Ed Sheeran's No. 6 Collaborations Project is a 15-track album nearly as star-studded as your average Billboard Hot 100 chart. The list of modern-day hitmakers involved is absolutely staggering: Justin Bieber, Khalid, Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Meek Mill and Bruno Mars, just to name a half-dozen, and there's plenty more where that came from.
But the two special guests that Sheeran seems most excited to be jamming with are stars best associated with a previous generation: Eminem and 50 Cent. The two rap superstars, who cameo together on the set's fulcrum track "Remember the Name," give Sheeran a chance to fulfill a wish that he's no doubt had since he was rapping along to his copies of The Eminem Show and Get Rich or Die Tryin' as a young teen: to play-act as the duo's Shady/Aftermath co-star in his very own early-'00s club banger. And for the U.K. world-conqueror, it's about as big of a can't-tell-me-nothing flex as he could possibly design.
Sheeran's first verse on the song finds the pop star spitting in his common sing-speak about his unlikely rise ("I was born a misfit, grew up 10 miles from the town of Ipswich/ Wanted to make it big, I wished it to existence") while recalling how frequently he was doubted along the way ("I never was a sick kid, always dismissed quick/ 'Stick to singing, stop rappin' like it's Christmas.'") He throws in some validating rhymes about drugs, fame and stature, but promises that his "dreams are bigger than just bein' on the rich list," and saves his greatest ambition for last: "You know I want way more than I already got/ Give me a song with Eminem and 50 Cent in the club."
And that's all that "Remember the Name" essentially is. It's not a great song, necessarily -- 50's verse is a little phoned-in, Em's has some exciting flashback moments but also stretches for extended puns that don't really need to be there, and Ed's bars, while fun, probably wouldn't have gotten him signed to G-Unit in 2003. But it's the song that proves just what a fantasy camp Ed Sheeran's life is these days. Millions of kids on both sides of the Atlantic grew up in the early 21st century wishing they could one day hop on a track with Eminem and 50 Cent. Only a handful of them -- maybe -- could put a couple calls together in 2019 and actually make it happen.
This isn't some hastily thrown together pastiche, either: This sounds a whole lot like the real thing. Dr. Dre wasn't available to produce, presumably -- perhaps not even Sheeran has the clout to get the Doctor out of the office and back behind the boards -- but getting the legendary duo of Max Martin and Shellback (along with regular recent Sheeran collaborator FRED) together to approximate his sound is a pretty solid backup option.
The staccato guitars, pounded pianos, plucked strings and piercyng synths of "Remember the Name," played over a casually meancing stomp-clap beat, sound lifted straight from 2001; you can practically see Xzibit and Kurupt chilling on the studio couch while listening. Throw verses over it from Em and 50, Dre's two greatest 21st-century disciples, and the effect is absolutely uncanny.
What's most eerie, though, is the chorus. Of course, when any of Dr. Dre, Eminem or 50 Cent were in need of a proper hook during their primes, they would call on the late, great Nate Dogg -- the velvet-voiced soul man who served as the ultimate featured player for both the G-Funk and G-Unit eras, and scored classic hits alongside all three of those artists before passing away in 2011. And for a second in "Remember the Name," you wonder if they didn't somehow find a way to resurrect him: The hook approximates Nate Dogg's no-exaggeration-necessary delivery and sing-song swagger so expertly, you can't help but double-check the credits for his name. But by the end of the chorus, you can tell it's just Ed play-acting again, well-studied and directed in the final missing piece of the ultimate homage. Whether that comes off as a loving tribute or a direspectful imitation is up to the listener's judgment, but you can't deny that the guy's done his homework.
And besides, the song seems to be asking, If you had the chance to play the Nate Dogg part alongside Eminem and 50 Cent, would you pass it up? Sheeran clearly feels like he owes it to his younger self to take advantage of the opportunity, and it's not hard to see why -- for all the success, fame and riches he's racked up over his first decade in the mainstream, this is probably the accomplishment that he and his teenage friends would be most impressed by, and his haters the most jealous of. It's a situation of such unreal wish-fulfilment you'd probably never even think to fantasize about it in the first place, and you can't help but smile a little bit for Sheeran that he gets to live it out. As one of his star No. 6 collaborators would say, it's a dream worth more than money.