates a supportive atmosphere where artists can develop their technical ability as well as their sound. Being a musician, especially a singer, leaves you open to so much scrutiny, it’s understandably intimidating. Syd’s been vocal about her growth as an artist and how collaboration in the studio has helped build her confidence because the spotlight is shared. Kesha Lee explained how the studio space can become a second home when working on new material; showers, TVs and Playstations included. That family atmosphere can allow an artist to push themselves creatively in a way they wouldn’t individually (I mean, no one wants to let the team down, right?), as well as try out new ideas in a group that will tell you when your shit is fire and when it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
When bigger artists join forces with up and coming artists, new musicians are brought to our attention and/or given international exposure. Buddy’s become a huge name in recent years (and is no stranger to collaboration himself). His surprise performance with Mahalia on the night was a prime example of why collaboration is king. Their song, ‘Hold On’, got everyone there excited to see two awesome musicians play together, but I also met several people who had never previously heard of Mahalia and walked away wanting to hear more. That exposure is absolutely invaluable in any musician’s career and creates a sort of domino effect, whereby more exposure can create more opportunities to exchange ideas with bigger artists and continue growing as an artist.
So, there you have it. A sort of holy trinity of collaboration if you will, which has resulted in some of the freshest, most inventive music of 2017. Keep the collabs coming!
Words by Joti Desour
Words by Joti Desour