It’s Electric: An EDM Guide For the Hip-Hop Head
Hip-hop is our bread and butter here at The DJBooth. And while I'm always into learning about different sub-genres of music, at the end of the day it's rap that puts Chipotle on my table. With all the rap records that are released on a daily basis, finding the time to discover and understand a whole different genre just isn't realistic. In this case, I am talking about EDM. I'll admit it: when it comes to electronic music I know next to nothing. While I'm familiar with names like Skrillex and Zedd, I don't think I could pick their music out of a line-up and when I sit down to pen a blurb about an electronic song, I never really know how to accurately describe what I am hearing. As a "professional" music blogger I feel it's my duty to know as much as possible about as many types of music as possible.
As much as my fellow hip-hop heads may want to stick their heads in the sand and ignore EDM, it's impossible. Like hip-hop, EDM can no longer be considered a "trend" or passing fad; it's too influential, and has too many passionate fans, to die. EDM is the future and, if the past few years are an indication, I expect the line between hip-hop and EDM will become even more blurry (no Robin Thicke). So, it's time we old, hard-headed hip-hop fans get out of our little boxes and learn a little bit (more) about EDM.
To do so, we reached out to Khal (aka "The Larry David of EDM") of DoAndroidsDance.com, one of the premiere EDM blogs on the interwebz, and asked him a few questions about EDM. Gotta start somewhere right?
1. If I’d never heard an EDM song, what is the first one (or few) I should start with? (aka is there a quintessential EDM track, the “Juicy” of EDM?)
That's hard to say. The term "EDM" refers, literally, to "electronic dance music." It can be seen as an umbrella term, and truly has a large number of genres and sub-genres underneath it. Is there a "Juicy" of EDM? It's hard to say. One person might have a particular tune from the trance scene that wouldn't appeal to a drum & bass connoisseur's vision of dance music. In 2013, Mixmag called Daft Punk's "One More Time" the greatest dance track of all time, and it might make sense. If you fuck with rap, it makes sense, as there's samples and it vibes more with throwback disco tempo, which is part of hip-hop's backbone. The vocal might get annoying, but it could definitely appeal to a hip-hop head. It was also sampled by everyone from Play-N-Skillz and Machine Gun Kelly to Lil B, so there's that.
2. Is there an indie vs. major label dynamic, as in hip-hop, in EDM too?
There is, but as with anything, the Internet has muddied the playing field. There are major EDM labels, like Ultra Music, who have been around for ages and always seem to be putting out more pop/mainstream-oriented releases. Then again, damn near every DJ out there making money on the road has some kind of vanity label, from Tiesto to Skrillex, so it's hard to look at it in the same vein as Atlantic or Universal vs. a Duck Down. On the flipside, a number of UK-based labels do well as independents, some probably much better than hip-hop labels in the States, because the dance music scene is much more appreciated over there.
3. How important is the live show to understanding the EDM frenzy?
I'd say live shows are important. There are some tracks that are produced specifically to be DJ tools. You might hit a SoundCloud link and be on some "what the hell am I even listening to" thing, but when the track gets blended and manipulated by the right DJ in the mix, you see what the producer was going for. Plus, laptop speakers don't do a lot of these tracks justice, as they're geared for bigger rigs. That said, you have some scenes that dwell in the smaller, more intimate clubs, and there are loads of forms of electronic music that exist entirely as "headphone music."
4. Hip-hop is very album/mixtape driven? I feel like DJs don't rely as much on an album as one single release. Is that the case?
You're correct. Loads of EDM acts work on albums, and try to put together those complete thoughts; Daft Punk is very album-oriented, and producers like deadmau5 and Kaskade seem to thrive within that construct. Dance music overall has always been more of a singles-based genre, though, with imprints relying more on two-track 12" singles than 12-15 song albums. Steve Aoki has spoken on how EDM artists only really need a huge single to tour, which is correct. Put out a smash single, then ride the success of that on a one or two month promo tour. I've been seeing lately how more producers have adopted an EP state of mind; I wonder if it's easier to digest and express a particular theme or mood in four or five tracks than a longer release.
5. Who is the Kendrick Lamar of EDM? (i.e. someone who’s widely acknowledged to either be one of the best or the best, both commercially and by people more purely into the music.)
The Kendrick of EDM? Might have to be Zedd. He came into the game under Skrillex's wing, as in Skrillex discovered his music and was like "I need you on my label." He catapulted that success into a contract with Interscope, where he's done everything from put out his own successful singles (you might remember the radio erupting with "Clarity" for most of 2013), producing for Lady Gaga and recently even collaborating with Ariana Grande. With all of that, he's not lost his edge as a producer, and continues to receive the accolades of his peers and fans, who are running with him no matter where he goes. Again, it's hard to say who the "best" is, as hip-hop's competition level differs from EDM's in a way, but he had a huge 2013, and has opened a lot of doors both for himself and for EDM artists on the major label side of things.
Will you find me at the next Skrillex show? Probably not--although I'm not ruling anything out--but at the very least, now when I go to check out a new EDM tune, I'll have a fundamental, very basic understanding of what I am listening to.
And if I'm being real, I'm still not sure drops and whomps are for me, but just because I don't love something doesn't mean that I don't want to understand it. We know what it's like when someone who isn't a hip-hop fan makes a broad generalization or a conclusion about our culture, so at the very least you and I can learn about EDM even if it isn't our scene.
Thanks, Khal! That man definitely deserves your follow.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]