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May 21, 2007

Mark of Good Quality

One is the expat Brit DJ/producer in New York that counts hip hop’s finest as best mates and has added some much-needed filth and funk to Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse.

The other is the Stoke-born LA-living football-mad megastar who fills stadiums for a living and dabbles in swing, but really just likes to rap about his hometown and have a kick-about with his mates. They’re Mark Ronson and Robbie Williams, and together, they’re on fire.

On paper, it’s an odd combination. Robbie has evolved from boy-band icon into global superstar - rarely veering from the mainstream or escaping the glare of the media spotlight. Mark has carved out a rare, credible niche somewhere between hip hop, funk and pop – rarer still because he’s a 20-something white English bloke in New York!

But in the world of pop anything is possible, and this pair of Brits in America have teamed up to devastating effect. When these two hook up, they bring out the best in each other; Robbie gives Mark the space to flex his creative muscle, and beat-genius Mark allows Robbie to experiment, giving him the opportunity to sing over beats far outside his popular remit. It’s something Robbie, more than anyone, is aware of.

"Some people you gel with. Mark’s an incredibly credible artist and I know where I stand on the food chain when it comes to pop music,” he explains. “I’m a populist. I sell lots of records. Mark’s very credible and he didn’t judge me or stop me from being who I wanted to be. It would be difficult to get in a studio with many people who would allow Robbie Williams to rap or to sing in a different way or to cover a song. I think Mark understands pop, but he’s allowed me to step into these shoes without judging me.”

It all began at the beginning of 2006 when Robbie, a long-time fan of Mark, asked the producer to work on some tracks for his then forthcoming album, Rudebox. The album was to take on the sounds that had inspired a teenage Robbie back in the 1980s. Mark happily agreed. No messing, no fuss, it was that simple.

Robbie visited Mark in his New York studio in April 2006 and from there they worked on four tracks together for the upcoming Rudebox project: Good Doctor, a shuffly hip hop track with a tongue-in-cheek pharmaceutical theme; Bongo Bong, a cover of Manu Chao’s King of the Bongo; Keep On, a baggy bombastic jangler of a tune; and of course, Lovelight.

Robbie earmarked the lost Lewis Taylor Brit-soul track for a cover, and Mark teased an incredible falsetto soul performance out of Robbie for what was to become the album’s stand-out track. Said Robbie: “It is amazing to work with a white boy with a ghetto pass like Mark Ronson. He is on the cutting edge of all that is good out there and still manages to love pop. I feel honoured to work with somebody that puts cynicism aside in favour of the truth.”

On an album that divided both fans and critics alike, Lovelight was the track that everyone agreed was brilliant. “I know people who don’t even know who Robbie Williams is, they hear that when it comes on in the club when I play it and they’re like ‘What the hell is that? That’s amazing’. I do think that’s a great song,” Mark told Gigwise. “Mos Def actually came up to me and was like, ‘Did you do that Robbie Williams song Lovelight? It’s incredible I want to rap over that.”

After finishing Rudebox the pair went their separate ways  - Robbie on his mammoth, year-long world tour, while Mark added his magic finishing touches to Lily Allen’s and Amy Winehouse’s stunning albums. But it wasn’t the end of their partnership. When Mark came to London to work on his upcoming Version project – an album of cover versions that gives a fresh twist to classic pop songs thanks to some unlikely pairings – he couldn’t miss an opportunity to team up with Robbie again.

"The album started off not being guest-star heavy at all,” Mark told Britishhiphop.co.uk.  “I wasn't signed to any label and was just making the record for fun, paying for it out of my own pocket. I wasn't bothered with guest stars, besides I wanted to potentially be able to tour with this record. Then, during the course of the year, most of the artists I was producing for did songs for my record as well. So I ended up with Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse and Robbie Williams on my album - which I guess a lot of people would (rightfully) pay shit-loads of money for.”

Robbie supplied the vocals for Mark’s take on The Only One I Know. Originally an early 90s hit for The Charlatans, Mark and Robbie turn the indie-dance classic on its head. So out go The Charlatans jangly guitars and swirling Hammond organ and ushered in are niggling horns, snappy snares, funky organ riffs and Robbie’s brilliant vocal.

It’s a fantastic, irresistible track and Robbie is thrilled his vocal has made it to Mark’s album. Mark describes his work with Robbie as some of his best yet, and the pair certainly work well together.Robbie and Mark get on well professionally and musically and as friends they have a lot of respect for each other. There is no doubt that they will collaborate again.

Competition 

***This competition has now closed***

We have five copies of Mark Ronson’s new album, Version, signed by Mark himself, to giveaway!

All you have to do is answer these three questions:

1] Mark Ronson produced Robbie's single, Lovelight. Which songstress sung backing vocals on Lovelight?
a] Lily Allen
b] Madonna
c] N'Dea Davenport

2] Robbie covered The Only One I Know for Mark Ronson's album Version. For which band was this originally a hit?
a] The Farm
b] Oasis
c] The Charlatans

3] Which well-known hip hop star said to Mark Ronson about Lovelight: "It's incredible, I want to rap over that"?
a] 50 Cent
b] Jay-Z
c] Mos Def

If you think you know the answers, email them, along with you name, age, address and mobile number, to winwinwin@robbiewilliams.com.
The competition closes at 18.00 BST, Monday 23rd April 2007.