March 15, 2011

Since Kanye discovered robot techno three years late, rap’s been on an Itchy and Scratchy Land-style collision course with electronic music. Of course, there’s the long history: “Planet Rock,” Juan Atkins, disco-rap, Whodini, Egyptian Lover, hip-house, “Bombs over Baghdad,” hoobity blah. But when Kanye sampled “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” it indirectly annexed a new realm of possibilities. Before the Louis Vuitton Black Swan came to prominence, electro-rap meant a future of being consigned to clearance bins or Tony Yayo’s (leased) trunk — whichever came first.  After Kanye, 50 boasted about making a euro-dance records called Black Magic, and the only one who seemed to find it suspect was Hex Murda.

But instead of rappers discovering Squarepusher and Aphex Twin (at least prior to “Blame Game”), they slanted towards the Limburger side.  Kid Cudi candy raving with David Guetta. LMFAO’s bloated Barnum & Bailey rap. Wiz Khalifa wondering if he’s better off alone (before meeting Amber Rose). Game and Lil Wayne doing bro’d out drum circles to “Zombie Nation.” They generally plucked the low-hanging fruit that appealed to Fisher-Price rave kids and other E-tards who requested that the Swedish House Mafia play at their house. The electro-beats were largely used for florescent garnish and selected strictly based on how much they could appeal to Doug Butabi.. The Venga Boys got next, yo.

Naturally, Critics have widely mocked the trend. On occasion, its worked but usually only when the Block Beattaz are involved. More often, it demonstrates a dilettantish approach to genre, with the MC’s usually adrift on the more complex beats or getting burnt cornballer-style on minimalist trance jams.  But lately, that’s begun to change, with more and more rappers discovering that electronic isn’t monolithic, but multi-faceted, a genre split into dozens of sub-categories that can only be parsed by the six people who read Altered Zones.

The highest profile of the recent bunch is Freddie Gibbs, Bun B, and Mexicans with Guns‘  “Highway to Hell,” a collaboration that elicited coverage in places that pride themselves on listening to both kinds of music: based and non-based rap.  While most dance-rap hybrids convey a numbed euphoria, Gibbs and Bun angle towards Avernus. Riding dirty on a Highway to Hell. All Angus Young everything, except for the skirt. Plaudits go to Ernest Gonzales, whose beats conjure an unruly paranoia. The synths sound like funereal church organs, the drums are steady but scattered, and the violence self-contained. The catch with these sort of beats is that it takes an agile rapper with a strong voice to cut through the noise, and Bun and Gibbs tackle it athletically, instinctively staying in pocket and hurdling cleanly through the flying shrapnel.

That’s not to say that all these collaborations are inherently a form of progression. Murs’ cameo on last year’s Skream record was ill-inspired at best. And for every Jackie Chain song over Robert Miles, there’s a Jackie Chain song about Molly over an (admittedly great) beat from a man named Guido.  For every stellar Killer Mike and Flying Lotus collaboration, there’s the terrifying specter of Drake and Jamie xx conspiring to further enrich the makers of Zoloft.

Beyond the occasionally great one-off novelty track, there are other projects that exemplify the narrowing chasm between rap and bass music. From Shabazz Palaces dubstep-inflected anarchist-rap to Elucid’s bludgeoning of beats from Breakage, 12th Planet, and Skream, rappers are using death rattle bass and gritty drums to mirror their aggressive and alienated posturing. Even one-time Fondle ‘Em rapper John Robinson (formerly of Scienz of Life) has paired with dubstep automaton Robot Koch for a full-length collaboration.

Perhaps the most organic of all come from the Low End Theory constellation. Last week, Nocando released a Hellfyre Club compilation with he and his labelmates jacking beats from Baths, Flying Lotus, Mono/Poly, and original beats from E Super. There’s guys like recent Stones Throw-signee Jon Wayne, who alternate between rapping and making beats that sound intended to rattle the subwoofers stashed inside a spaceship. There’s Brainfeeder-affiliated Jeremiah Jae, whose most recent mixtape featured almost exclusively instrumentals, save for a few bars at the end just to remind everyone that he still raps.

Amounted together, the latest developments offer a necessary counter-balance to the Jnco rave-rap phenomenon snuffing the souls of certain rappers. Even if every attempt doesn’t always work, the collapse of calcified boundaries and mores can only be interpreted as a good thing. It goes without saying that a genre can only flourish if it keeps evolving. Even if the latest iteration of bass-rap goes nowhere, it will be interesting to watch — even if we have to dodge the occasional zombie.

Download:
MP3: Mexicans with Guns ft. Freddie Gibbs & Bun B – “Highway to Hell (Ridin’ Dirty Version)”

MP3: Robot Robinson (Robot Koch & John Robinson) – “Sun Ra ft. ID 4 Windz” (Left-Click)

ZIP: Hellfyre Club – Prometheus (Left-Click)
MP3: Shabazz Palaces – “An Echo From the Hosts that Profess Infinitum

MP3: Elucid – Super Chocolate Black Simian (Via Concrete Soundsystem)

Jeremiah Jae – $easons from Ounce. Films on Vimeo.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!