Indie and R&B music come together to make sweet beats
By Matt Kelly
For years, the indie music scene has been an extremely exclusive affair. To be considered an “indie” band, musicians have always had to be careful not to appear to be “selling out” by making music that’s too popular or losing their credibility by “giving in to the man.” So what happens when being “indie” suddenly becomes cool in the eyes of the general public? Do you stay true to your roots, or do you embrace the newfound popularity and take advantage of it?
Recently, there’s been a wave of indie rockers teaming up with chart-topping hip-hop artists to make some killer collaborations. Rappers and hip-hop veterans are now looking outside of the genre for inspiration, and indie rockers are finally lightening up a little bit as they emerge from their hipster caves.
At first glance, hip-hop and indie collaborations don’t seem like a successful partnership. Let’s face it, skinny jeans and thrift store hoodies usually don’t associate with baggy pants and “ice.” However, rap and rock have a long history together dating back to the late ’80s with pairings like The Cult and Rick Rubin, Run DMC and Aerosmith (remixing “Walk This Way”), and Public Enemy and Anthrax.
In an interview with Live4Ever, singer Ian Astbury from The Cult explained, “You have to understand that there was a lot of camaraderie between the Hip Hop and Rock community; we were all underdogs coming up at the same time.” Both genres were formed out of anger and resentment toward societal values and corporate influence, and the best bands from each scene are the ones who can sound passionate and effortless at the same time.
The Beastie Boys embraced hip-hop while still remaining a hipster favorite. Alternative bands like De La Soul and OutKast were making hip-hop records while keeping a sort of indie mentality as they refuse to conform to the exploding hip-hop scene. The first indie hip-hop collaboration to gain mainstream attention was probably when Jay-Z and Linkin Park released “Numb/Encore” and followed it up with Collision Course (2004). Like almost everything else he does, Jay-Z was the first to make the indie/hip-hop collaboration “cool.” Since then, titans of both the rap and indie music industries have been more open to crossing over.
The Roots have been one of the most active in seeking out help from indie rock, including collaborations with Monsters of Folk, harp goddess Joanna Newsom, and My Morning Jacket. Vampire Weekend has also been big on crossing over, sampling M.I.A. on their latest album and becoming a huge favorite of rapper Kid Cudi. Rap icons Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne have also joined in on the act by cutting tracks with Bon Iver and Weezer, respectively.
Yet with all this new foundlove between indie and hip hop, isn’t there some fundamental duplicity going one here? Hasn’t part of being indie been resenting the mainstream sound and the popular music? Hasn’t part of being part of hip-hop culture been to resent the more fortunate and affluent (let’s face it, very few indie rockers come from the slums)?
According to Jay-Z, hip-hop’s new reverence for independent music is essential for the continuing survival of the genre. Last year, he told MTV, “What the indie-rock movement is doing right now is very inspiring. It felt like us in the beginning… and the music that they’re making and the connection they’re making to people is really inspiring.
So, I hope that they have a run where they push hip-hop back a little bit, so it will force hip-hop to fight to make better music…because that’s what rap did to rock. When rock was the dominant force in music, rap came and said, ‘Y’all got to sit down for a second, this is our time.’ And we’ve had a stranglehold on music since then, so I hope indie-rock pushes rap back a bit, because it will force people to make great music for the sake of making great music.”
As Jay-Z puts it, great music is great regardless of what genre it comes from. The hip-hop industry has clearly been suffering from a lack of creativity lately, as evidenced by the constant duets and sampling of other songs instead of coming up with original beats and melodies.
Jay-Z has always been fairly ahead of the curve, which has allowed him to stay on top for so many years, and he’s very aware of where the music industry is heading. This is why he’s right on about indie and hip-hop looking toward each other for new inspiration. Fundamentally, they share many of the same characteristics and it makes more sense for them to band together rather than let old stigmas get in the way of making fresh original songs. Let’s embrace the future.
Matt Kelly is a freshman sports media major who could really use a wish right now, a wish right now, a wish right now. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.