Unity in the Turn Up: The Coming Together of Rap and EDM
In this post-“Turn Down for What” world, it’s strange to think there was a time in recent memory in which hip-hop and EDM were self-contained genres, mostly overlapping but for a shared appreciation of molly. But just a few years ago, American rap and rave had not yet cross-pollinated into no-duh genres like Trap EDM, in which triple-time snares and gut-thumping sub-bass augment frenetic tweeters for a perfect union of turn up. Instead, they were dancing around each other, long-lost moments of unity like hip-house and rap-electro (recall Miss-E… So Addictive) just distant memories.
As two of the most important (and lucrative) pop genres, though, it was only a matter of time. One of the first America rap-dance collaborations of this current epoch came in August 2009 from Eve, whose “Me N My (Up in the Club)” slapped on a Salaam Remi-produced track that borrowed its wobble from British dubstep icon Benga. Of course, now we know Eve was always a secret raver—this is a person who got married in Ibiza, after all—but back then it was a surprise that she beat her fellow rappers to the punch on what was then a slowly exploding genre stateside, just before the corporate term “EDM” was invented. Just a few months later, a newly experimental Rihanna dropped quite a few dubstep bombs on Rated R. By 2011, Kanye and Jay-Z had put down the wub-wub on Watch the Throne, borrowing Flux Pavilion’s interminable anthem “I Can’t Stop,” a track which still reverberates in better EDM fest sets.
Dubstep was a natural fit for hip-hop—the bigger the low-end, the harder rappers seem to go—but even more logical was the eventual union of EDM and Trap for their own blown-out, hybrid subgenre, a tittering combination that’s not quite Trap (in the sense of, say, Jeezy) nor is it quite EDM (in the sense of intent and BPMs). TNGHT is often credited as the duo that solidified the genre, a collaboration between Scotland’s Hudson Mohawke and Montreal’s Lunice, who combined their original sensibilities for now-classic songs like “R U Ready,” which eventually became Yeezus’s “Blood on the Leaves.” But arguably the highest point of visibility for Trap EDM was, of course, Bauuer’s “Harlem Shake,” named after that classic uptown dance and featuring a mid-range that sounded like bare skin twerking on a balloon. Not only did the copious YouTube memes (and cultural-appropriation thinkpieces) ensure Trap EDM’s place in the pantheon, it also inspired a collaboration between Bauuer and Just Blaze, one of the biggest hip-hop producers of all time.
Though Trap EDM remains a staple of corporate festivals, it’s slowly giving way to ever-more-interesting cross-pollinations. One of rap’s and raves’ biggest crossovers came with the slick style of DJ Mustard, who managed to flip vocal house in the vein of Robin S’s classic “Show Me Love” into his own personal genre with songs like Ty Dolla $ign’s “Paranoid” and Tinashe’s “2 On,” which added a slow-drag sensuality to big-room synths. That sound reverberated, famously, into a world that was as mainstream as can be, tracks like Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Jidenna’s “Classic Man” transferred a sound he’d transmogrified from the ’90s into subtle pop mini-raves, bumping from car stereos off hip-hop and R&B stations. Of course, he didn’t produce those, and knew he deserved the credit, but the similarities are a testament to how resonant, how current the sound of house is in rap-adjacent genres.
These days, as we watch Trap EDM gradually float away in the rearview, giving way to more nuanced collaborations, the possibilities for future genre-blending are sure to expand. The pop dominance of Skrillex and Diplo’s Jack Ü project, for instance, extends beyond Bieber to 2 Chainz’s tubafied “Febreze,” a slinky, dubby stomper with Skrillex’s fingerprints all over it; simultaneously, British grime is gaining increasing caché in the States for the first time in a decade, largely thanks to incessant touring from longtime MC/producer Skepta (and cosigns from Kanye West and Drake).
On the more EDM end of the spectrum, we are now living in a time in which Big Grams, Big Boi’s collaboration with Phantogram, features a Skrillex production, and a track that is essentially in the super-fast, spazz-out genre of Dutch techno known as hardstyle. It’s hardly anything to blink at—Lil Jon, for instance, was practically born to be a rave hypeman, whether on 2011’s “Turbulence” or with DJ Snake on the ubiquitous “Turn Down for What”—and we reached peak rap-EDM in 2014, when party-pumping, cake-throwing DJ Steve Aoki enlisted Waka Flocka Flame for both a tour and the huge single “Rage the Night Away,” which demanded its listeners party as aggressively as those dudes, pairing Waka’s “BOW”s with adrenalized synths perfect for determinedly stomping the ground in thy wookie boots. It’s a life philosophy: there’s strength in numbers when your shared goal is to turn up.