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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dubstep

Sittin' Sidewayz... With Skinny Friedman

By Skinny Friedman

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A$AP Rocky’s new single is “Wild for the Night” featuring Skrillex. People have been clowning this track on general principal since the Internet found out about it via the leaked Long.Live.A$AP tracklist, and the jokes about Rocky enthusiastically yelping, “Me and my nigga Skrillex” on the track have been free-flowing since it dropped (as have the Rampage the Last Boyscout references). There is some skepticism about a rapper working with a man known best for dropping the bass for legions of molly-crazed idiots. Rocky’s cloud-rap bona fides and collabs with producers like Clams Casino and Friendzone give him nuff cool points, seemingly enough to not “need” this kind of crossover appeal. Picture Mos Def working with Eiffel 65 on Black On Both Sides, and that's basically what we're dealing with here.

This week Rocky went on Letterman and performed “Wild for the Night” with the help of Clark Kent, A-Trak and AraabMuzik. The video is really great; Rocky looks like rap game Angus Young with his blazer and shorts situation, and the famous backline put in serious work on the decks and samplers. DJs (and the like) frequently get downgraded to window dressing in live performances, but the powers that be let everyone loose, including AraabMuzik who is always a blast to watch. Skrillex was not there and if you didn't know any better, you'd have no idea he produced the track. There’s no audacious bass drop, just high-impact kicks and snares and some yips in the hook. It’s a good reminder that rap has been cross-pollinating with dubstep on subtler, producer-nerd levels for a few years now. Compare “Wild” to Birdman, Lil Wayne and Nicki’s “Y.U. Mad” and the similarities are clear.

None of this should surprise anyone; hip-hop and dubstep have been growing together for years. If this comes as a shock it’s probably because they think hip-hop is generally “cool” and dubstep is generally not.

Dubstep, in many people’s eyes, is actually worse than “not cool” because what Americans consider “dubstep”—bass drops and robot farts by Skrillex, Rusko and friends—actually unseated the definitively “cooler” dubstep of Kode 9, Burial and New York’s Dub War party. I have friends who had to end their dubstep parties when they were overrun with bros with popped collars and shutter shades. The “trap” movement hasn’t helped, as it feels like the wholesale, uncredited appropriation of Lex Lugar and Southside’s production by a dubstep community that likes rap beats but doesn’t like all that rapping. The liberal use of the Trap-a-holics “Real Trap Shit” and “Damn Son, Where'd You Find This?" drops—potentially by people who don’t know where they came from—steers the entire genre into questionable “ironic rap” territory. And then Pitbull comissioned RL Grime’s “Trap On Acid” (a trap remix of Afrojack’s “Pacha On Acid”) for “I’m Off That” on his new album. Nothing is less “cool” than Pitbull!

Ironically the “cool” kids have been cultivating their own hybrid dance/rap style too. At the forefront is the Glasgow-based label LuckyMe, home of producers like TNGHT, Lunice, Hudson Mohawke, Rustie and Baauer. TNGHT—the duo of Lunice and Hudson Mohawke—basically graduated to superstar status this summer with their self-titled EP. Kanye just signed Hudson Mohawke to G.O.O.D. Music this weekend. Before that, Lunice was rocking turn-up arms and songs about swag to crowds that tend to favor intelligent house music and straight-up warehouse techno at least three years ago. Rustie’s Glass Swords is a beautiful album that pairs trap drums with Sega Saturn synths. It got an 8.0 on Pitchfork and The Guardian gave it its First Album Award, stating that it "encapsulated the state of music in 2011." TNGHT’s “Higher Ground” got Pitchfork’s coveted “Best New Music” badge. LuckyMe is “cool” as shit!

The big joke is here is that the idea of “cool” is entirely arbitrary, and nobody makes this fact clearer (from an analysis of who-likes-who) than Baauer. He more or less invented "trap" with his “Harlem Shake” track (eventually released by Diplo’s Mad Decent label) and has also put songs out through LuckyMe, but also worked with “trap” stars Flosstradamus. Oh and he’s been in the studio with none other than certified hip-hop legend Just Blaze. They are going on tour this month and their “Higher” track is tearing through the Internet right now.

(DJ Sliink is just as confounding. As a part of New Jersey’s Brick Bandits crew, he made his name producing Jersey club tracks and was a favorite of the very “cool” vogue/ballroom scene, having collaborated with ballroom hero and fellow New Jersey-ite Mike Q. Now Sliink has worked his sound into the trap universe. Equally baffling: Flosstradamus’s beef with Dutch hardstyle and gabba producers over sampling. Is gabba “cool”?)

More imporantly, nobody under the age of, say, 24 gives two shits about this scene-specific, inside-baseball bullshit. The genre boundaries a lot of us take for granted don’t exist anymore. What everyone I’ve mentioned in this column has in common is that they make cool music and have some overlapping influences. Dubstep and rap are mixing because they are two very popular genres with a lot in common aesthetically. This isn’t EDM, where the industry is trying to make a bland, predictable mush that can be used as a vehicle to reliably put Disney stars on the Billboard charts. This is a bunch of people collaborating across state lines, country borders and unseen genre boundaries that only exist to people who like to sulk because the wrong people like their favorite music. This is an amazing moment for hip-hop and dance music, not to mention for rappers and producers (and especially DJ’s—DMC veterans are showing up all over the dubstep scene; “Wild for the Night” was co-produced by French turntable legends Birdy Nam Nam). Enjoy it.

 

Skinny Friedman's Snapchat handle is "jiggynjewish." He is also on Twitter - @skinny412

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