Last weekend, when I left to go Coachella, I knew exactly who I was going to see: Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Azealia Banks, A$AP Rocky, DJ Shadow, The Weeknd, and of course Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg (maybe a little glimpse of Tupac). All other artists were second tier; maybe catch Bon Iver and Radiohead because of the great--but limited--music I’ve heard from them. Maybe catch a couple of House and Dubstep DJ’s in between sets so I could check out what they were all about. I mean, at the end of the day I’m a fan of Hip Hop right? I have to prioritize the Hip Hop artists because that’s what I normally would listen to and would enjoy the most, right?...Wrong.
I found myself drawn by others to artists I had never even heard of. I participated in an interdisciplinary language that blurred the line between music genres. It wasn’t about being a Hip Hop fan or being an Indie Rock fan because at the end of the day it was about the music. It was about the love for artistic expression that exists across all genres, especially when you’re talking about artists who are of a caliber that would allow them to play at Coachella. I found myself bouncing around from Kendrick Lamar to Breakbot, enjoying a good portion of Neon Indian while only catching the last three songs of Frank Ocean’s set. I found myself yelling all the lyrics during Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg’s set while recognizing every beat that came out of Justice’s, and although I enjoyed listening to the Weeknd, Bon Iver and Radiohead changed my life.
All this is to say that if Coachella taught me anything, it’s that music is a universal language. It builds communities of people of all creeds, races, religions and cultures, providing a common ground that makes these differences seem insignificant. Scholars like H. Samy Alim and Tricia Rose have noted that there are specific codes that one needs to know to fully access a genre of music, in Alim and Rose’s case they’re talking about Hip Hop. However, I found that access to one genre of music provided access to another. I had this realization when I was watching a set played by a Canadian duo called Zeds Dead. This duo featured a rapper named Omar LinX, who performed for almost half their set. The combination of Dubstep and Hip Hop was seamless, creating a musical experience providing access to fans of both genres. I was also less informed about this rapper Omar LinX than the people who regularly listen to Zeds Dead, making me more of an outsider of this hybrid Hip Hop performance than they were. I experienced the same thing during Flying Lotus’ set, an experimental multi-genre music producer from Winnetka, California. He blended House and Dubstep beats with self-produced Hip Hop beats, leaving me helpless to classify the style of music he was playing.
I believe these examples serve to broaden the definition of what can be classified as Hip Hop, being a genre that once seemed so well defined by society. There are also many similar examples that apply to other genres as well, ie. Calvin Harris and Rihanna, or the fact that the festival was headlined by Swedish House Mafia, Radiohead and Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg. In the presence of all these artists, lines were blurred, barriers were broken and thousands of people from all over the world were united under one key similarity…their love of music.