Pillbox

RL Grime produces alluring trap music

If for nothing else, 23-year-old trap producer RL Grime will certainly be remembered for his excellent moniker. To a generation whose bookshelves all contained at least one *Goosebumps*I title, the name sticks no matter what you think of his music. That being said, Grime, who has been building a following ever since his massive remix of the Kanye West posse cut “Mercy” dropped in June of 2012, is certainly a cut above other artists in the genre.

Whereas most producers go for rinse-and-repeat snare builds and lumbering drops, Grime knows how to add little flourishes that make his tracks stand out. After a slurry of singles, including “Infinite Daps,” a collaboration with former touring partner Baauer, and the 2013 High Beams EP released by A-Trak’s label Fool’s Gold, Grime has arrived with his full-length debut, Void.

Out today on WeDidIt records, Void shows Grime expanding his sound to touch a number of different markets. While the traditional American trap sound is there — a style borne out of the Atlanta rap scene of the late 90s and early 2000s — Grime incorporates elements of European house music and pop sensibilities. The questions is: can an artist spread their sound so thin and still retain their individual identity? Void demonstrates that, perhaps, they can’t.

The album begins with the dreamy “Always” before an ominous bass signals the beginning of “Danger,” a collaboration with German house producer Boys Noize. The song begins with hard, banging drums before falling into a bouncing Euro-house beat. This is certainly a large departure from the heavy trap of early Grime tracks like “Flood.” This kind of shift toward more popular forms of dance music is present throughout the album, and is indicative that Grime is trying to cover every base he can. He wants his songs in Parisian clubs, festival stages in Middle America, and everywhere in between.

While Grime changing up his sound isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there are other elements on Void that feel aimed at capturing a wider audience that fall completely flat. Exhibit A? “Kingpin,” a collaboration with Detroit rapper Big Sean, which never should’ve left the theory stage. Big Sean screams a bunch of nonsense in one of the most annoying rapper yells ever to grace a digital file. The beat sounds like it could’ve been made by anyone — nothing special, just bass and drums with a bunch of bells in the background. Sean stumbles through some awkward semblance of flow. It’s a shame because if Grime hadn’t gone for star power and instead found a rapper with a reputation for skill, this track easily could’ve been a highlight. Picking through the “lyrics,” it turns out Sean has a thing for foreign girls who don’t speak English. It must be painful to have all of one’s relationships remain so surface level. Perhaps there’s a deeper pain in Big Sean, buried beneath his obsession with big asses.

Where Void shines is the places where Grime does what he built his name on: trap bangers. Album highlight “Valhalla” kills with out of control snare drums and machine gun bass.

“Core” pulls out all the stops, and takes an unexpected move at the drop. Instead of exploding in a fury, Grime lets the bass slink out, giving the track more of a groove than normally exhibited in the genre. “Scylla” is a moment where it all works; the blending of new, big-room-friendly Grime with the bangers of his past. A nice crescendo into an epic drop, full of all the proper bells and whistles that made Grime a standout in the genre.

The most interesting moment on the album is the experimental “Site Zero/The Vault.” Grime takes listeners on a roughly eight-minute musical journey here, complete with distinct movements that communicate vastly different feelings while flowing into one another. Of the many styles and directions Grime throws around on Void, hopefully this is one that he sticks with. It’s a far better use of his talents than some of the pop-friendly crap.

RL Grime is rapidly ascending to become one of the top artists in the trap genre, mostly due to his ability to cross genres to increase his appeal. I’ve heard underground DJs mix his songs into sets during a 2 p.m. side stage slot, and then hear the 9 p.m. main stage headliner do the same. Now that he’s got a full-length under his belt, as well as a headlining tour that’s currently crisscrossing North America, it’s not crazy to say that Grime will be conquering the world by next summer.

I just wish he’d play “Mercy” again.