As trap music makes its way from maligned subgenre to main stage staple, dance and hip-hop are locked in a closer embrace than ever. Few can claim to straddle the stylistic line as well as Yogi, the buzz worthy British production outfit now signed to both Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment and Skrillex’s OWSLA.
“It would be disrespectful to myself if I just went the dance route, and it would be irrelevant if I just went down the hip-hop route,” explains Yogi. “I need to take the past glories of hip-hop and the future sound and find a way to put them together. It only makes sense to try and blend those two worlds.”
“Yogi” refers to both the eponymous artist and his London-based production outfit of long-time collaborators Blake and I/O. When Billboard caught up with the crew, the ink had barely dried on the Aftermath production deal they signed the previous week. After Dr. Dre heard one of Yogi’s beats two years ago, the West Coast music mogul reached out to indicate his interest and commence a long conversation that culminated in the signing. Similar to Hudson Mohawke’s role at Kanye West’s GOOD Music, Yogi will produce tracks for Dre and other artists on Aftermath’s roster.
With a transcontinental trip to Dre’s Los Angeles studio set for later this month, the landmark news still doesn’t feel real for Aftermath’s longtime admirers.
“It’s been a bit of a dream come true,” Yogi admits. “It’s weird talking about it because he's such a legend. It’s hard to believe because we’ve been big fans and we've been listening to everything Dre did since “The Chronic.” We're so excited just to be known by him that we’re not even questioning what we’re working on.”
Yogi first came to prominence after producing British rapper Wretch 32’s “Traktor,” which debuted at No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart and caught the attention of Interscope Records. After signing Yogi to a production deal, an Interscope A&R representative played their beats for Skrillex and his OWSLA team in Los Angeles. The forward-thinking dance label loved what they heard, and the respect appears to be mutual.
”Skrillex is groundbreaking,” says Yogi. “He pushes the boundaries every time, from putting out his album with an app to the way that he performs. That’s what we want to do and pull in different aspects of genres at the same time.”
Yogi’s first OWLSA offerings came in the form of the brooding “Christian Bale” and swaggering club hit “Burial,” which featured guest rapper Pusha-T and boosted Yogi’s profile by garnering more than half-a-million Soundcloud plays.
“We'd been making beats for a long time, and getting Pusha on a track was pinnacle for us,” says Yogi. “We needed someone of that stature to do justice to the beat and bring that kind of standard to the project we're trying to do.”
Yogi’s forthcoming OWSLA EP will feature guest spots by rappers Casey Veggie and Nitro over club-oriented “dirty trap” beats. A collaborative single with Santigold will follow similar stylistic suit.
“It has one foot in the dance world and one foot in the hip-hop world,” says Yogi. “I wanted to put those two genres together and see what people think about it.”
Decades before Baauer and Katy Perry rode booming 808 beats and triplet hi-hats to the top of the Billboard charts, those elements formed the foundation of Southern trap rap. Named for the drug-dealing hotbed from which they were born, those gritty narratives bear only a surface resemblance to the dance club progeny currently being peddled by artists like Diplo, Carnage and Flosstradamus. Yet Yogi sees significant parallels between trap’s present and hip-hop’s past.
“The way producers take the synths of house and put it in trap is the same way they were taking samples of the ‘70s and putting them in hip-hop,” says Yogi. “Those tracks are catered for the club and that’s where hip-hop started from. Hip-hop was the first electronic music. It was played on turntables and people were hating on them and saying they weren’t real musicians. It just feels like the evolution of that.”
Trap music’s present popularity has also empowered hip-hop producers to share their sounds in a dynamic club setting. Coming off a two-week US tour, Yogi describes being “shocked and excited” to experience the size and energy of the crowds packing venues like New York’s Webster Hall.
“I’ve never seen America like that,” says Yogi. “People want this music and the clubs are made for it. When I was DJing in clubs ten years ago, the music was different. It’s not like scratching now, it’s all big drops and hands-in-the-air moments, and it feels like a roller coaster. The house and trap thing are married together. Trap is just an offshoot of hip-hop anyway, and the hip-hop world needs to embrace it a bit more.”
Asked if the Aftermath deal indicated positive progress on this front, Yogi points to trap-inspired radio hits like Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Like it’s Hot” and Lil Wayne’s “A Milli.”
“They've embraced trap, but they don’t know they’ve embraced it,” Yogi says, laughing. “That’s the crazy thing about it.”