I tend to keep my mouth shut when it comes to electronic dance music, particularly dubstep.  My history with that particular subgenre is somewhat similar to many other people my age:  I heard a song, thought it was one of the coolest and most different sounding things I’ve ever heard, listened to a few other songs that gave me a similar response, listened to more songs until the build-up-then-bass-wobble formula wore thin, and then left the music for people who consider staying out all night and dancing to crazy light-shows a good time.  Not my scene.

One of the first dubstep albums that wobbled onto my radar was Rusko’s 2010 debut full-length O.M.G.! That album was attractive mainly because it felt like a carefully-planned and fleshed out album, rather than a group of sloppily-tossed together singles and remixes.

The follow-up to that album is called Songs, and it was released today through Mad Decent.  I listened to a few songs and quickly came to a not-quite-clear conclusion about the genre:  Rusko is a rare dubstep artist that has both knowledge and skill in dub and other forms of reggae that’s often unrecognizable in the music of his contemporaries (it should be noted that Rusko’s Mad Decent label and especially its founder, Diplo, are some of the best at honoring their roots).

Given my interest in reggae and ignorance to electronic music, it’s no surprise that my favorite track on Rusko’s new album is called “Skanker,” a song that demonstrates Rusko’s vast musical knowledge and abilities to blend styles.  If Lee Scratch Perry knew how to use a modern computer, this is the type of song he’d be making.  The song makes me wonder if any of the amateur dubstep DJs that I know would even be able to explain what skanking even is.

Thankfully, other songs on Songs similarly demonstrate Rusko’s knowledge and love of dub history.  “Love No More” is basically just a reggae song, with its steady guitar on the upbeats and vocal feature from a fairly talented toaster.  The only thing keeping it in dub/dubstep territory are the frequent laser sounds and the heavy electronic drum kit.  “Be Free,” a song with a rasta-sounding name, is similar.  I mean, the song has these lyrics: “I and I must be free / That’s what I see as my destiny / Love is what will set me free / Make us friends from our enemies.”  Reggae.

Of course influences from other ends of the EDM spectrum often creep in— namely on “Opium” and “Thunder,” two songs that feature airy vocal samplings and synth lines that could fit in on the setlist of any house or trance DJ (and probably will sneak their way into a remix at some point).  “Dirty Sexy” sounds like a Top 40 R&B/dubstep hybrid with its auto-tuned, female-led lyrics like “I’m a pimp / Throwin’ money in the air ‘cuz I’m a boss” over dirty, filthy, disgusting (but very much not repulsive) bass stabs.  This is more the direction that popular electronic music is headed— easily-approachable and catchy music for a wide audience of people to party to.  Rusko definitely has his place in that scene, but it’s refreshing to hear his album filled with so much respect for the reggae genre that made the dubstep genre possible (and all those guest rasta vocals are pretty cool, too).


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