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EDM, Meet Rap: The Lyrical Flow Of EDM Evolution

I remember the first time I heard a Waka Flocka feature on a Steve Aoki track. It didn’t puzzle me one bit. It also didn’t cause a shudder when I heard Lil Jon’s vocals on Diplo’s “U Don’t Like Me” back in 2009. As much as I loathe the existence of LMFAO, the outfit’s use of Lil Jon’s voice for “Shots” was the only part of the song that I could actually appreciate. 

Rap music moguls and hip-hop icons converging with the American EDM sound was bound to happen. At first, you might think it’s just a way for artists to make money, which is part truth, but the fact is the two umbrella-genres have more in common than you might think: Pop music fans.

I can’t speak for everyone out there with ear buds, boom boxes, laptops, or Beats by Dre headphones, but I know that I grew up listening to music that made me move, personally. I started out with albums like Jock Jams because I played sports and that’s what 13-year-olds listened to in order to get pumped up to miss a lot of lay-ups in middle school basketball games. If you don’t remember the Jock Jams albums, the first one had a song called “Unbelievable” by U.K. act EMF. The song sampled vocals from Hi-Tek 3 and Andrew Dice Clay. It may have been the seed that grew into my tree of EDM love today.

That album also had songs from Naughty by Nature (“Hip Hop Hooray”), Technotronik (“Pump Up the Jam”), K7 (“Come Baby Come”), and Tag Team (“Whoomp! (There it is)"). The confluence of hip hop and dance music had been happening since long before Waka or Lil Jon provided vocal hooks to songs.

But what to think of it now? It’s almost like Lil Jon, an artist whose career was made famous simply by asking a question in a growling voice (not to downplay his production skills, because he is quite talented in that department,) snuck into our beloved genre and became a staple. For Steve Aoki to utilize Waka Flocka’s barking on “Rage the Night Away,” he’s basically giving the night away to someone undeserving of the credit. Waka Flocka wasn’t there when Daft Punk’s Homework came out, and he most certainly wasn’t there when Tiesto was collaborating with Ferry Corsten on a now-defunct trance project known as Gouryella.

EDM and rap music are without a doubt the current pop music. If “Turn Down For What?” can be played on the radio, well, it’s not something you should ever hear in a club that brings Eric Prydz. That’s just a fact. DJ Snake produced "Government Hooker" on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and earned a Grammy nomination for album of the year before tapping Lil Jon’s vocals.

It’s just that rap music and dance music have so much in common. For rap, the vocals provide an outlet of expression complemented by a subtle beat or bass line. For dance music, it’s almost completely the antithesis. It’s heavy dance beats that often build to a simple vocal hook or sample, but the meat lies in the complexity, or oft simplicity, of the melody.

Artists like Zedd, Porter Robinson, Gramatik, Pretty Lights, Flume, and really too many more to name, are changing the game in terms of the genre merge. Gramatik, in my opinion, really set the bar high with Beatz and Pieces, Vol. 2. By all accounts, it’s a hip hop album. Denis Jaravesic, the Slovakian known as Gramatik, has vehemently admitted to creating beats to rap over. It’s just that when producers like him choose to hone their production skills away from the use of vocals, they seem to create these mini-worlds within tracks that need not rely on catchy hooks. The vocal is used as a special instrument, similar to the massive cannons exploding in Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

Perhaps Tchaikovsky is the first known sampler of random noise? I don’t think he would’ve tapped Lil Jon to say “Turn Down for 1812,” though.

Keep your eyes here for the follow-up post that will provide a slightly more technical look at the comparisons between EDM and rap. 

Cover photo credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images North America

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