On Halloween night, Sufjan Stevens tricked and/or treated the audience in Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City when he capped a fairly conventional setlist with a cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling.”
The encore, sequentially, went down like this: “Futile Devices,” “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti,” “John Wayne Gacy,
Jr.” “Chicago (acoustic version) and, ultimately, harmonizing with R&B artist Gallant on “Hotline Bling.” Even if you have never heard a Sufjan track before, you’d recognize that one of these tracks does not belong.
So, just moments after Sufjan sings about crying with a friend and sleeping in parking lots, he and Gallant paired up on a forlorn Drake track about when your booty calls come to a halt.
Drake and Sufjan aren’t very far apart as musicians. Both are doe-eyed, soft-spoken humble men who grieve their misery through their songs. The central difference between the two is that Sufjan didn’t play a paraplegic on TV. But there’s something very fitting about seeing Sufjan do his falsetto take on “Hotline Bling.” His dances sort of goofy, but so does Drake. Is it so ironic that it’s not implicitly obvious? Or is it just another instance of real recognizing real?
Here are 8 other hip-hop tracks that Sufjan should consider covering:
“Lost” by Frank Ocean
If there’s any lateral move from “Hotline Bling,” it’s probably “Lost.” After lamenting the would-be booty calls, Sufjan can now borrow this song from Frank Ocean about using your girlfriend as a world-traveling drug mule. The track has already had its imprimatur from indie-rock band Divine Fits who covered it in 2012.
“Line ‘Em Up feat. Young Chris” by Freeway
A few years ago, Sufjan announced a very ambitious project, in which he would record an album to correspond with each of the 50 states. In 2003, he released Michigan; in 2005, Illinois; and in 2009, he called the whole project “a promotional gimmick” and said the whole premise was a joke. But if inspiration strikes, he can always save time and do a Ryan Adams-style cover of Philadelphia Freeway and ceremoniously cross out Pennsylvania from the list.
“The Language” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home” by Drake
Sufjan’s refrain of “I’m not fuckin’ around” on his 2010 track “I Want To Be Well” marks the first time that he drops an F-bomb. It was pretty jarring to hear him explode in this way, but then he did it again on “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” on this year’s Carrie and Lowell. He uses curse words scarcely and with great effect, which more than definitely preps him to cover some swear-heavy cuts off Drake’s Nothing Was The Same.
“I can’t get over you / You left your mark on me / I want your high love and emotion endlessly” may as well be a lyric from Carrie and Lowell.
“i” by Kendrick Lamar
Thirty seconds into “Hood Politics” on Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, he samples the ghostly keyboards off Sufjan’s track “All for Myself.” In response, Sufjan should adopt the funky, self-expressive track on Kendrick’s otherwise dour album. Can Sufjan convincingly rap about life in Compton as well as he can speak to the inner turbulence of a troubled self-esteem? I hope so. And, for the record, if Sufjan reads this, the N-E-G-U-S soliloquy is optional, but I’d really appreciate it if you included it.
“Early (feat. Boots)” by Run the Jewels
When Run the Jewels played Project Pabst in Portland this summer, they dedicated this track to Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two men killed by police officers in summer 2014. Again, maybe Sufjan doesn’t have the gall to touch on police brutality or society’s implicit racism, but he could still fill in the space between El-P and Killer Mike and provide a hook that’s equally uncanny to Boots.
“So Fresh, So Clean” by Outkast
Sufjan can borrow a page from the swag anthem with Andre 3000’s really, really inappropriate pick-up line: “I love who you are, I love who you ain’t, you’re so Anne Frank / Let’s hit the attic to hide out for ’bout two weeks.” Drake probably wouldn’t even touch this one.
On second thought, maybe the two of them should just stick to doing backup vocals on the booty call ballads.