There are million YouTube videos of people covering rap, hip-hop and R&B songs, and it can be overwhelming to sift through them all—so we’ve done it for you. Here are 10 songs that you should hear.
10. “Umbrella” (Rihanna ft. Jay-Z) – Mandy Moore
This was one of two songs on this list that came about thanks to Billboard’s Monday Mashup series. Moore used to be a pop starlet but after an artistic metamorphosis, decided make this a ballad instead of a dance anthem. Her voice on the track may be better than Rihanna’s on the original. Only downside: no Jay-Z in the beginning.
9. “Heartless” (Kanye West) – the Fray
Say what you will about Isaac Slade’s sing-song voice, but it does wonders to Kanye’s heavily auto-tuned break-up jam. The band’s cover is haunting and you can really feel the pain behind the lyrics.
8. “No Diggity” BlackStreet – Klaxons
This is a huge departure for Klaxons, who deliver a very spot-on cover. It has the rhythm, and it has the blues; if you heard it without knowing anything about the song, you would certainly think it was another R&B band with a catchy tune.
7. “Cry Me a River” (Justin Timberlake) – Glen Hansard
Hansard is used to writing songs about relationships, especially with the Swell Season. His solo rendition of Justin Timberlake’s epic “screw you” song is slowed down a bit, but you can still feel how angry he is. Did Hansard decide to cover this after his break up with band mate Marketa Irglova? At least their relationship is better than Justin’s and Britney’s.
6. “Whatever You Like” (T.I.) – Anya Marina
Thanks to exposure from Gossip Girl (that’s right) this song flew into all of our hearts with Anya Marina’s exotic voice singing to pre-jail T.I. Sung from a female perspective, Marina seem completely in charge. it’s more pop than rock, but it’s still an amazing rendition.
5. “Bitches Ain’t Shit” (Dr. Dre) – Ben Folds
This song was the inspiration for this list. It’s everything a rap cover needs to be: make it original without changing lyrics. So why is it so low? Keep scrolling, you won’t be disappointed.
4. “Single Ladies” (Beyoncé) – Sara Bareilles
On another Billboard Monday Mash-Up, Bareilles takes her baroque pop styling and spins it on the song that was “The best video music of all time” according to Kanye West. Her piano hook drives the song while her voice lends it self perfectly to the R&B tune. She definitely does Beyoncé’s original vocals justice.
3. “Hey Ya” (OutKast) – Obidiah Parker
You may never have heard of Obidiah Parker, but the band’s version of OutKast’s funky single is gorgeous. While some of the covers on this list are novel, this song doesn’t feel like a cover, but a well-written piano driven, acoustic pop song.
2. “Baby Got Back” (Sir Mix-A-Lot) – Jonathan Coulton
Sure, Coulton’s version skips the opening “Oh. My. God. Becky, look at her butt” skit, but this folk version holds it’s own compared the bootylicious original. He slows up the hook instead of delivering it with the punch that Mix-A-Lot did, but also adds the perfect back-up vocals when you least expect it.
1. “Hot In Herre” (Nelly) – Jenny Owen Youngs
Hearing a soft-spoken Jenny Owen Youngs sing “I was like, good gracious ass is bodacious / flirtaticious, tryin’ to show faces / lookin’ for the right time to shoot my steam” is the best way to open the most awesome rap cover ever. Throughout the song she sings with such seriousness about “poppin’ the bottles” that you’ll have to listen to it twice to hear through the laughter.
While these covers are amazing, there are some songs that we’d love to see certain musicians cover. Click to the next page to see a list of pairings that would make us here at Paste very happy.
10 Rap Covers We’d Love To See Happen
10. “Whatcha Say” (Jason Derulo) – Tegan & Sara
People hated “Whatcha Say” because he didn’t sample Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” he just stole and entire hook. Regardless, Tegan & Sara would be able to cover both parts with precision and the range that Derulo and Heap shared in the original.
9. “Day ‘n’ Nite” (Kid Cudi) – Telekinesis
Telekinesis’ ambient rock would lend itself perfectly to Kid Cudi’s genre-bending hit. Day ‘n’ Nite is a tripped out rap about living in a nightmare. Michael Benjiman Lerner has already proven he could do a rendition of a song and make it very original with the cover of Nirvana’s “On a Plain” so it wouldn’t be a stretch to do Cudi’s track.
8. “Big Poppa” (Notorious B.I.G.) – the Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire are currently atop the indie kingdom after winning Best Album for The Suburbs. B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” is considered by many to be one of the best and most important raps of all time. It’s a perfect combination. Don’t we all already call Win Butler “Big Poppa” anyway?
7. “Freaks and Geeks” (Childish Gambino) – Grizzly Bear
When Childish Gambino used the “Two Weeks” piano riff as the basis for his “Bitch, Look at Me Now” off of I Am Just A Rapper, it created pure gold. It would be great for the folk band to return the favor and cover Gambino’s most popular song to date. It wouldn’t be like covering a normal song; the rapper often uses references that indie kids would appreciate like “You get sloppy drunk, I stay whisky neat / my clique should be canceled: Freaks and Geeks.”
6. “Airplanes” (B.o.B. ft. Hayley Williams) – Angus & Julia Young
Both Paste and rapper B.o.B. hail from Decatur, and we love the shout out he gives our town: “The maybe, oh, maybe I’ll go back to the days / before the politics that we call the rap game / …and back before I tried to cover up my slang / but this is for Decatur.” Who better to sing a hometown anthem than one of our favorite guy/gal pairings Plus, the slowed down tempo of the Australian brother and sister would make this a ballad Decatur really deserves.
5. “Empire State Of Mind” (Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys) – Freelance Whales
Picking a band to cover this song meant picking New York City natives. Freelance was instantly one of the best choices. The band’s unique instruments would prove to make the cover process difficult, but hearing Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ lyrics over banjos, glockenspiels and mandolins would be funny, but also celebrate another part of the Empire State. Plus, frontman Judah Dadone clearly can be caught “at in the X with OG at a Yankee game” and he clearly “made the Yankee cap more famous than a Yankee can,” right?
4. “Love the Way You Lie” (Eminem ft. Rihanna) – She & Him
The song is already fitted to have M. Ward play a terrific piano riff and sing the compelling lyrics. Originally I thought he would sing Eminem’s part and Zooey Deschenal would sing Rihanna’s, but the more I listened to it, I realized the singing roles could be reversed. The best part about She & Him covering this song is all those snares could be turned into the ever catchy hand claps that the duo employs every so often.
3. “My Chick Bad” (Ludacris) – Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s
Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s leader, Richard Edwards, has always written unique lyrics about relationships and women. Some are positive, but some shed a negative light on the matter. Ludacris’ lyrics could be twisted into Richard’s edgy way and turn “bad” from meaning “good” back to meaning something entirely different. Knowing the Nukes, “My Chick” would turn into a song about a prostitute.
2. “Fight For Your Right” (Beastie Boys) – Florence + the Machine
Imagine one of the biggest party anthems ever sung with Florence Welch’s booming, choir voice. The song would turn into something greater than MCA, Ad-Rock and Mike D could ever have imagined. At first Sabotage was on the list, before going back and forth with Party. Maybe The Machine should just do an entire Beasty Boy cover album.
1. “Grenade” (Bruno Mars) – Company of Thieves
For those not familiar with Company of Thieves, they are led by frontwoman Genevieve Schatz whose vocals are big and full of live. Bruno Mars is known for bringing doo-wop swag back into pop and Schatz’s voice and the band’s unique alternative pop guitars would turn Grenade into a stellar rock song.