Adam Levine Breaks Down His Hip-Hop Collaborations

adam levine wiz khalifa

Lending his voice to Kanye West's "Heard Em Say" in 2005, Adam Levine supplanted his powerful voice in hip-hop's collective eardrum. He had already enjoyed mainstream success as the lead singer of Maroon 5, but his inclusion on 'Ye's second album further illuminated his soulful vocals and compatibility with hip-hop's sound. Since then, the California native, who says he grew up listening to rap, has continued to collaborate with some of the genre's biggest names. "Payphone," the lead single to the group's new album, Overexposed, which is out June 26, features Wiz Khalifa, and hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here, Levine tells the stories behind that and his other hip-hop collaborations. —Adam Fleischer (@AdamXXL)

"Payphone" featuring Wiz Khalifa, Overexposed (2012)

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It’s so funny, because Wiz is clearly humongous right now, but not everybody knows who he is outside of the hip-hop world. The guy that we worked with, Benny Blanco, on this tune, he was like, "I think that you and Wiz should get in the studio together and start working." He hadn’t really done something like this yet, and we were just excited that he was willing to have his first thing like that be with us, because clearly he’s well respected in his world and this is definitely him stepping out a little bit. And we love that. Coincidentally, he wound up being a dude that I think is an amazing human being, as well as very talented. Because that mutual respect was there, the whole studio experience was kind of magic. He heard the tune, he loved it, he threw something down quick—usually the quick shit is the good shit. Sometimes, those situations can kind of blow up in your face if it’s not the right vibe and people don’t get along, you never really know. Benny thought it would be a good thing and he wound up being right. We hit it off immediately. It was a great experience. He’s a wonderful dude.

"Heard Em Say" with Kanye West, Late Registration (2005)

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I think Kanye is a very fascinating person. I think he wears his heart on his sleeve and he lives his life very much according to how he feels at any given moment, and that’s a real artist. I think he’s a complicated person. I think he’s the first person to admit it. He’s almost like punk rock music’s last hope. I see him as a punk artist. I don’t even see him as a hip-hop dude.

I think punk rock always reflected an attitude more than it did anything else. He’s constantly trying to outdo himself. He’s branching out. He’s not the same person he was a few years ago, but I don’t think he’s really interested in that. All this shit aside—the dude’s a fuckin’ genius.

"Bang Bang" with K'naan, Troubadour (2009)

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That’s so funny, too, because Bruno Mars wrote that hook. They had Bruno on it. When I went to go cut it, I was like, "What do you need me for? This is done." And this is before Bruno was Bruno. I was like, "You guys are crazy. This guy sings like a muthafucka." They were like, "We need a name." I’m like, "Why am I replacing this vocalist, he’s so dope." What’s great about that is that Bruno became Bruno and I loved working with K’naan, became friends with him. It started off as, "Hey, check this guy’s music out, do you wanna be on this hook?" And then Bruno became Bruno and K’naan became K’naan.

"Moves Like Jagger (Remix)" with Mac Miller (2011)

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We’re all learning as we go here, and that was another brainchild of Blanco. I heard Mac’s name before, but I never heard what was going on. The second I heard what he had done to it, I was like, "This is the shit. Put it out." I didn’t even have to think about it. It’s cool, we’ve been lucky—those two great moments [with Wiz and Mac] were things that we instantly signed off on. We endorsed it right away because the instant we heard it—we don’t really care about who someone is or what they’ve done, it’s more a matter of what they do with the tune. It’s a case-by-case basis and they just both killed it. We were super blessed and happy to have them.

"Live Again" with Ying Yang Twins, U.S.A. (United State of Atlanta) (2005)

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I was in Detroit, and they were like, "Do you wanna be on this record?" I was like, "Yeah, cool," and got in the studio right away and sent it off to them. That’s how a lot happens these days unless you’re going in deliberately to write with someone, because we’re always running around.