Released on Monday, September 2, I Am Legion (the long-awaited collaboration between UK rap duo Foreign Beggars and veteran Dutch electronic trio Noisia) has immediately hit #1 overall on the Beatport chart. This fact may – above anything that Flosstradamus or Baauer may have done with trap music – show undeniable proof of the power of rap music and hip-hop culture in EDM-at-present. In an interview with Vibe, Foreign Beggars emcee Orifice Vulgatron referred to the collaboration as not “progressive electronic bass music,” but rather “futuristic electronic rapshit.” In a record owing more in execution to the collaboration between El-P and Killer Mike on Run the Jewels than anything typically expected to fill dancefloors at peak hour or bring a festival to its knees, I Am Legion represents EDM at present, and likely EDM far into the future. If disco begot rap, and rap begot drum & bass and dubstep, then it’s entirely possible for dance music-friendly bass music to give birth to this brand-new thing: rap at the edge of dance at the edge of riot. In being the first release past the post of where present meets future, it’s an intriguing place to start looking at, in where the release both succeeds and fails, an example of what the future can best become.
Foremost, Noisia’s production on this record feels like dance producers making tracks for rappers. That’s a wonderful thing in the sense of the idea that, as of recently, this has not been a routine occurrence. Big tracks like Flosstradamus’ remix of A-Trak’s “Piss Test,” featuring El-P, the Flatbush Zombies, Jim Jones, and Juicy J, or even less regarded tracks like Azealia Banks‘ remix of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” were more remixes combining parts. Flosstradamus’ massive trap track aided by working with stems and acapellas, and Azealia Banks merely rapping over Baauer’s track as an instrumental. The synergy of having already been in studio with the rapper that you’re producing for is invaluable, and makes the album a more cohesive work. If rap and EDM are to continue to partner in commercial releases, it’s imperative that the familiar habit of emailing verses and tracks back and forth be kept to a minimum. In an era where budgets for anything with the letters “E,” “D” or “M” being involved having skyrocketing budgets, it makes sense that the rappers and the producers should be in the same room as much as possible.
As much as it’s about where we’re headed, I Am Legion’s single “Choosing for You” treads deep in the familiar spaces of dub and grime. Basslines and rhythms snap and pop everywhere, nasal flows fitting into familiar grooves. The album’s success likely owes itself to this familiarity, mixed with hip-hop culture’s ability to dominate the global zeitgeist. Foreign Beggars’ skills at boom-bap bombast have always been their calling card. However, in being able to transcend the moniker of being “dubstep rappers” is key. Yes, “Make Those Move” sounds like every burner bro-dog turn of the century electro-rap collaboration, and is great in that realm. However, that’s the past, and we’re definitely living in the future. Foreign Beggars’ skill at just being skilled lyricists at riding heavy bass beats overall is important here. The performance of the duo is not spectacular per se, but it’s workman-like in a manner again comparable to hearing Killer Mike and El-P on Run the Jewels. In being veteran rappers truly understanding the art of rap, they excel.
Tracks like “Jelly Fish” bring into focus the importance of producers like Timbaland in defining the future, this particular Noisia/Foreign Beggars collaboration literally feeling like Timbaland/Ludacris collaboration “Phat Rabbit.” In rap and dance in 2013 sounding (from a lyrical and production standpoint) less soulful than futuristic rap from the turn of the 21st century, it speaks both to where a) dance has progressed, and b) to where dance may need to head for rap/dance synergy to make a decade-plus long circle complete. As well, reflecting where dance has progressed and is headed, “Stresses (Parts I and II)” sound and feel like what would happen if Tyler, the Creator and Flying Lotus got together, while “Dust Descends” sounds like the kind of hyper dub that we all hope one day that Danny Brown would drop an evocative 16 bars (or more).
Rap and dance are set for a frightening collision course. More than likely, for the circle to be complete, dance and rap probably need to head back to something that feels like the South Bronx than South London. However, I Am Legion, in showcasing veterans combining talents in a workmanlike manner, is a solid listen with high replay value. In discovering the best of what’s hot now, an idea of what will likely be hot next (and be hot for some time to come) is important.