Does EDM’s rise mark the beginning of the end for hip-hop? The debate is alive and well at Surrender, where an innovative monthly party called Battle Track pits hip-hop against house. Two DJs alternate 30-minute sets reppin’ their chosen musical genre in opposite booths—house inside, hip-hop outside—with a dancefloor in between.
Cocktail waitresses, bussers and go-go dancers dress the part. House go-gos are in EDC-ready neon tutus, bikinis and heels; hip-hop dancers are in denim jackets, booty shorts, high socks and classic Nikes. At midnight, Mighty Mi gets the battle started. He drops the iconic Dead Prez chorus, “Hip … hop … hip … hop,” and the dancefloor crowd migrates en masse toward the outdoor DJ booth. Glow batons are passed out, creating instant energy. The visual production includes two big screens that boast custom, 3D, Tron-like visuals pulsating to the beat.
“We were doing all EDM every night. I noticed when we did a little break for hip-hop and went from genre to genre, the first song always got people really excited,” says former Blush resident Mighty Mi, who helped develop the Battle Track concept (next party November 24). “People don’t want to dance to 130 beats per minute all night. … Hip-hop is necessary. People recognize it; they connect with lyrics and vocals they know.”
His set mixes old-school with new. The Dead Prez intro blends into Kanye’s “Mercy,” and the crowd is bouncing. He plays Travis Porter, Dr. Dre, Snoop and Drake. When Weezy raps, “Oh my God, Becky/Look at her butt,” Mighty Mi blends it into the vocals from Sir Mix-A-Lot’s original.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah! That’s how we do it in hip-hop!” shouts Jonathan Shecter to close out the set. The Wynn programming director co-founded The Source magazine as a Harvard undergrad, so he knows a thing or two about the genre. “This is the best of house versus the best of hip-hop!” Shecky bellows.
Now it’s DJ M!keAttack’s turn. He starts with “We Will Rock You” before dropping a set that ranges from Knife Party to Avicii and includes Otto Knows, Calvin Harris, Benny Benassi, Swedish House Mafia and Justice.
The dancefloor is vibrating with every house tune, and the screens have transformed into a fiery mélange of yellows and reds. There’s a sultry feminine outline crawling to the beat—her silhouette resembles a swirling golden zebra.
Mighty Mi and M!keAttack go back and forth twice more: 2Pac, Jay-Z, Lil Jon, OutKast and NWA battling Nero, Kaskade, Sidney Samson and Wolfgang Gartner.
So who won?
The crowd dances more to house and sings more to hip-hop, so it’s hard to declare a winner. House music is about losing yourself in an emotionally overloaded euphoric reverie. Hip-hop is about going hard. Besides, the winner isn’t important here. As long as everybody’s dancing, everybody wins.