NEW YORK — While Miley Cyrus has a batch of critics, there is a group rallying behind her and praising her as a vital talent: rappers.
Pharrell produced several songs on Cyrus’ new album. She has been featured on the latest albums from Snoop Lion and will.i.am. Big Sean requested her as the star of his Fire music video. And Kanye West invited her to appear on the remix to Black Skinhead, his anti-racism rant from his eerie and dark Yeezus album.
Cyrus’ album Bangerz, out today, features guest spots from Big Sean, Nelly, Future and French Montana. In an interview, Juicy J called her “a genius.” 50 Cent added that Cyrus “can be on anything hip-hop orientated because (she’s) rebellious.”
The idea of the former Hannah Montana star becoming a muse for rap stars seems odd to some, but Mike WiLL Made-It, who executive produced Bangerz, said the singer has struck a chord with rappers because she is creating her own bold path.
“People like Kanye are fans of music, people like Pharrell are fans of all types of music. … It all boils down to her being very talented and not scared to do new things,” said the producer, whose new single, 23, features Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J.
“Her voice is incredible. It’s one of a kind … no limitations,” added Made-It.
Others aren’t sure if talent is the reason behind it.
“Whether you’re a Miley fan or not, she is the girl of the moment,” said Cori Murray, the entertainment director at Essence magazine. “Business is business. They’re in the music business; she’s the girl of the moment, so why not get on record with the girl of the moment? That’s as basic as it’s going to get.”
Cyrus, 20, has been the girl of the moment for months now. It started with her transformation from teen queen to twerk queen, rising with her edgy We Can’t Stop party-style video. She hit new heights (or to some, depths) with her eye-popping, sexually charged MTV Video Music Awards performance in August in which the scantily dressed singer gyrated on Robin Thicke and repeatedly stuck out her tongue.
The wild-child antics – from being nude in the video for her first No. 1 hit, Wrecking Ball, to her embrace of drug culture in a recent Rolling Stone interview – have made headlines. But her VMA performance has many questioning if Cyrus is appropriating black culture as a path to success.
“That’s a very ignorant statement to say like, ‘Oh, she’s misrepresenting the black culture ’cause she’s twerking.’ If that’s the only thing that represents the black culture, that’s sad,” Made-It said. “We got a whole bunch of (stuff) that represents the black culture.”
Murray, who said she and other editors at Essence discussed Cyrus after her VMA performance, echoed the producer’s thoughts.
“I think the black culture that she is influenced by, I think it’s black culture that has become popular culture. There is so much to (black culture) and we’re so complicated and she is just what mainstream America thinks about black culture,” she said.
But Bangerz is far from a hip-hop album. The 13-track set has moments that are downbeat, others are up-tempo dance numbers and electronic. It also features Britney Spears and production and songwriting work from pop master Dr. Luke.
“Once they get over all the twerking … and listen to the music, the music is actually great,” said Made-It.
Not everyone has embraced Cyrus. When asked about her high-profile rap collaborations, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson jumped in with: “Or the idea of Miley using us as accessories? I don’t know.”
“I kind of felt same sort of way when Gwen Stefani went through her Asian phase as accessories. At the end of the day, it’s like, is that objectifying us? Hip-hop is already a one-dimensional view as far as us looking like caricatures,” the Roots leader said. “Yeah, I’m all for collaborating, my life is based on collaborations, but I’m more concerned about what it’s based in. Is it genuine interest or is it like a benign curiosity about a culture? I don’t want her to just take that we’re just good for twerking and having big (butts).”