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7 Gateway Artists Into Hip-Hop: Beck, Flying Lotus, and more

by Joey DeGroot   Apr 12, 2014 14:20 PM EDT

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If you ask someone what kind of music they listen to, fifty percent of the time, their answer will be "everything, except country and rap." While I've written about country songs that would appeal to country-haters, hip-hop is much trickier and more misunderstood. If you're thinking of getting into hip-hop, here are seven artists that would be excellent entry points.

1. Flying Lotus

On the ever-growing list of stupid genre names, you can find "wonky," which is the style of music that Flying Lotus (aka Steve Ellison) produces. His music is heavily indebted to hip-hop, with its prominent beats and repetition, but Ellison's music is much more experimental and askew than most hip-hop, and largely instrumental.

2. Portishead

Portishead was one of the most popular bands to come out of '90s trip-hop, which is essentially a form of dark, experimental hip-hop that originated in England. They employ sampling in much of their music, but instead of rapping, all of their songs are sung by vocalist Beth Gibbons with a fragile yet soulful voice.

3. Beck

Though Beck is a famous genre-hopper (he does everything, including country and rap), he first achieved mainstream success with his song "Loser," a part-blues, part-psych, and part-hip-hop track that was conceived as a joke. His approach to hip-hop is just as experimental as his trip-hop peers, but done with a much more playful and irreverent attitude.

4. Unkle

British duo Unkle are cut from the same trip-hop cloth as Portishead, but their more extensive use of sampling and collaboration results in a far more eclectic sound. Some of their tracks feature rapping, such as the "The Knock (Drums of Death), Pt. 2" featuring Mike D of the Beastie Boys, while some feature sung vocals, such as the classic "Rabbit In Your Headlights" featuring Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

5. J Dilla

On his classic instrumental LP Donuts, the late producer J Dilla refined hip-hop music down to its essence by turning it into a whirlwind collage of beats and samples. Because there's no rapping on the album, each track only sticks around as long as it needs to, resulting in a 43-minute album with 31 tracks.

6. Death Grips

Alternately described as hip-hop, punk, or industrial, Sacramento's Death Grips is hip-hop in its most primal and intense form. The lyrics are as much rapped as they are shouted, and the production is the same noisy, avant-garde style that Kanye West used on Yeezus.

WARNING: strong language

7. DJ Shadow

The Guinness Book of World Records cited DJ Shadow's debut album Endtroducing... as the first album created entirely out of sampled material. Whereas some of hip-hop's lazier producers will take the chorus of an existing song and simply put a beat underneath it, DJ Shadow takes dozens of samples and creates an entirely new song out of them. The result is very similar to J Dilla's Donuts, only darker and much bigger.

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