After witnessing yet another blitzkrieg of a set in 2013 by legendary rap producer Just Blaze – as a producer/DJ in the world of EDM – it may be time to seriously think about what is the most significant issue facing America in its relationship with EDM: rap music. Of the many 800-pound gorillas lurking in the room as Americans already working in and around global EDM consider America’s full scale invasion of dance music, the one that should be most significantly considered is the effect of rap music upon dance – and exactly what that means for dance music overall. It’s not so much that rap is a bad thing. On a purely subjective level it should always be argued that all music is good music if it can find an audience. However, it’s more that when you put rap in a room with kids slowly growing in appreciation of dance’s true diversity, rap becomes the ONLY thing, possibly to the detriment of everything else.
On Wednesday evening at Philadelphia’s Soundgarden Hall, I witnessed a Halloween party featuring Latin-tinged bass producer Mexicans With Guns, populist and rap-friendly party smasher Willy Joy, with Just Blaze as a headliner. The whole night for me was built around watching the crowd’s responses to “typical dance music” while knowing in the back of my mind that Just Blaze was going to blow their minds by playing a set built around rap music that he had produced almost a decade prior, alongside only the most obvious of hard house dance favorites.
As expected, kids bobbed their heads and got into the heavy vibes of Mexicans With Guns. He’s got this shaman quality as a producer that he expounds upon with a club set, taking you deeper into a jungle of ambient sounds and mind-bending bass. It’s not music ideal for “turning up,” but it definitely puts you in a weird frame of mind. Willy Joy is easily one of my favorite live DJs. He’s someone who a) produces not club music but music meant for clubs and b) also plays the hottest party songs in the world at any given time in such a way that he disarms them from having any other context than driving a dance floor into hysterics. I’ve watched him play at festivals and it just doesn’t feel the same as having him in a nightclub where he’s a mad scientist treating both tracks selected and the people dancing to them as though they were quarks in a small hadron collider. Of course, what Just Blaze did by playing Jay Z’s “PSA,” Freeway’s “What We Do” (we were in Philly, after all), Joe Budden’s “Pump It Up,” and Cam’ron’s “Oh Boy” within the first 15 minutes made everything else pale by comparison, and ultimately raised a few points of intrigue and/or concern.
To use a drug analogy (well, it’s 2013 in EDM, so it feels right in some terrible way), typical dance music is like cocaine in the ’70s. It’s fun, opens up your senses, lowers your inhibitions, and in doses is considered non-addictive. However, rap by comparison is crack cocaine. It’s made by people who are not of the culture, and while, yes, it opens senses and lowers inhibitions, it also causes people upon the first snap of an 808 or hit of a snare to go wild. Of course, when you add in the notion that someone like Just Blaze produced hits for Jay Z and the entire Roc-A-Fella family (Dipset, Freeway, Beanie Sigel, etc.) and Kanye West that were definite game changers insofar as rap’s evolution to becoming the most defining sound of 21st century pop music, the kind of response that Just Blaze received from playing not just his hits, but remixes of “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” as well as a series of rap tunes based around hand claps (which must be seen to be believed) is to be expected. EDM is already a culture wherein the music propels the listener into an optimal euphoric space. However, if you add the music from the mainstream that also taps into a similar (and arguably more connective) place in the psyche of someone that is new to dance music to the party, the potential for that which they are already comfortable to supersede that which has just been introduced is arguably quite high.
While rap and EDM’s 2013 provided a disjointed, yet entertaining synergy, 2014 likely promises to feature a far more well-planned union between the monolithic pop genres. Waka Flocka is promising an EDM album (and has already released “Wild Out” with Borgore), while Flosstradamus will attempt to run the trap for Ultra Records. Furthermore, it’s entirely likely that every mainstream rap release for 2014 for will feature every rapper directly working with a top EDM producer to attempt to create a sustainable stream of income for themselves in dance music. With that being said – and given Just Blaze’s absolute victory in Philly (and well, everywhere else he’s headlined this year), it would stand to reason that rap as American EDM’s contribution to the global scene is certainly going to cause more than a few issues for dance’s global mainstream progression.
Can rap’s seemingly-possible complete dominance in dance’s mainstream be stopped? Are there ways to join rap with other styles to mute it’s effectiveness? Or, is this the 800-pound gorilla that, when loosed, obliterates the genre like Godzilla did to Tokyo? All I know is that Just Blaze played rap records on a fall night in Philadelphia and I believe I saw the future of dance, and its name is rap.