When Biggie Smalls rapped “Grab your dick if you love hip-hop,” you best believe a bunch of hands went to a bunch of crotches. And to this day, when Joan Jett belts out “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, she knows damn well she’s not alone in digging the sweet, sweet racket made with guitar, bass, and drums. That’s because rap and rock are well entrenched in popular culture. You can’t imagine life without them. But not all genres have that kind of widespread appeal. One man’s earworm is another’s power drill to the brain, and that’s the idea behind this celebration of divisive musical genres.
Had the Notorious BIG urged fans to clasp their wangs if they dug British rap, he’d have gotten some confused stares. That’s partially because he died in 1997, before blokes like Dizzee Rascal and the Streets put U.K. hip-hop on the map. But even if those inroads had been made, Biggie’s fans probably wouldn’t have been along for the ride. Dizzee’s 2003 debut, Boy in Da Corner, is actually pretty great, and the Streets’ Original Pirate Material is even better, but yanks used to hearing rhymes spit in American English will always struggle with foreign accents. Even Brits from the projects can sound posh to stateside ears, and the abundance of confusing sub-sub-genres — grime, bassline, 2-step, garage, etc. — make this an even tougher sell.
Here’s an example of where the Brits got it right. In the States, thanks to guys like Skrillex, dubstep is a dirty word. Folks with only passing knowledge of electronic music may use the term interchangeably with that ultra-reductive acronym EDM, but genuine dubstep has nothing to do with the bruising “brostep” most Americans know. Born in South London in the late ‘90s, the real-deal stuff amalgamates the U.K. subgenres of grime, 2-step, garage, and drum and bass, and mixes them with dub and reggae. As created by artists like Burial and Skream, U.K. dubstep is moody and minimalistic. James Blake makes music that’s barely even there. It’s possible to ignore and easy to like, and neither of those things can be said for the type of shrieking, grinding dubstep favored by DJs like Datsik (who’s Canadian, but close enough). Worst of all: nu-metal mainstays Korn, whose 2011 dubstep album affirmed their unique ability to champion the most hated sounds of any given decade.
As a rule, genres linked to specific types of facial hair tend to garner strong reactions. Boy-band pop has elaborately trimmed chinstraps, crunchy jam rock has scraggly beards, and gypsy punk has Eugene Hütz’s twisty mustache. The music is similarly twisty, or perhaps twisted, as groups like Hütz’s genre-defining Gogol Bordello essentially play Eastern European folk music at punk velocity. To fans — and there are many around the globe — Gogol works in the same way the Pogues do, combining Old World tradition with new-school aggression. Haters can’t get past the violins and accordions, and instead, they hear a sort of sped-up polka — circus music without the happy distractions of clowns and elephants.