A Hip-Hop Head Listens to EDM: What I Learned Listening to a Stranger’s Music

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Zedd, Photo by Charito Yap (Flickr)

In an ongoing series, we’re pairing UTIOM writers together and having them swap playlists of the songs they love. This week, Brian Iniguez and Katrina Parsons shared their love of music with each other – literally. This is Brian’s account of what Katrina’s playlist taught him.

Coming from a musical taste mostly comprised of hip-hop, jazz, soul, funk, classic rock, metal, and punk (in that order), this playlist of EDM, dance-pop and country songs was from the other side of the universe of my regular listening habits. Normally, the kinds of tracks on this playlist would have to find their way to me rather than me seeking them out. But as I listened to the songs, I learned about the way I interpret music and gained a deeper understanding of the music I’m naturally drawn to.

Here is the full playlist

I think my biggest obstacle to “getting into” the type of music on this playlist is my lack of historical knowledge of the countless subgenres that dance-pop has birthed. When I listen to hip-hop, I know where the artist is getting their influence from, I know when they’re paying homage to other rappers, and sometimes I even know the samples in the beat and how they were manipulated to create new sounds. It’s like an archaeological dig whenever I play a quality track due to the fact I’ve done so much auditory research over the years. I also view albums as holistic statements artists make, and I tend to interpret songs as pieces of a whole (Kendrick Lamar is a master of framing his albums in this way). With dance-pop and country, I lack the historical and holistic contexts to much of the music and for someone who takes in music the way I do, it can be difficult for me to keep engaged.

I tend to interpret music as a political platform. Social consciousness is an aspect present in hip-hop, soul, and punk that draws me in. Whereas I like to focus on the lyrical content of music, dance-pop and to a lesser extent, country, tends to have the composition be the focus of a song. I’m used to consciously breaking down the textual elements of the music I listen to: the references, the samples, the instruments, the socio-political culture that inspire the lyrics, the punchlines, and the overall narrative of the artist and how it has changed from album to album. It’s like following an author’s books throughout their lifetime.

While listening to Katrina’s playlist, I learned to just let the music transport me to a feeling rather than a thought and to appreciate the merits of the music on a song-by-song basis rather than as a mere piece in the holistic concept of an entire album. If Katrina’s mix has taught me anything, it’s that, sometimes, you should get lost in the music rather than analyze it.

That being said, there were some songs here I enjoyed:

  • Demi Lovato“Tell Me You Love Me”
    This is just a great song with a captivating performance from Demi. I love how the pre-chorus comes in with the gospel organ and claps and then just explodes with Demi belting it out — although, “You ain’t nobody ‘til you got somebody” is a bit unhealthy of a sentiment. Miss me with that.
  • Khalid feat. Normani“Love Lies”
    Khalid puts on a country-ish twang in this song, to great effect. I think his brand of R&B lends itself to that inflection nicely and it’s a cool mashup of sounds.
  • Zedd feat. Maren Morris & Grey – “The Middle”
    I’m really digging the Roger Troutman-like vocal effects on Morris’s voice in the pre-chorus here (another hip-hop reference—I can’t help it!). Her vocal runs are infectiously fun without being too poppy and her yearning for the subject of her affection comes off as genuine.
  • Miguel – “Sure Thing”
    While Miguel’s particular brand of steamy make-up sex anthems don’t resonate with me as much as D’Angelo or Drake, his vocal talent is undeniable. I especially love the pitched-down backup vocals on this song which add an element of Atlanta trap over the smoothed-out instrumental and Miguel’s groovy croon.

Stay tuned for Katrina’s thoughts on Brian’s Playlist!

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