David Guetta's Dance Music Melting Pot
David Guetta feat. Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida, "Where Them Girls At"
Any honest remixer will admit it's easier to create dance tracks without the distraction of needing to seduce a great performance from a vocalist. This fact has prevented many gifted remixers from moving into the more lucrative realm of artist production, but Guetta evidently has little problem getting artists to relax and give him exactly what he needs. This implies a trust and a meeting of minds between him and the astonishing array of established acts, from Snoop Dogg to Rihanna to Nicki Minaj, he's lured into his studio.
Guetta pairing with pop-crossover veterans like the Black Eyed Peas posed virtually no risk to either side, but when I first heard Akon on a Guetta track, I worried about the chance the Senegalese star was taking with his hip-hop base. As it turned out, "Sexy Bitch," despite in some ways serving as an act of aesthetic bravery, paid off in sales and popularity, and now a veritable Soul Train line of black stars and starlets seems eager to let Guetta remake them in his slightly Ibiza-flavored image.
The album's two flagship singles, "Where Them Girls At" and "Little Bad Girl," are sly hip-house throwbacks that slant first to the chirpy bounce of a Ya Kid K gone Katy Perry, then to the gritty swing of Tyree Cooper gone crunk. In each case the playfulness is so audible that the guest stars can be heard adding attitude and cross-references of their own. Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida bring humor to the disco carnival ride "Where Them Girls At," while the darker synth colors used on "Little Bad Girl" give way to a silky male tenor drenched in digital echo, followed by a low-slung melodic verse spiked by Ludacris's staccato freestyle.
Guetta lets Timbaland and Dev couple up to talk dirty on "I Just Wanna F---" but puts Chris Brown and Lil Wayne together on the sweeter attempt to croon a girl out of her underwear "I Can Only Imagine." Toying with stereotypes and expectations in this way is part of Guetta's production strategy, as is the Snoop Dogg track "Sweat," which successfully recasts hip-hop's Doggfather as Janet Jackson's comrade in the Rhythm Nation.The female-fronted cuts here permit Guetta to cast each damsel in a different iconic role: the anthemic "Titanium" has Sia peaking the dance floor like Cher, Cry$tal's "I'm a Machine" reminds me of Pink, and on "Turn Me On" Nicki Minaj gamely shifts between her Madonna range and her Rihanna register.
Overall the album is a triumph of collective will and creativity, but not every
track fits every performer perfectly: Jennifer Hudson sounds a bit lost on "Night of Your Life," and Usher, while pushing himself vocally, sounds like a Glee Project also-ran on "Without You." If Nothing But the Beat were to be measured against, say, Songs in the Key of Life it might fall short, but this season the only other dance album as worthy of your attention is the imminent Trax Records: The 25th Anniversary Collection. Arriving from Trax this October, the two-disc set contains the pioneering house productions that David Guetta and his peers heard at the beginning of their careers, then bent and twisted into their own images of dance music.