From G-Funk to Ratchet: 20 Years In Party Music
Photo courtesy of Diamond Lane MusicProblem
[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
I have a long history of musical fascism. My bar mitzvah was the first time I recognized I had a problem. Rather than sit back and enjoy the traditional delusion that a peach-fuzzed, 13-year-old with a mild overbite was now a man, I emphatically handed the DJ a list of song "recommendations."
The DJ must have rolled his eyes, cursed and issued a hex that sentenced me to a life of writing about music. After all, he was a young house producer named Dave Aude, who subsequently became famous for his remixes, many of which have topped the Billboard Dance/Club Charts. I was an asshole kid with a Jonathan Taylor Thomas middle-part haircut, who believed in the sanctity of "Gin and Juice," despite being officially forbidden to even taste Manischewitz.
But Aude graciously heeded my suggestions to play Dr. Dre, Onyx and Nirvana -- a playlist that inevitably rattled the adults who preferred disco, Brill Building pop and the mortifying-for-all, sacred bar mitzvah rendition of "Y.M.C.A."
No matter how cool you were as a teenager, as an adult you likely will have children who will watch your dance moves at a bar mitzvah, quinceañera or Scientology anniversary party and be intensely horrified. Today's twerk is tomorrow's twist. Each generation instinctively operates at its own BPM, which tends to match its party music. A song that could crowd dance floors in 1993 can clear them today -- save for "It Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None)," which will be timeless until Snoop Dogg permanently gives up smoking weed.
As easy as it is to malign the devolution of American culture, it's easier to appreciate the iPod, Serato and almost infinite hard-drive space. For an avowed musical fascist, it's the sonic equivalent of annexing the Sudetenland. Who needs to drop thousands of dollars on vinyl when you can rock a party with an all-Spotify set?
So for my birthday this year, I rented out a bar, commandeered the sound system and made a six-hour playlist exclusively from the years 1993, 2003 and 2013. The idea was to travel through time without having to wear Cross Colours. I wanted to see how rap party music evolved from Mista Grimm to Migos. I also didn't want to be subjected to a corny bar DJ forcing me to hear nothing but Drake featuring Drake.
In 1993, Black Moon's "Who Got Da Props" seemed as if it was meant to soundtrack a curb-check. Heard today at a party attended by 20- and 30-somethings, you sense an almost quaint nostalgia from the soul-jazz flips and analog recording technique -- especially when juxtaposed with the grim nihilism of Chief Keef.
Whereas MPC machines and dusty records comprised the DNA of '90s rap, most modern compositions are sample-free and extremely loud. They stomp with 808 drums, hi-hats and slower cadences. Whether R&B or rap, most party hits today bear the traces of postregionalism. Though a rapper's hometown once was betrayed by his sound, nowadays anyone might feature the slaps from the Bay Area, the snap and trap bounce of Atlanta, the chopped and screwed technique from Houston, and the primacy of melody above lyricism.
The slang never remains the same. Skeezers are rebranded ratchets. Lexus coupes became new Bugattis. Gin and juice and indo blunts are THC wax, double cups of lean and molly. Rap has remained the preeminent party music for the last two decades partially because of this need for constant flux. New generations crop up almost as often as presidential elections. 2013 might not be a golden age like 1993, but by 1:30 a.m., when the intoxicants have dissolved your inhibitions, there are few things more fun than listening to A$AP Ferg's "Shabba," Problem's "Like Whaaat" and Ty$'s "Paranoid" in succession. Just hope that no one is secretly filming you twerking.
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