By Mónica Franco
If we had included another phenomenon in our 2010 list of trend topics, it would have been R&B going dance. There have been loads of artists who on their new albums have included a track that left the genuine black sound aside in favour of the classic 4x4 of dance music. David Guetta has become the scapegoat of this affair. He had already helped Kellly Rowland to get out of a fix with “When Love Takes Over”, back in 2009; in 2010 they had another hit with “Commander”. Another polyphonic ringtone anthem of 2010 was “Sexy Chick” by Akon, who sang over a Guetta track originally titled “Sexy Bitch”. The Frenchman also produced a couple of tunes on re-born Kelis’ latest album. And then there’s the work of others who have been using the same method for a few years already, like StarGate from Sweden and their “Only Girl (In The World)” by Rihanna or Usher’s cameo with Pitbull, the Miami artist having some experience as an ambassador of this thing we call the getting closer to the ghetto to the dancefloor. So far, I have just mentioned tracks which we have heard, whether we liked them or not. We heard them when seeing the MTV Spain ads while watching Jersey Shore, we heard them in some store, in a taxi tuned to some commercial radio station or because a group of drunk foreign girls were singing them on the tube on their way to the big discos on the Barcelona port. However, this trend is like a syrup stain: it doesn’t only grow, it also soaks through and it’s sweet. And it can be seen not only on the Billboard top ten. Artists that don’t get the attention of the aforementioned have also “sinned” on their latest records, although in those cases the sins aren’t capital. Ciara wanted to repeat the success of “Love Sex Magic” but she ordered the services of Tricky Stewart and The-Dream; it resulted in the vulgar “Turn It Up” but also in the catchy “Gimmie Dat”, which got props from part of the masses. Another one who signed on at the time is P. Diddy. He first travelled to Ibiza and had such a good time that he wanted to be boss on the dancefloor. In order to get there, he teamed up and became friends with Felix Da Housecat. This happened in 2006 and the result was “Jack U”; when you’re in a good mood it’s a hypnotic tune, when you’re in a bad mood it sounds like a bad Felix Da Housecat track or a good Diddy song. The thing is that Sean Puffy didn’t quite get there, as “Jack U” went unnoticed with the mainstream. Now he’s called Diddy – Dirty Money (the alias includes the two girls that are the ghetto versions of Nina Sky) and their recent “Last Train To Paris” contains some other dancefloor explorations by the polemic rapper. “Ass On The Floor”, with Swizz Beatz reinventing Major Lazer’s “ Pon The Floor”, is one of them; and the title of “Strobe Lights” is pretty self-explanatory. But the real gem is “I Hate That You Love Me” and the man responsible for it is Darkchild, aka Rodney Jerkins, if the only reference to the production I have found is correct. “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica and Jennifer Lopez’s “If You Had My Love” are also his work, so he needs no more cred. At some distance from this whole game between Def Jam, LaFace and the other hip-hop majors is Kid Sister. While the Chicago artist has always been known for her electro vision on urban music, in 2010 we saw her turn to house more than ever. Proof of that can be heard on her latest mixtape: Green Velvet, Afrojack, Carte Blanche and DJ Gant-Man, four different ways of understanding the dancefloor but all of them cut according to the 4x4 pattern. In any case, there is a big difference between the tracks mentioned in the first paragraph and those mentioned in the second: the origin of the producer. While Ciara, Diddy and Kid Sister stepped on the dancefloor by the side of American citizens, the other artists put their trust in the hands of two musical entities: David Guetta and StarGate. Both the Swedes and the Frenchman epitomise a scene that makes the skin of many lovers of urban and R&B crawl, while others more inclined to the dance scene applaud the initiative and celebrate the presence of the diva voices on their stereos during their parties. Finding the causes of this crossover could take months of investigation. In the first place, we would have to ask Rihanna, Akon, Kelis and Rowland what David Guetta has that, for example, Armand Van Helden hasn’t. We would also have to take a look at the address books of the majors that rule the Billboard charts of this world, as in many cases a transcendental “featuring” emerges from sheer coincidence, from eternal “right place, right time”. We could even stage an economic anthropologic study of the stylistic orientation of the public according to race (the stigma that dance is “white” music and R&B is “black” is never far away). But most of all, there is a fact –which is maybe not very clear– that justifies the phenomenon. It’s the fact that rhythm’n’blues, right from its starting point halfway through the 20th century, has always mixed with emerging scenes. And in most cases, those mixes have taken on massively. The first bastard child of rhythm’n’blues, let’s not forget that, was rock’n’roll. New Jack Swing is on the list as well, which came with the push of early hip-hop. Then the nineties came, when the relationship with hip-hop was more plausible and there were even moments when the boundaries between the two currents disappeared. At that time, with the scene saturated and sampling at its peak, the most intelligent thing to do for a producer was to find inspiration in other genres. The further away, the better. Among them, electronica, a style that started to get more adepts every day and was starting to get noticed in other places than the clubs. Later on, the superstar DJs came, and with them, the establishment of dance music as an essential part of the charts of the noughties. More recent examples show us that the crossover will last and that the intricacies of dance being explored by producers from the USA go further than David Guetta’s Ibizan tech-house. There’s Busta Rhymes collaborating with Tiësto and Diplo; Kid Cudi sampling Robert Miles’ “Children” on “Rollin’”, and the whole southern current using trance and its synths as an essential element in their beats. It goes to show that the possibilities, as usually is the case with all things concerning music, are endless. And that the evolution of R&B, as it has been happening since its birth, is inevitable. So let’s allow the to affair develop; let a call, a random encounter or whatever turn another producer into a landmark, ousting David Guetta and making a new step forward in the evolution of R&B. The words spell it out: let the rhythm and the melancholy themselves tell us what the music of the future is going to sound like. The progressive fusion of black pop and European commercial dance music is giving way to one of the most unexpected musical phenomena of the latest years. And it works. Here we shine our light on the affair.
Ass on the Floor