Skrillex, Disclosure And Pretty Lights Talk Merging Hip-Hop With Electronic Music
XXL: What originally drew you to hip-hop?
Skrillex: I always loved urban music, for whatever that means, and urban radio, as well as rock and punk rock. I also grew up skateboarding, too, so every skate video you’d find would have punk rock and hip-hop tracks. And it was mostly just the culture, if anything, skateboarding and hanging out with all the skaters at the fuckin’ In-N-Out Burger, playing music from our cars, it was always hip-hop.
Guy Lawrence, Disclosure: I was actually into hip-hop long before dance music; it was probably the first electronic music I came across that was made using machines rather than instruments, so it’s always been something I made just for fun long before Disclosure even existed. It’s fun, I really enjoy it, and hip-hop is such a massive influence on everything we do.
Pretty Lights: I was just a teenager discovering music, and at a certain time I got hit with all the right records. 36 Chambers, a lot of West Coast shit like Pharcyde, you know what I mean. That stuff hit me right away, and I knew I wanted to start getting into that, so I started MCing and listening to all kinds of hip-hop, exploring it from Rakim and that era to super underground hip-hop of that time.
What’s the difference working in hip-hop versus working in the electronic realm?
Skrillex: It’s not really that different other than you’re working with vocalists. I guess A$AP and Kanye in particular, they really know what they want to do. Rocky’s obviously hasn’t been around as long as Kanye, but he’s so particular and so experienced picking good songs and good structures. I’ve been professionally writing songs since I was 16 with my old band, so it’s not just making beats, it’s coming from a song standpoint, first.
GL: Hip-hop seems like something I can make on the road, whereas writing songs like “White Noise,” we kind of need to be in the studio with someone, with the singer, with the artist, and really come up with the theme of the song, the lyrics, the words, the melodies, and it’s just kind of a bit more thought out. Whereas with hip-hop, it’s a bit more relaxed. Also, with hip-hop, you can send beats to people and you can get things back, which we never do with Disclosure. And I get a little pleasure when I send it and I get it back and they’ve smashed it, like with Bishop Nehru, he killed it.
PL: Well really, for me, I was just trying to make original and more cutting-edge hip-hop tracks. What I love about hip-hop, and why I still continue to say that—those are my roots, that’s what I’m making, trying to do—is because I tried to include so many unique timbres and sounds and styles into the beats, and into the music, and that’s what I love about hip-hop, is that it can be anything. It can be any kind of record you find, you can chop it up and make a fresh beat out of it, whether it’s classical or old country, or blues.
Have you noticed more and more rappers reaching out and embracing electronic music?
Skrillex: Yeah, well the funny thing is, as far as the medium in which we produce, it’s the same exact thing. We’re all using samples, we’re all using computers, we’re all using beats. It’s really close to sound system culture in its roots. If you go back to Run-DMC and Queen Latifah and Tribe Called Quest, sound system parking lot parties is what they were doing, they would sample beats and then rap over them for all their friends. It’s the same thing—rappers are fuckin’ studio rats, man, just like us. They’re always in the studio with all their friends, making shit. That’s how we are, too.
GL: Definitely. I don’t think it’s because they want to just jump on something that’s popular, I think it is genuinely because hip-hop and house, if you get it right and leave enough space for someone to do their thing over it, it can really work, musically. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s big at the moment and everyone just wants to jump on it. I hope not.
PL: I have, but I’ve kind of just been wanting to stick with my own projects. When I want to collaborate—when I make a track that calls for collaboration—I can tell, and I know who I want to work with or what kind of style of MC I want to work with. So cats have been reaching out to me more, but I’ve also been reaching out to cats more myself. But I’m trying to reach out to a lot more MCs for whole projects based around that whole kind of thing. Some new school shit.