One genre of music that has evolved over the years is urban music, in particular hip-hop, which has found a new place within the mainstream.
In a music industry that includes a wide range of different genres, hip-hop and rap artists have often found it difficult to break from the underground scene and achieve commercial success. With rap music being one of the hardest genres to keep up momentum and have longevity, its success (as far as the audience goes) is much smaller than most genres. Most musicians aspire to gain mainstream success and often follow musical trends that, dominate the charts in order to reach a wider audience. However for many artists, it is vital that they have an underground following prior to breaking through to mainstream success. Two prime examples would be, American rappers J Cole and Kendrick Lamar, who released many mixtapes to much critical acclaim, before releasing full length albums.
As urban artists gravitate towards the mainstream, electronic dance music has played a helping hand. With rappers (in particular), having singles with an electronic, or dance backing, gives the artist just the right amount of exposure and ‘radio friendly’ hits, enjoyed by the masses.
A good example of an artist who adopted a more dance friendly sound is Dizzee Rascal, who has been releasing records for nearly, 10 years now. He got everyone’s attention when he released his debut album ‘Boy In Da Corner’ in August 2003, and even won the converted Mercury Music Prize of that year – becoming the youngest artist and second rapper to do so. Even though Dizzee had gathered a great deal of critical acclaim by 2007, he had only achieved one top 10 single ‘Stand Up Tall’, which reached #10 in 2004. Dizzee’s first three albums had received moderate success. The following year he returned with a new dance floor ready sound, assisted by Calvin Harris on ‘Dance Wiv Me’ which shot straight to the top of the charts and stayed there for a month. Dizzee Rascal would go on to have three more #1 singles from his fourth album ‘Tongue n’ Cheek’ (‘Bonkers’, ‘Holiday’ and ‘Dirtee Disco’), and win a BRIT award in 2010 for best British male.
Many other UK artists have followed suit in order to gain more commercial success and break deeper into the mainstream. Wiley and Tinchy Stryder are two other MC’s who had an underground in grime, before making dance friendly music. Wiley got to #2 in 2008, with the track ‘Wearing My Rolex’, which sampled the dance track ‘What Would We Do’ by DSK, and last year hit #1 with the summer anthem ‘Heatwave’. Tinchy Stryder gained two number ones in 2009 with ‘Number 1’, featuring N-Dubz, and ‘Never Leave You’, featuring Amelle Berrah of the Sugababes. Before these tracks both of these rappers had failed to make a dent in the UK charts, and with a dance sound they were able to expand their fanbase with airplay from stations like Radio 1 and Capital.
US rappers have also taken this route, with Flo Rida and Pitbull both profiting from radio friendly, club ready songs that have clear influences of European EDM. Flo Rida in particular, has had continuous success over the past few years, working with a number of top DJ’s including David Guetta and Avicii, who are very current right now and have a clear dominance over charts across the world.
The merging of hip-hop/rap music and EDM music is one that seems to appeal to a worldwide audience, as EDM is forever increasing in popularity. With this growth of popularity the blurring of the genres may increase and continue to be a strong force within the music industry. It is a strategic route for many artists wanting to break onto the mainstream, as radio stations are more likely to feature an urban artists single, if it is more dance friendly, rather than a heavy rap track with lots of expletives. With all of this in mind, what does the future hold for many urban artists?
Written by Harry Towse