Whatever happened to.. dance music's forgotten sounds - Part one, Hip Hop
Dance music is always moving forward and no scene truly dies as there will always be fans eager to hang on to the embers of a sound long gone. There is also the occasional return to a sound and a brief phoenix moment where a genre returns from the flames to some level of media interest. Whilst there are other scenes that refuse to curl up and die such as disco as it gets close to a half century milestone. The aforementioned disco scene deserves to be around for a long time as much of the music represents what is good about classic dance music, its energy, vibrancy and infectiousness means it will be long before it is confined to the trash bin of popular culture.
So what about the scenes that did not burn so bright and have not returned to high acclaim, where did they go? There is the caveat from earlier on that this is to some extent subjective as there will be releases still appearing that 1) sound like the original genre 2) be categorised under the genre 3) created as a retro release or re-release from the genre 4) be a remix from the original genre's material. So for part one of this retrospective look at lost relics we start with hip hop, next month we will pay a visit to the forgotten archives of house music.
The most recent of hip hop's offspring not to peak much beyond a handful of years. Crunk is still with us, but has been overshadowed by other forms of black American music post 2000. It appeared about a quarter of a century ago and gained popular attention within the decade, but as soon as it was reaching its zenith it was already starting a steady decline. Along with fellow Southern styles of Gansta Rap, Trap and Miami Bass it is very drum machine heavy, posturing and aggressive but also includes repetitive lyrics. Always an indicator of a hip hop offshoot is that a lot of the music was released on CD as it was less connected to the original format of MCs with a DJ. Artists such as Lil Jon and Outkast popularised the sound which would go on to spawn other sub-genres. Crunk hasn't gone, but like hip house has proven to be the bedrock of something else, this time being Trap. Then Again one person's Crunk is another's person's Trap.
The coming together of hip hop and house was always going to result in very mixed results. There were the classics of Jungle Brothers' 'I'll House You' and Doug Lazy's 'Let it Roll' but for every one of these gems there were dozens of equally horrendous excursions. Whilst hip house was often hard to define, tracks like Sugar Bear's 'Don't Scandalize Mine' were often badged under hip house, but in reality are just hip hop with a party vibe. The coming together of New York's rappers and Chicago's house producers either resulted in a funky four on the flour excursion or a harder chicago edged track by the likes of Fast Eddie and Mr Lee. Hip house was never a scene of sorts, more a sub genre of the two greater cultural movements. Only a few artists truly nailed their banners to the mast of hip house, as most conducted brief affairs with the sound. As it progressed it influenced pop culture and now rap is a common feature on dance tracks, but the term 'hip house' is hardly bandied about to describe it. Most of the original releases have dated somewhat but some have mostly stood the test of time, see JVC Force 'It's a Force Thing' as a underated example of that. The problem for hip house was that the rappers either had to use existing Chicago House tracks or create their own sub standard ones. For the Chicago producers of hip house they knew how to make great backing tracks but their rap was often sub standard compared to their East Coast counterparts. Rap and dance music have stayed firm friends ever since, but hip house in its original format has long gone.
As you can imagine this originated in Miami and was one of hip hop's more crass excursions. Originating in South Florida in the early 1980s it was a localised scene desperate to gain its own identity at a time when New York still monopolised the hip hop scene. Whilst hip hop was slowly moving from 808 drums to more sampled sounds, the main protagonists 2 Live Crew, Maggatron and MC Ade ensured they created their own legacy in hip hop history. The sounds were raw and bass driven and lead to considerable commercial success for 2 Live Crew and some level of notoriety for not all the right reasons. Miami Bass is hard to define beyond a handful of artists as much of the sound melted into what else was happened in club and hip hop culture. It had an influence but not always for the most savoury of reasons as hip hop slowly became more sexualised via its sounds and images thanks to artists like 2 Live Crew. They were very naughty boys.
New Jack Swing
The late 1980s saw an incredible increase in the types of genres coming out of the United States and Europe. It was a time for cross pollination as hip hop and house with a soulful edge engulfed other styles to create something that was vibrant and in this case classy and polished. New Jack Swing was an amalgamation of different sounds and scenes lead by Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle that achieved a good level of popularity in the charts. It was the coming together of hip hop, dance music and R&B with a popular twist. It was vocal by design and operated up the lighter end of the music spectrum. For many hip hop and house heads it was too lightweight and commercial. According to Wikipedia's description; "The sound of new jack swing comes from the hip hop 'swing' beats created by drum machine and hardware samplers, which were popular during the Golden Age of Hip Hop, with contemporary R&B style singing." New Jack Swing brought together classic soulfulness and style with modern production and sampling techniques. Like hip house this was a stepping stone to other bigger things as soul and rap came closer together throughout the 1990s and return to a more rougher and urban sound from the polished, smartly dressed New Jack Swing sound. Artists like Bobby Brown, Guy, Keith Sweat and Teddy Riley all had incredible commercial success whilst New Jack Swing ruled both the clubs and the charts.Discover forgotten digital dance music with Trackhunter
Got some thoughts on this post? Share them in the comments below