July 20, 2019

Crunk was the black dance-punk: Post-9/11 end of the world party music, with no revival today

A recent post looked at the lack of a dance-punk revival during the current vulnerable phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. That genre was one of the distinguishing features of the early 2000s vulnerable phase, and yet there's hardly anything like it today, unlike all the other similarities between pop music styles from both periods.

That made me think of another distinctive genre of the early 2000s that felt too fun and danceable to belong to such a mellow phase -- and yet still channeled the dark tone and aggro attitude of the emo phase that it came from.

This genre, too, has not been revived during the late 2010s, when the similar zeitgeist should allow it to be reborn. The only major difference from dance-punk is that it was from the black rather than the white side of the production world.

Crunk music exploded from out of nowhere in 2003 and '04, far too early to be explained by the decadent and dance-crazy atmosphere of the late 2000s, which was a classic warm-up phase of the cycle, akin to the disco late '70s and the neo-disco early '90s. The early 2000s should have been too oppressively emo and low-energy to produce such bounce-heavy party-people music.

Like dance-punk, crunk appealed to girls, as well as guys, despite the dark aggro tone that turns most girls off in other cases. The aggressive tone is less of a whiny cry for help, and more like a team of drill sergeants chanting orders that the girl's inner submissive hoe wants to obey, after locating the nearest random hot guy. Listening to these songs, I still feel two or more cuties surrounding me to get their grind on. Such a wilder time.

Also like dance-punk, crunk did not suffer from the spastic rhythms and grinding-to-a-halt bridges that characterize dance music from a vulnerable phase. And it was not over-produced and multi-layered, unlike the dream pop style characteristic of a vulnerable phase. The beat was driving and easy to follow, and the instrumentation stripped down to garage-band levels, with a few simple riffs to keep you engaged the whole way through. The shouted chorus did not come off as emo screaming that might put individuals into a downward spiral, but more like chants at a pep rally to keep the group's energy levels high.

I attribute an anomaly like crunk to the same cause of the anomalous dance-punk -- the response to 9/11, which put people in a more apocalyptic mood, discounting the future and emphasizing living in the now. If we have no idea when the next major spectacle of terrorism is going to strike, we might as well party it up and enjoy each other's company while we still can, though preferring a dark brooding tone to remind us of how ominous the climate has suddenly become.

In the old post on the cultural headiness after 9/11, I wrote mostly about dance-punk, but also mentioned that crunk has always been a guilty pleasure. I was dancing in rock-oriented clubs in 2004 and '05, and didn't hear much crunk when it originally came out. But when I started branching out into hip-hop clubs during the late 2000s, it was still popular enough to come on every weekend, even if it was 5 years old by then (an eternity in club years). It also had major crossover appeal, and broke into the playlists of rock and electronic dance clubs.

The fashion of both scenes overlapped as well, with girls wearing a white t-shirt or tank-top and American Apparel athletic shorts or dark skinny jeans with a contrasting white belt -- simple, bright, skin-baring, and easy to dance in. Guys had a more put-together look as well -- no baggy pants or basketball shorts or sweatpants, but slim / skinny jeans, a belt, and perhaps some eye-catching shoes (light-colored, to contrast with dark jeans).

Unlike the dance-punk post, I don't have a handful of exceptional examples of crunk to point to during the current phase, since I don't listen to rap stations. If you know of a lone counterexample that might be out there -- something that sounds like a buried Ying Yang Twins track from 2004 -- let us know in the comments.

Otherwise, we'll end with some of the original dark, brooding hoe anthems of the post-9/11 climate.

"Get Low" by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz (2003):



"Salt Shaker" by Ying Yang Twins (2003):



"Shake That Monkey" by Too Short (2003):



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