Experimental hip hop

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Experimental hip hop, also known as abstract hip hop, is a genre of hip hop[1] that employs structural elements typically considered unconventional in traditional hip hop music.[2] Some notable experimental hip hop record labels include Definitive Jux, Anticon, Big Dada and Ninja Tune. While most experimental hip hop incorporates turntablism and is produced electronically,[3] some artists have introduced acoustic elements to the music to facilitate it being performed live.

Experimental hip hop is typically believed to have originated during hip hop's "golden age",[4] usually thought of as occurring from the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, a time that many fans and critics believe that hip hop was at the peak of its diversity, quality, innovation, and influence.[5] As a relatively young musical style, hip hop during this period was about new ideas and experimentation. Fueled by themes of Afrocentricity and political militancy, coupled with experimental music and sampling techniques, it was led to great of number of stylistic innovations.[6]


Experimental hip-hop production is highly eclectic, drawing influences from a vast array musical genres. Along with elements of electronic music and dub, artists drew from other styles including rock, soul, reggae, classical, and jazz. In general, experimental hip-hop production builds and expands on the sounds of early 1990s hip hop artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, as well as others.

J Dilla's Donuts Album Cover

One influential pioneer of experimental hip-hop production is J Dilla or Jay Dee. J Dilla's approach included an innovative use of sampling as well as non-quantized drum rhythms. While sampling is the basis of much traditional hip hop production, J Dilla's approach to sampling was unique and innovative, employing what other producers would consider insignificant elements from his source recordings and using small musical phrases to build major musical themes. J Dilla also rejected the hip hop convention of Quantization—or the mathematical gridding of precise rhythms via electronic means—of rhythms. J Dilla was also a pioneer for eschewing quantization.[7] and instead performed rhythms by hand on the pads of an Akai Music Production Center (MPC). This technique gives his music more of a non-mechanical natural groove or swing, as a human behind a real drum kit might play. Some producers influenced by J Dilla's approach include Flying Lotus, Karriem Riggins, and Hudson Mohawke. While some experimental hip-hop follows the traditional use quantized rhythms, the vast majority of it does not. Other producers often cited as influences on experimental hip hop include DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, Hi-Tek, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, Madlib, and RZA.


Left-field hip hop[edit]

Left-field hip hop is a union of rap and electronica in which the emphasis is placed more on the producer than the rapper or emcee.[8] Though rapping is often included in left-field albums, rhyming is treated as just another rhythmic element in the production, and the spotlight is not on the virtuosity of the rapper rhyming technique, something that is standard in most other hop subgenres. Left-field hip hop typically employs complex computerized equipment as well as incorporating live vocals and samples.[9] Notable left-field albums include Kid Cudi's Man on the Moon.

Psychedelic hip hop[edit]

Psychedelic hip hop is characterized by complex sample-based beats, often obscure material, and witty, abstract lyrics filled with unconventional "far-out" references. Early examples of this style are some of the more sample-heavy late 1980s hip hop releases such as De la Soul's 3 Feet High And Rising (1989) and Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique (1989). Another key figure in the development of this subgenre [10][verification needed] is Kool Keith of The Ultramagnetic MC's, and his many releases under the aliases "Black Elvis", "Dr. Octagon", and "Dr. Dooom".

Notable performers[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ishkur (2005). "Ishkur's guide to Electronic Music". Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Experimental Hip Hop". 
  3. ^ Ishkur (2005). "Ishkur's guide to Electronic Music". Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  4. ^ The Story Of The Beginning and End Of The First Hip Hop Female MC...Luminary Icon Sha-Rockn [1]
  5. ^ Campbell, K.E. (2005). Gettin' our groove on: rhetoric, language, and literacy for the hip hop generation, Wayne State University Press
  6. ^ "Rap & Hiphop Music". 
  7. ^ "The Evolution of J Dilla". 
  8. ^ "Rap » Alternative Rap » Left-Field Hip-Hop". Retrieved November 10, 2014. Straddling that line between rap and electronica, left-field hip-hop is a producer's art rather than an MC's, with the emphasis placed more on the perfect beat than the perfect rhyme. 
  9. ^ Staff (December 16, 2009). "Albums of the Year: Honorable Mention". Pitchfork. 
  10. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir. All Music Guide to Hip-hop: The Definitive Guide to Rap & Hip-hop.