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Posted June 2, 2006
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As the Weather Heats Up, So Do Thug-Love Duets
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Richard Drew/The Associated Press

The summer's leading odd couple: the Haitian-American hip-hop veteran Wyclef Jean and the Colombian pop star Shakira.
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Mychal Watts/The Associated Press

Faith Evans and Sean Combs paid tributeb to the Notorious B.I.G. in 1997.
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Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Method Man and Mary J. Blige, pioneers of the thug-love duet.



It's summertime and everyone is pairing off and hooking up. Or maybe it just feels that way. Every year around this time, radio stations broadcast evidence of seasonal flings.

Since 1995 — when Method Man and Mary J. Blige joined forces to conquer the summer with "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By" — the thug-love duet has been the gold standard in musical hookups. That same summer the Notorious B.I.G. and his wife, Faith Evans, teamed up for the blockbuster "One More Chance (Remix)," a more playful tribute to summer love. Instead of pledging himself to Ms. Evans, B.I.G. rapped, "Isn't this great?/Your flight leaves at 8/Her flight lands at 9/My game just rewinds."



The charts are full of couples, singing and rapping together.


Two years later B.I.G. was murdered. And in the summer of 1997 Ms. Evans mourned him with a different kind of thug-love duet. While the R&B group 112 crooned in the background, Ms. Evans traded verses with Sean Combs (then known as Puff Daddy); the result, "I'll Be Missing You," was one of the biggest summer hits of all time. From lightweight singalongs (Kelly Rowland and Nelly, "Dilemma," summer 2002) to heavyweight club workouts (Beyoncé and Jay-Z, "Crazy in Love," summer 2003), thug-love duets always seem to rise to the top when the weather gets warm. Mariah Carey ruled last summer with "We Belong Together," but it didn't really feel like a summer classic until she enlisted Jadakiss and Styles P for the remix.

No surprise, then, that this summer brings a wild array of contenders, upholding or overturning thug-love precedent. The charts are full of couples: some make rash promises, some trade boasts, some simply flirt. One performer has found a way to record a thug-love duet without any help; at the other end of the spectrum is a group effort starring one woman and no fewer than 14 men. And the leading odd couple is the union of the Colombian pop star Shakira and the Haitian-American hip-hop veteran Wyclef Jean; the product of their union, "Hips Don't Lie," is as joyful and as absurd a hit as we're likely to hear all season.

It wasn't so long ago that the thug-love duet seemed like an endangered species. The Grammy Awards starting recognizing the best "rap/sung collaboration" in 2002 — an ominous sign. (Once the statuette shows up, that often means the party's over.) And when 50 Cent's taunts derailed the thug-love specialist Ja Rule, the golden age seemed to be over.

Perhaps to dissociate himself from Ja Rule, 50 Cent instituted an unspoken men-only rule: not a single female performer is listed in the credits for his 2003 album, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." So let's hear it for Busta Rhymes, a hip-hop veteran and, evidently, a thug-love traditionalist. His "I Love My Chick" (Aftermath/Interscope) is a shamelessly formulaic hip-hop duet: he growls, "I love my chick," and his partner replies in kind, using a familiar racial epithet. (In the recording his partner is Kelis; in the big-budget music video, which is based on the movie "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," Gabrielle Union lip-syncs those words.), from the Black Eyed Peas, serves as chaperon, singing a second refrain. He paraphrases Elizabeth Barrett Browning, singing "Let me sit back and count the ways." And then Busta, in response, lists three: all the same, and all unprintable.

If you're wondering what happened to chivalry, well, so is Nelly Furtado. "Promiscuous" (Geffen), co-starring the producer Timbaland, vaulted into the Top 10 last week; Ms. Furtado neatly summarizes the thug-love ethos (and mocks it) when she coos, "Chivalry is dead/But you're still kinda cute."

You can hear a similar self-awareness in "So What" (Disturbing tha Peace/Geffen), a propulsive rising hit by the Georgia hip-hop duo Field Mob and the electro-pop singer Ciara. She tells them what she's heard ("He do a little this/He do a little that"); they defend themselves ("You too smart, you'd be a dummy to believe/ The stuff that you heard that they say about me").

In a couple of emerging collaborations, the women find subtle ways to ask if men are necessary. "Do It to It" (Capitol) pairs the female R&B group Cherish with the rapper Sean Paul from the YoungBloodz (not to be confused with the reggae singer of the same name); by the time his verse arrives, the women have already appropriated so many hip-hop catchphrases — and so well — that his seem unnecessary.

Even more brazen is "D-Girl (Dope Girl)" (Virgin), where Brooke Valentine delivers the kind of drug-dealer boasts more commonly associated with rappers like her duet partner, Pimp C. She purrs, "I got these fiends running, running, running/I'm like that crack and they want it, want it, want it." A pusher and a Pimp: a match made in heaven?

Taking a different tack, the rapper Shawnna scored a hit this spring with the sublime, slow-rolling track "Gettin' Some"; the sampled chorus, featuring the foulmouthed rapper Too $hort, explained exactly what was got. By contrast Shawnna's verses weren't particularly explicit: she delivered a rather chaste series of boasts and threats. No matter: on "Block Music: The Mixtape" (, Clinton Sparks has compiled 14 guest verses from dirty-minded male rappers (including Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Busta Rhymes) to create a wildly overstuffed "Gettin' Some" remix. The result is like one of those giddy, slightly scary parties where the host gets overwhelmed by her guests.

And then there's the strange case of "Enough Cryin' " (Geffen), a thug-unlove duet credited to Mary J. Blige and a female rapper named Brook. Ms. Blige sings, "It's time I do something for me." The rapper evidently — and rather clumsily — agrees, and for good reason: Brook is Ms. Blige's hip-hop alter ego. Sometimes misery doesn't need any company.

By contrast, there's no real drama in "Hips Don't Lie," which is part of what makes it such a good summer song: you get the breezy feeling that absolutely nothing's at stake. Maybe that's just as well, because it turns out Shakira isn't the first woman to share this song with Mr. Jean. "Hips Don't Lie" began its life as "Dance Like Me," a duet with Claudette Ortiz from the soundtrack to the movie "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights."

Talk about a complicated courtship: the song was remade and then included as a bonus track on this spring's rerelease of Shakira's "Oral Fixation Vol. 2" (Epic), which was originally released last year as an English-language sequel to the Spanish-language "Fijación Oral Vol. 1."

Mr. Jean updated his monumentally inept rhymes ("Why the C.I.A. wanna watch us?/Colombians and Haitians/I ain't guilty, it's a musical transaction"), which sound much better when surrounded by Shakira's yodeling; she sounds monumentally ept, or something. "I'm on tonight/ You know my hips don't lie/And I am starting to feel you, boy," she sings, although the boy in question could hardly be more superfluous. "No fighting," he declares, apropos of nothing in particular; in keeping with thug-love etiquette, she murmurs "No fighting" in response.

Best of all, the song — which has already topped radio airplay charts — has arrived at exactly the right time. As politicians debate Mexican immigration, Shakira and Mr. Jean have concocted a garish, unstoppable Latin hybrid. Mr. Jean raps in Spanglish; the video emphasizes the song's ersatz Cuban roots; the beat comes straight from the Puerto Rico-based reggaetón genre. Summer flings often don't quite make sense in retrospect, but who cares? For right now, at least, this is the sound of summer 2006.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, TheArts, of Thursday, June 1, 2006., the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
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