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From Kanye to Pharrell, rap stars embrace Cyrus

Published: Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 11:10 a.m. CDT

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 to top it off, 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 Tuesday, features guest spots from Big Sean, Nelly, Future and French Montana. In an interview, Juicy J called the 20-year-old “a genius.” 50 Cent, who hasn’t yet worked with her, 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 isn’t following in the footsteps of pop stars like Katy Perry but 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 Mike WiLL Made-It, who is behind hits like Juicy J’s “Bandz a Make Her Dance” and Rihanna’s “Pour It Up.”

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, entertainment director at Essence magazine.

Cyrus, who will host and perform on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” this week, 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 music video. Of course, she hit new heights (or to some, new depths) with her eye-popping, sexually charged MTV Video Music Awards performance in August. It featured the scantily dressed singer twerking, gyrating on Robin Thicke and what’s become her signature move — sticking out her tongue.

The wild child antics — from being nude in the music 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 and twerking with black female dancers caused another stir, with many questioning if Cyrus is wrongfully 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,” Mike WiLL 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 while the star is a product of hip-hop culture, “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 ... once they get past all of that and listen to the music, the music is actually great,” said Mike WiLL Made-It.

While Cyrus has her rap cheerleaders, not everyone has embraced her. When asked about Cyrus’ 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).”

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