I take it upon myself to listen every month to all kinds of rap music, underground & mainstream, American and otherwise, listening with the open ears and mind that a lifetime spent loving this infinite, suggestive music has tutored me in. In 2012 though I started noticing tunes popping up that even I couldn't help but start getting prejudiced about. The word 'crossover' usually tipped me off. The presence of mediocre rappers (Wale, A$ap Rocky) was frequently a dead giveaway.
The words 'featuring' and “Skrillex” and/or “Diplo” actually started having me immediately running for the sick-bucket, spitting up bile. American rap is scared in 2013, scared that its most lucrative audience (white fratboy twatboys) is en masse now bouncing to the pulverising funkless sounds of EDM, wondering how it can claw back some of that keg-party dominance it once had. So in a shamelessly profligate 'if you can't beat 'em, ask if you can do a cameo” move it's started working with the enemy, popping up on tracks by some of EDM's biggest names, rap selling itself as it did in the early '80s — not as a culture or music all to itself but as a technique, a gimmick anyone can exploit or carelessly slap on their music to give those entirely mainstream sounds a shot and sheen of 'urban' cool.
There's precedent here. In the UK, underground talent from Sway to Tinie Tempah have found that latching their verbals onto the most chart-friendly areas of dance music is often an easy bank raid that gets them out of the UK rap ghetto and onto the radio. In almost all cases it's been promotionally productive, dependably lucrative, and musically appalling.
But whereas in 2013 it'd seem UK rap is actually zeroing in on entirely new sounds in search of a way to create a self-sufficient new model of D.I.Y music creation, US rappers are standing on the street-corner with their skirts up, thumbing lifts from anything that can spin by under its own momentum, EDM being this year's juggernaut of choice. Don't get me wrong, hip-hop is strong enough to take on all kinds of music: jazz, funk, soul, disco, rock, avant-garde classical noise and even punk have been chewed up and used in some of the finest hip-hop of the past three decades. What's worked though is when other genres surrender to a hip-hop sense of arrangement and manipulation, when other genres are willing to be thieved from and ravaged by hip-hop's sampladelic mindset. When a rapper is simply airlifted into a track and has to sit around waiting to drop a few desultory rhymes in-between the epic synth wankery, the results are always unfailingly horrible.
Thing is, I can't even IMAGINE an EDM/hip-hop crossover track that would be anything less than stomach-churningly repugnant, even if mobile-phone salesmen like Diplo weren't involved. When the results are as revolting as Travis Porter's Diplo-produced 'Wobble', or Wale's similarly touched-by-the-hand-of-mediocrity 'One Eyed Kitten' it's time to call a moratorium on this shit before any more ugliness gets spewed into the world. If one record sums up everything that's wrong with the EDM/rap collision it's David Guetta, Ludacris & Usher's genuinely horrific 'Rest of My Life'. To Guetta's credit, he does exactly what you'd expect — cocks a leg and lazily pinches off another loaf of tedious anthemic shite, electronic music for people who haven't got a fucking clue about dance music. That Ludacris & Usher were all too willing to drape their phoned-in mediocrity over such a repugnant backdrop speaks ill of hip-hop's ambition and confidence in 2013 — hence the entirely regressive, self-loathing sense of retreating back to a point where rap is merely a technique for other producers to exploit. No good, for hip-hop or music as a whole can result from this: EDM's influence can only keep hip-hop rotating the same party-down lyrical emptiness that's been hampering it for too long now. Money in the pocket no doubt. A hole in the soul opens up wide.
Hey, I'm no musical Nazi, I'm not for a moment suggesting that Waka Flocka's much-mooted new 'EDM/Rap Fusion' album SHOULDN'T be made but mist all chrucking fighty please don't make me listen to it. Save us from this purely commercially-minded eclecticism, the tendency to hide paucity of talent and purpose in the endlessly dull process of collaboration, the dimwitted insistence that Frankenstein-style stitch-ups can ever do anything other than dilute the purity of the sources, bend those influences away from their compellingly insular hardcores that got you into those musics in the first place. Rap doesn't need to look so desperate as its audiences fall, could do with refocussing itself along artistic rather than purely mercenary lines. EDM doesn't need rappers legitimising its stadium-sized stasis and banality. STOP IT NOW, for the children dammit.