Remember Beyonce’s upcoming album, 4, and new single, “Run the World (Girls),” for two reasons. There’s the obvious, first reason: Beyonce has just found a new surefire hit to ignite the latest wave of cash register “ka-chings.” However, the second reason should alert more attention: Switch’s production.
For the seasoned electronic music fan, the sparse, pounding backdrop is a direct rip of Major Lazer’s frequently remixed “Pon de Floor.” While sampling is a common practice, this particular choice is interesting. It points to the ascension of electronic club music’s obvious popularity in the mainstream lexicon. It also gives weight to the fact that those ecstasy-dropping, music fest-attending neo-hippies with whom you went to high school might have actually been onto the next big paradigm shift.
This is fairly old news to the Hip-Hop world. The genre itself started as an electronic hodgepodge of different scratches, samples and beats. Yet, it’s a current sonic restructuring within the genre (much like Ms. Knowles’) that finds Hip-Hop entering the realm more commonly held by DJs like Steve Aoki and Switch’s partner Diplo than Pete Rock and DJ Premier.
Look at the list of current MCs who have dabbled in these musically opaque waters. The Cool Kids teamed up with enigmatic house duo The Bloody Beetroots for the DJs’ “Awesome.” Kid Cudi enlisted the services of Ratatat and MGMT for his debut. Kanye West got down with Daft Punk. Drizzy’s currently talking gritty London shop with Jamie xx. This isn’t even taking into consideration “Hip-Hop” production maestros Flying Lotus and the late J Dilla, whose works are clusterfucks of many different electronic influences.
However, the actual sound of electronic club music (from house to dubstep) in Hip-Hop isn’t the most salient aspect here—although it is very important. When considering the disparate natures of these artists’ work, it’s the confluence of Hip-Hop with the many subgenres of electronic club music that sticks out most prominently. One could call it “music globalization.” The term wouldn’t be far off: The Bloody Beetroots are Italian, while Sir Mike and Chuck call the Midwest home. ‘Ye’s a Yank, but Daft Punk are French. Hell, Drake’s Canadian, but Jamie’s from England.
All of this results from an odd bit of cultural overlap. However, it’s not so surprising. Nowadays, the Internet holds an absolute death grip on society and there’s an undeniable ease to inter-continental travel. Everything can travel everywhere. Internet-age musical savants (kids who have about 50,000 iTunes songs and fuck around with Fruity Loops all day) are slowly replacing those who formerly ruled the Hip-Hop roost, the autonomous Hip-Hop crate diggers.
An excerpt from a February New York interview with Jamie only helps support this newfound homogeneity.
Q: Switching gears: You’re making beats for Drake’s new album. How did that come about??
A: He was just a fan. He’s got a right-hand man who just plays him new music, so he heard some of my remixes and e-mailed my manager. He’s a pretty busy guy, so it was hard to track him down. But he came to London about a month ago, and we went to the studio where we recorded The xx album. He played me some of his stuff, and I played him some of my stuff I made for him. And he was loving it. So he took some of those away to do stuff over. I might be working with him by the end of this week, or might be coming back to work with him in a few days in Toronto. He’s ridiculously busy.
Q: Some of the beats on his album Thank Me Later don’t actually sound that different from The xx. ?
A: I think that’s why I was a fan. His stuff is a lot easier to relate to than a lot of mainstream hip-hop. Well, I love listening to Hot 97. But I don’t buy mainstream American hip-hop very much.
There might be some naivety surrounding Jamie’s declaring Drake’s music “not mainstream.” However, he has a better underlying point: Drake isn’t classic Hip-Hop. Drake is the product of the modern age. He’s just as comfortable attuning his product to Jamie’s schizoid production as he is waxing poetic over a Boi-1da beat. As evidenced by their pairing, there are more shared commonalities between the two than one would think.
Maybe this combination is only a fad—it very well could be. The two genres aren’t totally different and the current cross-pollination might just be another progressive step in their respective histories. However, the inclusion of Switch’s brand of electronic club music on Beyonce’s product and its creeping trajectory into Hip-Hop shouldn’t be flippantly disregarded. In this file-sharing age, “Run the World (Girls)” is “Pon de Floor” and vice-versa. The same thing can be said for the once concrete dividing line between the genres’ fans. More and more “Hip-Hop” fans are “electronic” music fans, just like more “electronic” music fans are “Hip-Hop” fans.
Just ask Aubrey and Jamie.