Do you like maple syrup on your bacon? How about salt on your mango? Or pepper on your strawberries? If you’ve never tried any of these things, you’re probably making a ‘yuck’ face right now. But you’d be wrong – these flavours might seem worlds apart, but they complement each other perfectly. I don’t know who first came up with these combinations but whoever did was some sort of culinary genius. And being a genius DJ is essentially the same thing – making musical connections that no one else would make.
The walls between rock and dance have been breaking down for years, but for some reason the same thing isn’t true for dance and hip hop (Jay Haze’s street soldier posturing excepted). But it’s a missed opportunity, because the two genres have been steadily getting more and more similar. Electrohouse is of course founded on electro, which back in the eighties was hip hop by another name. Electro built its rhythms with the 808 drum machine, while Dirty South hip hop is still all about the 808 and it’s been getting faster and more electronic sounding for years. In 2007, both genres are over their respective ‘artistic’ peaks and are now utterly populist club fodder.
And populism is great! The essence of dancing in a club is that everyone their loves what’s being played and feeds off of each other’s enjoyment to create a sticky explosion of pleasure. But it’s also hard. How many truly great DJs are there that can play all ‘the hits’ in a way that works and doesn’t feel clunky? Very few, because most DJs feel this is somehow ‘beneath them’.
So the thing that makes this such a fucking amazing mix CD is that A-Trak has found a way to put all the most ‘obvious’ tracks on a mix (‘E Talking’, ‘Hustler’) but make it all sound new and fresh by putting southern rap vocals over the top, and by producing his own custom remixes of old favourites. It’s infectious. Even if you hate poppy electrohouse normally, you can’t help but smile at how friendly and fun-loving it all is.
I remember when scratch DJs were all this goofy and enjoyable. Something weird happened in recent years when Cash Money, Jazzy Jeff, Craze et al all figured out they could make big money by essentially phoning in the same identikit mixes of the big hip hop club hits du jour. A-Trak is a different beast though – he harks back more to the stoned shenanigans of QBert and Kid Koala. Not that he doesn’t have his own chops – he’s won a DMC championship and he’s Kanye West’s tour DJ, and although this mix isn’t about scratching, he gives a little taste of just what he can do at the end.
‘Dirty South Dance’ does, of course, owe more than a little debt to the fusion of Italo and hip hop on some of Diplo’s older tapes, before he got so infatuated with MIA and Carioca funk. A-Trak’s skills, however, are far superior – this isn’t just an incongruous mash-up of different styles, it’s got that same magic as Spinbad’s ‘Rock the Kasbah’ (a scratch mix of eighties pop classics often heralded as the best hip hop mixtape ever) in that it spots unexpected connections between tracks and makes them flow musically in a completely surprising but utterly perfect manner.
I’m not going to call out tracks because you’ll know them (well okay, just one: ‘Get on My Pony’ blows the, er, roof off the sucka – guess which songs it combines…). Just know that this mix CD is perfect. Perfect in that it absolutely captures a moment in time from not one but two genres. If you want something to put on to start the house party, or to rev up your energy when you’re getting ready to go out, you won’t find better this year. And if it makes a few dance fans go out and find out a bit more about hip hop, so much the better.