November 4, 2013

Test Spins: Ryan Hemsworth, Guilt Trips

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By now you’ve probably been hearing a lot about trap music.  What is trap, you might ask?  Well, plainly, trap is a blanket term many have given to the dance/hip-hop crossover scene that has emerged in the past year. Trap already existed as a genre of Southern Hip-Hop, made famous in the mid-2000s by artists like T.I., but more recently this instrumental, electronic mutation of the genre has taken the Southern nomenclature and appropriated it for all intents and purposes. Trap can be categorized by the booming, resonating bass of Roland 808 drums, ticking high-hats and loud percussive snares. Throw in some deep “hey” and “huh” sounds and you’ve got yourself a certified trap anthem.

But what started as a formulaic, electronic exploration into the genre of hip-hop has given birth to a plethora of artists that have taken this emerging genre to new heights.  I’m talking about artists like Ryan Hemsworth, who undeniably has raw trap elements in his music, but puts his own spin on it — warping this seemingly simple genre and making his own unique sound out of it. Hemsworth just came out with his second, full-length album last week called Guilt Trips.

Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, this young producer has only been making music for a couple years, but already considers RL grime, Baauer and other trap big shots among his touring buddies and close friends. His stylings on Guilt Trips fuses trap with chill-wave, creating an ambient, lazy, but full-bodied sound to back up his hip-hop rhythms. On tracks like “Weird Life,” Hemsworth employs a rocking hip hop bass with intricate ticks and pulsating synths to embellish the beat.  On “Avec Vous,” he uses an intriguing electric piano/accordion sound to compliment his superb, head-banging beat. Half of the album follows this structure, which is difficult to describe because it is just spot on. Each track contains hip-hop rhythms with carefully chosen accoutrements that somehow continue to be fresh and moving in Hemsworth’s hands.

But it is really the other half of the album that exemplifies why Hemsworth is unique. Some tracks use new rhythmic structures, while others are void of a beat completely. The track “Still Cold” featured Baths and floating organ sounds which serve as the backing for Baths’ haunting, high-pitched vocals. On “Happiness & Dreams Forever” Hemsworth uses dissonant sounds with a sporadic, off-tempo beat to create unsettling music – music that makes you both revel in his creativity and reel away in unfamiliarity. My favorite track is “Against a Wall” featuring Lofty305.  It has a bouncy beat, a nice selection of verses and vocal repetitions from Lofty305, all while piano and underwater-sounding synths flow freely.

Hemsworth is a trap musician, but his music is not stereotypical. He collaborates with fantastic vocalists on this album like Tinashe and Lofty305 and he incorporates a good amount of musicality and melody into music that is often lacking in both. If you’re looking to explore the boundaries of a genre, Ryan is your man. He is pushing the limits of hip-hop with his avant garde trap and seeing what can emerge. At a time when hip-hop is stagnating and even top artists like Kanye West are looking to become more experimental (see: Yeezus), producers like Ryan Hemsworth are good to keep an eye on as they show us what the future of trap and hip-hop could look like.

Zach Reisler is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]