John Mayer: Hip-Hop’s Honorary Guitarist
“New Respect for John, he’s extremely gifted. His versatility is phenomenal, he’s a master. I don’t even think he even knows how good he is.”
These are the words spoken by legendary guitarist Mr. Slowhand, Eric “Is God” Clapton himself, discussing working with the talented and often polarizing artist John Mayer. From Grammys, to influence to technical skills, John Mayer’s legacy is of the most talented artists of the 2000s. With blues and classic rock influence blending with pop elements, he’s managed to garner respect from his peers and legends among others.
Now, of course, John isn’t perfect, he didn’t’ manage to escape controversy and criticism. Mainly aiming towards his personal life involving in his relationships and one interview with Playboy Magazine as he referred to his member as a “White Supremacist” (Lord knows why). Hell, John himself has admitted he was a total douche in his heyday in the spotlight, however his musical talent and his admiration for artistry can’t go under-looked. Working with several iconic artists such as Buddy Guy, B.B. King, & Pino Palladino, to some peers including Fall Out Boy, his respect doesn’t just end in rock as John has found a place in hip-hop as one of its’ favorite guitarist.
John’s appreciation for the culture most likely stems back before his fame. However, for those on the outside, we’ve his appreciation stems back to 2004, but not on a collaboration song, but instead, a collaboration for sketch when he appeared in the hit show “Chappelle’s Show” starring the one and only Dave Chappelle. While it may have been a sketch comedy show, however, the show was very hip-hop-oriented and breathe hip-hop culture and music. Even including many hip-hop-based skits and hip-hop legends on the show to appear in sketches and perform. Taking part in a sketch called “What Makes White People Dance”, where he and Dave roam the city of New York and check out different settings to see how white people react and groove to John’s various guitar styles: from fight riffs to groovy blues.
Eventually, leading to a jam session with Questlove of The Roots and Dave on vocals singing the Different Strokes theme song. Eventually having that as the musical performance for that episode. After that sketch, John would soon begin his hip-hop run on official wax, as he worked with Kanye West and Common. Appearing Common’s single GO! for his 2005 critically acclaimed album “Be. Only singing the word “go” and didn’t have any guitar parts, however, I suggest (THEORY ALERT!), maybe that they did want him to try work something out for the outro for the track, yet it just didn’t well and they’d thought it’d be best to just let the beat ride out, but that’s just a thought. Or perhaps they wanted him to just say “Go”, like how Kanye got Andre 3000 to sing “30 Hours” on the track of the same sentence. Continuing to work with Kanye, after he and Ye saw the movie “Ray” starring Jamie Foxx, they decided to hop in the studio and record a track that would eventually become “Bittersweet Poetry” and while it was recorded for Kanye’s “Late Registration” album sessions, it didn’t make the cut and ended up being released as a bonus track for the Japanese edition for 2007s Graduation album.
During that session, there’s a behind the scenes footage with John and Kanye, as the two ask and explain a few things such as: “What happens when one of the sexiest and flyest motherfuckers in the whole game… and Kanye West, get together ?” and “Why do black people like John Mayer so much?”. Shedding light on Johns’s way of not taking himself so seriously as his charm and wit carried the nearly two-minute video.
Continuing (or Continuum I shall say) the hip-hop love, John would team up with hip-hop producer Just Blaze for the ALIFE Sessions in 200 for a small private gathering to perform. A surprising perfect duo, as Just Blaze supplied the instrumentals and scratches, while John supplied the rhymes…with his guitar playing at least by jamming over some classic hip-hop instrumentals such as “93 til Infinity” by Souls of Mischief. While that duo on paper sounds like a mismatched made in heaven, yet it proved otherwise and helped highlight John Mayer as a chameleon of a guitarist. Being able to play with Buddy Guy to jamming with Just Blaze DJing. Leading into 2007, he would switch from a hip-hop jam session to a more somber setting by lending his guitar chops to Alicia Keys’s “As I Am” for the track “Lesson Learned”. Alicia explained to Canadian Sun Media:
“He’s a really great guy, really funny, really intellectual, smart, and so we had a lot to talk about musically. And then one day he just called me and he was like, ‘I’ve got this song and it’s just screaming for your voice on it and what if we just did something really cool, and we didn’t make it all about labels and managers and lawyers, we just kind of came in and did music?’ And if he only knew how much I needed that song at that moment. To sing at the end of that song was a relief for me in so many ways. And he was like, ‘Anytime, anywhere, anything, I’m there.”
It’d be a few years until John would work with another hip-hop artist. From 2008–2011, however in between that he might’ve not worked with any hip-hop artists, the love would still be felt as John would be sampled with his track “3 x 5” from his debut by Wale in 2009 for his track “Letter”. 2012 would become the year the gap ended as he worked with Best New Artist Frank Ocean on his debut album Channel Orange on contributing guitar solos on the tracks “Pyramids” and “White” and accompanying him on stage for his famous debut Saturday Night Live performances. Frank would return the favor and appear on Johns’s 2013 album “Paradise Valley” for the track Wildfire Interlude. The two would exchange compliments towards each other, with John praising Frank for his Tumblr post of his anecdote about being in love with a man: “We’re all worried to express ourselves, because we are scared of the imminent criticism as we are typing. And I think for a guy to express any idea with that kind of bravery, a guy writing without caring what you think . . . What’s fascinating to me is not as much what he’s expressing — it’s that he chose to just make an expression one time, deeply, honestly.” While Frank on the other hand told how Born & Raised by John was one of his favorite albums of 2012.
The latter of 2010s would see John be recruited to some of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2018, as he worked with the late Mac Miller and Travis Scott. Working with Mac for his album Swimming for the song “Small Worlds” and Travis Scott for his blockbuster album Astroworld for three tracks: “Wake Up”, “Astrothunder” and “Can’t Say”. Supplying guitar parts for all four tracks and in fact, he supplied the guitar parts for Travis at the last minute. Travis’ A&R Sickamore told Rolling Stone in 2018: “Travis hit him up like, ‘Yo, I’m finishing my album.’ John came right away,”. “He came ready to get on the album. He even said, ‘I like coming out at the end of albums, ’cause then you know it’s gonna stick.’ He’s cool as fuck. A musical genius.” Adding to the convenience he, once again, accompanied Travis Scott for his SNL performance alongside another appreciated guitarist in hip-hop, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala.
As his career marks, its 20th anniversary this year with his debut album, it’s safe to say John Mayers career is one not to dismiss. Now, he isn’t on every hip-hop artist albums every year. However, that doesn’t take away the mutual respect he has for hip-hop nor does it for any of the artists. The new decade is kicking off, and if everything goes back to normal after the pandemic, it’s gonna be fun to guess who will call John next to work.