Pop Culture Introspection, Part II: What Do Hip-Hop/Pop Song Mash-ups Teach Us?

(Photo: Matthew Harrison)

Every once in a while, there is a mash-up that combines a pop-type song with a hip-hop add-on.  I’m not talking about songs like the odd new B.O.B./Taylor Swift duet, but rather, songs that exist on their own, and then get a hip-hop upgrade.

I’m sure there are many examples, but there are only two that I can think of off the top of my head.

The first is “Numb/Encore“, in which a popular Linkin Park song (“Numb”) gets Jay-Z lyrics laid over it.  Here are they lyrics from the original Linkin Park song “Numb”:

I’m tired of being what you want me to be
Feeling so faithless lost under the surface
Don’t know what you’re expecting of me
Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes
(Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertow)
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
(Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertow)
And every second I waste is more than I can take

I’ve become so numb I can’t feel you there
I’ve become so tired so much more aware
I’m becoming this all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you

Compare the adolescent angst of those lyrics with the words that Jay-Z lays over it such as:

Yeah hearin me rap is like hearin G. Rap in his prime
I’m, young H.O., rap’s Grateful Dead
Back to take over the globe, now break bread
I’m in, Boeing jets, Global Express
Out the country but the blueberry still connect
On the low but the yacht got a triple deck

And then later:

I came, I saw, I conquered
From record sales, to sold out concerts
So muh’fucker if you want this encore
I need you to scream, ’til your lungs get sore

Another example is the new smash hit “Payphone” by Maroon 5.  Here are some of the lyrics to that song:

Yeah, I, I know it’s hard to remember
The people we used to be

It’s even harder to picture
That you’re not here next to me

You say it’s too late to make it
But is it too late to try?

And in that time that you wasted
All of our bridges burnt down

I’ve wasted my nights
You turned out the lights
Now I’m paralyzed
Still stuck in that time when we called it love

But even the sun sets in paradise

You turned your back on tomorrow
Cause you forgot yesterday

I gave you my love to borrow
But you just gave it away

You can’t expect me to be fine
I don’t expect you to care
I know I said it before
But all of our bridges burnt down

There is a version of this song that adds in a verse by hip-hop artist Wiz Khalifa. Right in the middle of the heartbroken lament above, here is what Wiz has to say:

Man, fuck that shit
I’ll be out spending all this money
While you sitting around wondering
Why it wasn’t you who came up from nothing

Made it from the bottom
Now when you see me I’m stuntin’

And all of my cars start with the push of a button
Telling me I changed since I blew up or whatever you call it
Switched the number to my phone so you never could call it
Don’t need my name on my shirt, you can tell that I’m ballin’
Swish, what a shame, coulda got picked
Had a really good game but you missed your last shot
So you talk about who you see at the top
Or what you could’ve saw

But sad to say it’s over for
Phantom pull up, valet open doors
Wiz like go away, got what you was looking for
Now it’s me who they want
So you can go take that little piece of shit with you

What does it say about our society that Adam Levine of Maroon 5 willingly plays the jilted lover, but Wiz Khalifa’s take on the events are so different? And I presume it is not coincidence that Jay-Z and Wiz hit on many of the same themes.  Do hip-hop artists ever admit to being dumped in their songs?  If not, what would happen if a new sensitive Adam Levine-like rapper came around?  

Luke A.

I don't listen to Drake, but isn't he known for being sensitive and sometimes maudlin?


hipHop lyrics can be clever, but you have to look pretty far and wide to find anything lyrically special or introspective when it comes to the big acts. Almost all of the superstars are just pushing their brand and what brands they affiliate with. Most lines begin with I, I'm, My etc and are very superficial.
I think the reason this music gets pushed to the top is because it appeals more to the 13-24 age group. I think this is part of the reason hip hop doesn't have a lot of staying power. In almost every other genre old music stays popular with its original listeners and gains a new audience with the youth. Some of this would also be hipHops need to stay current with the freshest 'beats' and 'slang'.


The appeal of artists like Levine is he shows emotion and we are supposed to feel bad for him or identify with him. The appeal of Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa is they are living a hard knock life that we can't identify with but maybe secretly admire or at least are curious about.


You'd have to check the work of someone like Drake to see if hip-hop artists ever admit to being dumped in their songs, as his songs are more emotive and relationship-centric.

There is a strong sense to avoid any weakness whatsoever in hip-hop culture. Whether that's a relic of the music genre's roots, especially its rougher street iterations, or even a commentary on male African-American psychology as trying to rectify identity from a history of being enslaved and oppressed, who knows? Just anecdotally, not one of my black friends is comfortable with showing emotional vulnerability, even above and beyond what I'd consider usual for a young male. This coincides with the excessive fear and derision of homosexuality in hip-hop and black culture as well, imo.

Brandon Thompson

Dear Levitt. First off I'm a fan and a big admirer of yours and am always amazed at the amount of detailed research and insight into data you always provide. However, this post is flawed from the start. You have a point when it comes to the Maroon 5 song but the inclusion of the Linkin Park song to illustrate your point is a major issue.

"Numb/Encore" is a true mash-up song where Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park was reconstructing or remixing two already existing songs, L.P.'s "Numb" and Jay-Z's fake retirement anthem "Encore". The purpose of putting those two songs together was based on matching similarly paced songs in their respective catalogues using the songs tempo as an initial starting point to make the mash up. I'm sure Jay-Z and Linkin Park have two songs in their catalogue that have similar emotional content but this was not the focus of Shinoda's experiment.

Furthermore your concluding societal question is rather pedestrian and I know you're better than this. Of course there are implications that two artist from different backgrounds approach subjects differently that is the purpose of intersecting genres. There's no need to question your audience with this, because it just seems to want to paint the rapper in a worse light. Bravado has always been apart of a rapper's arsenal, it's partially their appeal. I'm sure Khalifa's services wouldn't have been needed if he was the heartbreak rapper. Which isn't to say that that type of rapper has not come into vogue in the past 10 years with artist such as Wale, Kid Cudi, Drake and Kanye West standing up for the heartbroken and hip-hop minded. In fact Kanye came out with a whole album in 2008 called '808s & Heartbreak' all about his lovelorn nature at that particular time.

Levitt I admire you but again you're better than what I just read and here's hoping we can look deeper into our subjects instead of just blurting out the first thought that comes to our head. That approach belongs to the Wiz Khalifa's of the world but not 'Freakonomics' authors.

Take care.


Jazz One

Kanye's 808 & Heartbreak is an entire album about being a break up. Nas' new album has a few tracks talking about his divorce. Most of the time when things like that are discussed, it's on album tracks and not singles.


> Do hip-hop artists ever admit to being dumped in their songs?

How could [a hip-hop artist's lover] be so heartless?

Shawn Thompson

I think the entire album "808s and Heartbreak" by Kanye West beat you to the punch:

From "Heartless" -

In the night I hear 'em talk, the coldest story ever told
Somewhere far along this road he lost his soul
To a woman so heartless
How could you be so heartless?
How could you be so heartless?
How could you be so cold?
As the winter wind when it breeze yo
Just remember that you talkin' to me though
You need to watch the way you talkin' to me though
I mean after all the things that we've been through
I mean after all the things we got into
Hey yo, I know of some things that you ain't told me
Hey yo, I did some things but that's the old me
And now you wanna get me back and you gon' show me
So you walk around like you don't know me
You got a new friend, well I got homies
But in the end it's still so lonely

Joby Elliott

I'd like to provide a quick translation of both this article and many of the comments that follow: "Get off my lawn!"


Yes these mash-ups are awesome!! MTV used to mash-up all kinds of songs together.
I have some mash-ups on http://www.brilm.com


It teaches us that there are some really talented producers out thier that can remix a track and make it sound better then e original..


This post possibly would've worked in a pre-Drake world, but now one of the primary themes in hip-hop is "being dumped," depression, and angst. The eponymous song on Drake's album Take Care refers specifically on those themes. Perhaps the most successful hip hop artist of the moment, Drake is the standard-bearer of this shift. But he is hardly alone. Frank Ocean also directly addresses the themes in what may be the most acclaimed R&B/hip hop album of the year, the Weeknd, members of Odd Future, Kendrick Lamar, etc. It's not a coincidence that Jay-Z and Wiz "hit on many of the same themes", but it's certainly not representative.


Check out Girl Talk...


Who wants to listen to a song about a guy with 100 problems?


If you count backpack as hip-hop, then yes, hip hop artists generally do rap about all sorts of subjects, from how much they hate Ronald Reagan, to breakups told in the narrative of a zombie apocalypse (though the album verged more on pop than hip-hop). You have to get a little way away from radio music though.

There has been hip-hop about all sorts of emotional rap music. Sage Francis has been doing it since what, 2000? There's also Cage's song, "the subtle art of the breakup song."

Stanton Hudja

The new sensitive Adam Levine-like rapper is Drake.

Joe A

Read Roissy. Your answer will be there.


The Levine/Khalifa collaboration says a good deal about our society

It says that artists with different backgrounds can co-create
That women are seriously breaking men's hearts
That rappers are over-confident, full of energy and full of s***
That men are turning into cry-babies, or that women like to listen to cry-babies, or both

An Adam Levine-like rapper would have an explosive success. He would find his match very quickly, he would be contempt for the rest of his life, and his art carrier would end prematurely, which is beneficial for all society


Did anyone notice that when comparing the hip hop lyrics of Jay-z and Wiz Khalifa to Adam Levine and Linkin Park, the hip hop artist seem more materialistic talking about their wealth and how they've made it and the luxurious things they own. This seems to be a trend within rappers, has income inequality become so large that all we want to hear and enjoy hearing about is the materialistic lives of rappers? I'm not saying that this is a bad thing but it is kind of sad, as there is more to the world than materialistic things.

James M

I think you are missing a lot of background knowledge, and maybe an interesting Freakonomic angle. People have already mentioned Drake and Kanye as rappers who rap about being the guy who doesn't get the girl, and you can go back through the Pharcyde, Skee Lo, Cee Lo Green, Fugees, Biz Markie and others.

Go back to the 80s and early 90s, before hip-hop was the biggest-selling genre, and there was a lot more variation in the subject matter. You had the gangsters (NWA, Spoonie G, Ice-T), but you had the political acts (Public Enemy, KRS ONE), the more comedic rappers (Biz Markie, Pharcyde, Digital Underground), and the nerds and one-offs (Beastie Boys, De La Soul).

Hip hop really took off in sales in the early 90s, and it was associated with middle-class white teens boosting the sales, to the point where it overtook Country as the bestselling genre. Most of that increased sale was aimed at the West-Coast, Dr Dre-influenced G-Funk (G for "gangsta") sub-genre. Suddenly the vast majority were copying the production and the lyrical content ("bitches, hos, guns and blunts"). The next boom was the Puff Daddy / Notorious BIG style, which had different production, but the same lyrical content.

I think there's an interesting comparison to be made between the homogenization of the lyrical content of hip hop and the increased sales to middle class white teens. Supply and demand, right? They wanted the blaxploitation-style songs, and not the songs that gave a more rounded version oh hip-hop, and the entire genre changed to suit that, and is only in recent times starting to get back some of that variety.

Anyway, that's my take.