DJ Snake & Lil John: “Turn Down for What” (Columbia)
An enthusiastic peruser of liner notes, I’m a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t register DJ Snake’s name sooner. But then again, since his biggest production credit to date has been Lady Gaga, who judging from the voluminous acknowledgments in her CD booklets invites a lot of chefs into her proverbial kitchen, maybe I should be a little more forgiving of myself. The French knob-twiddler known to his parents as William Grigahcine had his paws in one title on Gaga’s 2011 Born this Way (“Government Hooker”) and three more on last year’s criminally underappreciated Artpop (three of the best: “Applause,” “Sexxx Dreams,” and the irresistible R. Kelly feature “Do What U Want”), all distinguished by heavy EDM beats, whomping bass, and arena rock overtones – as far as I’m concerned, the real Daft Punk. The auteur sums up his gritty aesthetic better than I ever could in this quote from Rolling Stone: “I’m a pretty peaceful guy in private, but I adopt a very aggressive approach when it comes to getting shit done and getting shit done right. It’s only natural that it comes out in my music. I’m a product of my environment, so I partially blame Metallica, Mobb Deep, Lil Jon, and Dolly Parton for my aggressive nature. Especially Dolly. She’s the most turnt up of them all." Had I known who he was last winter, I might have sent out a little prayer to the gods of commerce that the failure of Artpop to move a million units stateside wouldn’t shy people away from flooding his agent with prospective gigs. Sooner or later however, I would have stumbled upon – as I did last week – the titanic “Turn Down for What.”
So unapologetically barbaric in its artless severity it makes “Louie Louie” sound like “Walk Away Renee,” the song purports to weld together the sensibilities of two closely related subgenres: crunk and trap, an ungodly amalgamation that might have resulted in the portmanteau “crap,” but in fact "Turn Down For What" is flat out brilliant, the epitome of stupid genius. Imagine the southern hip hop on a '00s comp like Crunk Hits hammered down to its basic music elements: obnoxiously insinuating synth figure, belligerent drum pattern, and rapper Lil Jon’s swaggering rap confined to the four titular words and the apropos couplet “Fire up that loud/'nother round of shots,” repeated ad infinitum. It may sound like the musical equivalent of Chinese water torture to you, but to me the accumulative novelty effect is absolutely addicting: the quintessential dumb party song, the Macarena with street cred, Chubby Checker for the selfie set, a primeval chant arranged for a state of the art laptop.
The song's greatness is enhanced by the equally raucous video, which lampoons the apparently ubiquitous parental fear that twerking is a socially deviant act corrupting our innocent youth. Whisking up several floors of a building, the camera stops and zooms in on a sweaty guy, pelvis pulsating, an erection of Hickory Farms summer sausage proportions stiffening in his workout pants. Undergoing a conniption fit in 4/4, he crashes through the roof and into an apartment where he "infects" a young girl by dry-humping her head, while she defends herself from his violently gesticulating wang with various things lying around the house. The casting is inspired: the hyper-sexualized couple is played by Indian-American actress Sunita Mani and the clip's co-director, Chinese-American Daniel Kwan, both representing cultures not stereotypically known for X-rated dance moves. By the time we get to the uptight white cop motor-boating an abuela with oscillating basketball-sized tits, we might acknowledge we're in the presence of some seriously genius cultural high jinx -- that is, unless you're not like me, banging on your computer monitor, clamoring for more.
Grigahcine has made enough noise to get noticed by Diplo, who released the equally extraordinary "Bird Machine," Grigahcine's first single, on his Mad Decent imprint, and with whom he shares obvious sonic similarities. His newest single with Dillon Francis, the killer "Get Low," is a worthy sequel to "Turn Down for What." My dearest hope however, is that Grigahcine continues to sell out his rowdy muse whenever possible -- since Skrillex softened them up, why not ring up the surviving members of the Doors? I can hear it now: "Ride the snake, DJ...ride the snake...the west...is the best."