RL Grime’s Void and the Diversification of Trap Music

Two years ago, I stood in line for my first electronic music concert at Chop Suey, a cramped sweathouse of a nightclub in Seattle. I didn’t know much of RL Grime, the headliner of the sold out show, beyond his remix of Kanye West’s “Mercy” that stormed clubs in 2012. With his unpredictable mashups and unreleased originals, RL Grime managed to work the crowd like no other DJ I have ever seen. I left the venue drenched, deafened, and yearning to come back.

At that point, trap music was not much more than 808-heavy rap with the sole purpose of rattling subwoofers and appealing to a new fan base with equal interests in hip-hop and electronic music. This formula has proven successful in the world of mainstream music as well, as tracks like “Turn Down for What” saw heavy radio play, and still remain a frat playlist staple. Although widespread recognition of trap music drove interest in the genre, droves of mediocre producers began to hop on the trap bandwagon. The genre’s pioneers, RL Grime included, were forced to find new ways to maintain originality. As a result, trap music has adapted to survive. Producers like Djemba Djemba and Mr. Carmack stand out with cutting-edge percussion and sample driven leads, while Branchez and Stwo specialize in mellow, melodically intricate music that lends itself to casual listening. RL Grime is one of the few producers who is able to craft tracks that excel on both ends of the spectrum.

In a music scene where albums are generally considered unnecessary for an artist’s career, RL Grime’s debut album Void still represents a large step in his development as an artist, giving him the opportunity to prove his versatility. The second single from the album, “Reminder” is a departure from the high energy beats RL is known for, yet what it lacks in energy is easily replaced with melodic craft and emotion. The track polarizes fans used to RL’s traditional output of club-ready bangers, but it gives the album some much-needed variety. On the other end of the spectrum, RL Grime’s collaboration with Djemba Djemba, titled “Valhalla,” provides enough bass for his diehard trap fans while still pushing the experimental envelope with pitch manipulated vocal cuts and unexpected samples. Even “Core,” the album’s lead single and most recognizable track features a wailing lead that shows sophistication in RL’s sound design skills.

RL Grime’s pieces together his experimental tracks so well, in fact, that a few of the high-energy tracks comprising the other half of the album fall short in comparison. One such track, “Kingpin,” featuring Big Sean, appears to exist only to draw mainstream attention to the album. Such tracks found a welcoming audience live for their sing-along appeal, but are less suitable for casual listening, and don’t represent RL Grime’s potential.

Much has changed in such a short time, but the RL Grime concert experience is just as captivating as it was two years ago. There are no pyrotechnic spectacles, 4K holograms, lasers, or gargantuan screens; the emphasis remains on the music and the crowd. Although he is a mainstay on the summer EDM festival circuit, I continue to prefer RL Grime in a club, where his show stays true to dance music’s underground origins. It’s sweaty, intimate, and a well-needed break from the over-the-top productions that often accompany dance music concerts. Although disjointed in places, Void represents needed artistic development for RL Grime; the wide diversity of styles on the album represents a bright future for his career, and for trap music as a whole.

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