Today’s musicians are so imbued with decades of influences that the art they produce is often hard to classify, and become harder by the day. R&B and rap have always held hands throughout the ’80s and ’90s, but in the increasingly technological age, a more industrial, techno sound has started to creep into hip-hop. We decided to investigate the middle ground between the two genres and look at some DJs and producers who are carving their own unique sounds by taking bits and pieces from some genres to make a new kind of music that doesn’t really fit into any one category.
1. Ryan Hemsworth
Da gawd. If you haven’t heard of Hemsworth by now, it’s time to meet him (Check Hemsworth in “9 DJs That Deserve More Shine.” He loves aggressive rappers but his music is like experiencing mist at the top of a mountain when you’re tripping on LSD. In other words, it’s full of breezy vibes and joy. He’s laid down melodic rhapsodies for countless rappers including Main Attrakionz, Aaron Cohen, 100s, and Antwon, but his inspirations ping-pong from Japanese producers to dance DJs. He straddles the line between R&B, rap, and electronic music so effortlessly that it’s not hard to see how he’s the future of more than one genre.
Arca’s sound is just about as oddball as they get, and the result is music that is as puzzling as it is fascinating. You might have heard some of Arca’s work: he helped produce five songs on this little album called Yeezus, and he produced a stunning track, “How’s That,” for UK electro-pop phenom Twigs. The Venezuelan producer studied music at NYU, where he honed his affinity for playfully subversive music. His releases for the burgeoning electronic label Uno NYC garnered the interest of one Kanye West, and Arca’s latest quirky mix, “&&&&&,” where his booming influence on Yeezus becomes clear, is 25 minutes of mind-bending sound effects and shape-shifting thump.
3. Tommy Kruise
Montreal’s white-hot electronic scene has been churning out incredible DJs and producers at breakneck speed, and Tommy Kruise is at the forefront of that surge. NYC got to see him open for Migos at Westway a couple weeks ago, but one need only peep the man’s Soundcloud page to sample his sound, which is equal parts Three 6 Mafia, trap (more Atlanta then EDM), bass, and DJ Screw. Pitch-shifted vocals and eerie, luminescent synths give his music an electronic-tinged sound while still being firmly planted in the tradition of Memphis rap. A$AP Yams knows what’s good. Expect to see a lot more of Tommy Kruise in the near future (and pray that he starts working with more rappers).
Here’s a challenge: check out Kaytranada’s Soundcloud and try not to get lost on it all day. His consistency is unparalleled: everything he touches is fire. An unmistakable talent behind the boards, he’s arguably the most popular producer bursting out of Montreal’s Booty Bakery party collective, where the city’s most talented DJs and producers have been throwing the illest parties north of the border. He’s got remixes for artists stretching from Janet Jackson and Teedra Moses to American Royalty and Nelly Furtado, he produces slappers for his brother as part of a rap duo called The Celestins, and his eclectic project Kaytra Todo features a track with the soulful whisperer JMSN. With roots in funk, disco, garage, and hip-hop, Kaytranada is becoming one of the biggest names on the electronic scene.
A descendant of the Dilla school (he’s got two sprawling instrumental projects named after the groove-heavy deity), Australian producer and Red Bull Music Academy alumnus Ta-ku is becoming a fan favorite by making beats that merge hip-hop craftsmanship with dancefloor flare. Co-signed by Diplo, A-Trak, Flosstradamus, and Baauer, Ta-ku has been recently buzzing with remixes of Justin Timberlake, Flume, and Ginger & The Ghost, and he’s been hailed for both brilliantly manipulating samples and freaking refreshingly original rhythms. Anyone looking for an introduction to the bridge between electronic music and hip-hop should start with this guy.
6. Darq E Freaker
Best known in the rap world for his insane song “Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)” with the incomparable Danny Brown, Darq E Freaker is a UK-based Grime producer who mixes body-numbing bass with a touch of UK Garage for explosive party music. His track with Brown became a club staple overseas and led to work with rapper Gita on her “Mardi Gras” track, where Darq again flexes his hyper-knock beat chops. He even picked up the mic and started rhyming in his own new wave rap group, Nu Brand Flexxx. NYC fans can catch him at MoMA PS1’s Warm Up concert on August 17th.
Marcel Everett, or as his diehard fans know him, XXYYXX, makes pure rapture. I first heard of him when J. Scott, A$AP Mob’s DJ, tweeted a 2 Chainz remix over XXYYXX’s hit song “About You”. It was easily one of my favorite tracks of the year, and it led to the discovery of the 16-year-old’s self-titled album, which nestles Amy Winehouse, TLC, and R. Kelly samples within pulsating electronic grooves. He strikes the right balance between hip-hop techniques and electronic aesthetics, almost like an updated version of ’90s R&B, only without the vocals. Perfect for rainy days and blunt smoke.
A member of the WeDidIt collective alongside Fool’s Gold signee RL Grime, (and another DJ off our list of acts who need more shine) Shlohmo is one of the most compelling artists in any genre right now. His standout remixes include Jeremih’s “F*ck U All The Time”, Soulja Boy’s “Pretty Boy Swag”, and Kelis’ “Milkshake”, all of which take the originals in new directions with swinging jungle drums and slo-mo, gloomy filters. His music is a middle-of-the-forest high in itself, and his five-song release for Friends of Friends, Laid Out, is some of the year’s best electronic music. “Put Out” sounds fine-tailored for a rapper with it’s flaring synths and trickling hi-hats. Any doubter need only peep any of his recent Boiler Room sets.
Building acclaim with remixes for, Skrillex, Crookers, and Justice among others, Bromance Records co-founder Brodinski is another electronic producer/DJ who did work on Yeezus (“Black Skinhead” and “Send It Up”) alongside Gessaffelstein, Arca, and Evian Christ. He just dropped an infatuating mix of diverse sounds called “Purple Ride”, which showcases his varied musical taste from the start – seamlessly seguing from a DJ Screw version of an R. Kelly song to hardcore dance records.
Suicideyear is James Prudhomme, based out of Baton Rouge but producing for artists as far across the world as Sweden. He teamed up with Kaytranada for a two song EP on the budding French label Bromance Records, and he’s produced for a slew of recent “underground” rap acts like Yung Lean, Main Attrakionz, Pepperboy, Ethel Wulf, and Little Pain (SMH if you don’t know Little Pain). Suicideyear’s gift is in separating his sound from other traditional rap producers by anchoring astral effervescence with a floor of bass and trap. His music is what you might find if you shined a flimsy flashlight into caves on an abandoned planet: creepy, moody shadows of life. He’s an essential part of the movement toward the delightfully intoxicating melding of electronic music and hip-hop.