How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dubstep
A$AP Rocky’s new single is “Wild for the Night” featuring Skrillex. People have been clowning this track on general principal since the Internet found out about it via the leaked Long.Live.A$AP tracklist, and the jokes about Rocky enthusiastically yelping, “Me and my nigga Skrillex” on the track have been free-flowing since it dropped (as have the Rampage the Last Boyscout references). There is some skepticism about a rapper working with a man known best for dropping the bass for legions of molly-crazed idiots. Rocky’s cloud-rap bona fides and collabs with producers like Clams Casino and Friendzone give him nuff cool points, seemingly enough to not “need” this kind of crossover appeal. Picture Mos Def working with Eiffel 65 on Black On Both Sides, and that’s basically what we’re dealing with here.
This week Rocky went on Letterman and performed “Wild for the Night” with the help of Clark Kent, A-Trak and AraabMuzik. The video is really great; Rocky looks like rap game Angus Young with his blazer and shorts situation, and the famous backline put in serious work on the decks and samplers. DJs (and the like) frequently get downgraded to window dressing in live performances, but the powers that be let everyone loose, including AraabMuzik who is always a blast to watch. Skrillex was not there and if you didn’t know any better, you’d have no idea he produced the track. There’s no audacious bass drop, just high-impact kicks and snares and some yips in the hook. It’s a good reminder that rap has been cross-pollinating with dubstep on subtler, producer-nerd levels for a few years now. Compare “Wild” to Birdman, Lil Wayne and Nicki’s “Y.U. Mad” and the similarities are clear.
None of this should surprise anyone; hip-hop and dubstep have been growing together for years. If this comes as a shock it’s probably because they think hip-hop is generally “cool” and dubstep is generally not.
Dubstep, in many people’s eyes, is actually worse than “not cool” because what Americans consider “dubstep”—bass drops and robot farts by Skrillex, Rusko and friends—actually unseated the definitively “cooler” dubstep of Kode 9, Burial and New York’s Dub War party. I have friends who had to end their dubstep parties when they were overrun with bros with popped collars and shutter shades. The “trap” movement hasn’t helped, as it feels like the wholesale, uncredited appropriation of Lex Lugar and Southside’s production by a dubstep community that likes rap beats but doesn’t like all that rapping. The liberal use of the Trap-a-holics “Real Trap Shit” and “Damn Son, Where’d You Find This?” drops—potentially by people who don’t know where they came from—steers the entire genre into questionable “ironic rap” territory. And then Pitbull comissioned RL Grime’s “Trap On Acid” (a trap remix of Afrojack’s “Pacha On Acid”) for “I’m Off That” on his new album. Nothing is less “cool” than Pitbull!