While there’s no shortage of adjectives to choose from, the second decade of the 21st century was arguably best defined by change. Fresh-faced solo artists like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Adele blazed a post-haste path to pop stardom, while aging Mouseketeers Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera were swiftly swapped for a new crop of teen pop led by Nickelodeon newcomers Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Canadian YouTube sensation Justin Beiber. In an even more stunning turn of events, hip hop eclipsed rock as the most popular musical genre for the first time in U.S. history, launching the careers of industry legends like Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Travis Scott, and Degrassi diplomate Drake — among many, many others.
At the same time, rapid advancements in tech and social media permanently transformed the musical landscape. Accessible software democratized music production, leading to increased exposure for lo-fi, bedroom, garage, and independent artists. On the electronic front, subgenres like grime, footwork, trap, and hardstyle rose to global prominence, while Latin pop introduced the world to tropical and reggaeton (“Despacito” anyone?) and online audio distribution platforms like SoundCloud led to the now ubiquitous mumble rap microgenre — along with a host of niche, newfangled subgenres like chillwave, witch house, vaporwave, and cloud rap.
Here’s our rundown of six defining sonic signatures from the 2010s. Keep reading for an expert analysis of each, followed by simple recipes to help you achieve similar sounds at home.
Kaytranada’s bouncing beats
Haitian-Canadian record producer and DJ Louis Kevin Celestin (aka Kaytranada) has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame. Just five years after cutting his teeth on mixtapes and remixes, the gifted young artist signed an exclusive deal with British Independent label, XL Recordings, and was rumored to be working with Rick Rubin. “You’re The One” is the sixth single off his critically-acclaimed debut studio album, 99.9%. With guest contributions from Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, Craig David, and Odd Future alum and The Internet Founder, Syd, “You’re The One” is a genre-defying mosaic of funk, soul, R&B, and dance, whose retro-futurist vibe artfully straddles the line between vintage and modern.
Packed with warm, shimmering synths and luscious low-end bounce, this upbeat track rests heavily on the organic, Dilla-esque drums that are unquantized and very loosely programmed to a house tempo. To cop a similar bounce for your own bassline, cue up MONARK’s Define preset and drum up some vintage magic with one-shots from our Conant Gardens Expansion.
Cardi B’s atmospheric arpeggios
Cardi B is one of this decade’s most ambitious multi-hyphenates. The charismatic Instagram celebrity/rapper/songwriter’s debut single — a brash, brag-heavy flip of Kodak Black’s “No Flockin” — garnered two Grammy nominations, Single of the Year at the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards, Best Song of 2017 at Pitchfork and The Washington Post, and made her the First female rapper in history to have a song certified Diamond by the RIAA.
This hyper-assertive anthem is packed with top-notch taunts and slang-heavy bombast slung over a sinister, doom-and-gloom beat packed with brash and noisy braggadocio. To approximate the eerie synth tone that permeates the entire track, cue up our DJ Khalil Expansion (Combo: Am Otherun 1) with two instances of Transient Master in a row, both cutting about 80% of the sustain for added punch, then a bit of RAUM reverb to taste.
Mark Ronson brings the funk
DJ, songwriter, producer, and record executive Mark Ronson was already famous for producing Amy Winehouse’s biggest hits when he created “Uptown Funk”with Bruno Mars — but with great success comes great pressure, and stress levels were reportedly so high that Ronson passed out during a particularly nerve-wracking guitar session. Thankfully, all that hard work paid off: The energetic, nostalgia-packed track topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks and has been certified a mindblowing 11 times platinum by the RIAA.
Channeling the spirit of 1980s funk, this joyously energetic track is packed with hefty helpings of soul, boogie, disco, EDM, and pop. You can conjure up a similarly killer kaleidoscope of vintage feel-good vibes with a little crate-digging in our Amplified Funk Expansion.
Dubstep gone downbeat
Despite drawing from the contemporary UK dubstep scene, English electronic duo Dominic Maker and Kai Campos (aka Mount Kimbie) seemed simultaneously hell-bent on pushing it beyond its accepted form. Their exploratory music departed so radically from the traditional template, that they’re arguably responsible for pioneering the “post-dubstep” era and paving the way for genre frontrunners like James Blake, Jamie xx, and The Weeknd.
While the entire track is dripping with syncopated sonic wizardry, the clear standout is the chord that blooms at 1:25 and slowly morphs into a mellifluous organ sound. To channel those mellow dulcet tones, pull up Bassoon 5 from VINTAGE ORGANS and hit it with a hefty splash of RAUM reverb.
Santigold’s driving guitars
Prior to hitting it big as a solo artist, Santigold cut her teeth in the Philadelphia punk rock band, Stiffed, whose incendiary albums were produced by legendary Bad Brains bassist, Darryl Jenifer. Aside from the obvious bragging rights, this deep-cred name drop also explains the propulsive post-genre vibes of the masterful mezzo-soprano’s lead single, “Disparate Youth”: a sleekly syncopated amalgam of seemingly disparate musical styles that led to massive commercial success.
The track seamlessly blends Beatles-esque pop aesthetics with dubbed-out reggae pianos, a new-wave bassline, and a stunning staccato guitar riff for a consistently kinetic sound. To snag this driving sonic signature, snatch up Session Guitarist ELECTRIC SUNBURST and don’t forget the SCARBEE – JAY BASS for that bold, booming low-end.
Rosalía’s flamenco fusion
Rosalía proves the adage that good things come to those who wait. The Spanish singer and songwriter studied music from an early age and graduated from the Catalonia College of Music in Spain — but she didn’t get her big break until 2018, when she released the flirty, fusion-forward “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi” with Puerto Rican singer Ozuna and turned the scene upside down with her fresh new sound. The relentlessly romantic reggaeton track would go on to earn RIAA Gold and 2 Latin Grammy Awards, catapulting her to instant stardom on the international music scene.
Sonically, Rosalía blends traditional flamenco with modern reggaeton, hip hop, and US pop aesthetics, all fused together with lumbering Latin-American rhythms for a completely original sound. To capture this dynamic patchwork of tropical tones, look no further than our Caribbean Current Expansion.
There’s plenty more 25th-anniversary celebrations to discover. Click here to download TWENTY FIVE for FREE, and be sure to check out the 25th Anniversary Collection – an ultra-exclusive range of KOMPLETE. MASCHINE, and TRAKTOR hardware in your choice of Ultraviolet or Vapor Gray.
Sound design: Konstantin Grismann