Dance Beat Sneaking Back Into Hip-Hop


mojo-photo-snoop.jpgWhat I wanna do right here is go back: way back, back into time, to the early 1990s, and to a short-lived musical genre called “hip house.” Bridging the sonic and cultural gap between the up tempo 4/4 beats of house music clubs in Chicago and Detroit with the energy and lyrical flow of New York hip-hop, the hybrid genre was everywhere for a brief moment. Artists like Fast Eddie and Mr. Lee threw down the party jams, while bands like A Homeboy a Hippie and a Funky Dread and Genaside pushed musical boundaries. And don’t forget Technotronic! It seemed like the future, a musical genre that broke barriers of race and sexuality. So, what happened to it?

In the 90s, both dance music and hip-hop seemed to bounce back towards their own extremes: jungle, drum ‘n’ bass and “electronica” took dance floors to new frontiers of edgy sounds and hyper tempos, while hip-hop slowed down to the glacial speeds and minimal production values of crunk and the macho posturing of gangsta rap. Only in isolated environs like Baltimore and Miami did uptempo hip-hop subcultures survive, unheard by the majority of music fans. But lately, it’s almost as if dance music and hip-hop have both reached creative walls, and have rediscovered the other.

Much of this current cross-pollination can be ascribed to one producer: Timbaland, whose tracks somehow incorporate everything from Bhangra to trance while still remaining undeniably hip-hop. Timbaland’s 2007 hit, “The Way I Are,” uses a straight ahead 4/4 kick drum, and the floodgates for hip-hop with dance beats have since opened. Yin Yang Twins’ new single “Drop” features a booming 4/4 beat, as does Pitbull’s “The Anthem,” which samples a ’90s dance song almost in its entirety. Sean Kingston’s new release, “Take You There,” while technically using a freestyle beat, features stuttery synths and an almost electro feel. Freestyle, the originally Latin-inflected genre, uses only two kick drum beats per measure, on the one and the “two and,” and thus feels slightly less frenetic than the insistent 4/4 dance beat (think “Let the Music Play”). It has usually been more acceptable in hip-hop, but even freestyle beats have never been more prominent: Flo Rida’s “Low” has been the #1 song in the country since the year began, and even the master of laid-back West Coast style, Snoop Dogg, is on board with his new track “Sensual Seduction,” a fizzy little number on which Snoop even sings.

Does any of this mean anything? Is it just the eternal shifting of musical trends, or could it symbolize the softening of the “gangsta” culture, and a return to the optimistic, progressive hip-hop style of the ’80s, when artists looked to dance music like Chic and Kraftwerk for their beats and inspiration? It’s tempting to think so, but in the meantime, one thing’s for certain: hip-hop radio stations sound a lot different than they did even two years ago, and I for one kind of like it.

Yin Yang Twins – “Drop” (from the forthcoming album The Ying to the Yang, 2008)

Snoop Dogg – “Sensual Seduction” (from the forthcoming album Ego Trippin’, 2008)

Mr. Lee – “Get Busy” (1989)

A Homeboy a Hippie & a Funky Dredd – “Start the Panic” (1990)

Photo used under a creative commons license courtesy of Flickr user Audunn

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.