Part of the appeal of Girl Talk's music over the years was the feeling that anything was possible. For nearly a decade, the Pittsburgh-born producer and DJ utilized a hyperactive approach to sampling to prove the connections between seemingly distant genres of music—proving in his uber-popular mashups that the boundaries that we draw between, say, Black Sabbath and Ludacris are arbitrary and pointless. His records are party-starters, sure, but more importantly, they're unpredictable.
So it makes sense that his recent career path has been unpredictable, too. Over the last half decade, he's largely taken a break from the sampledelic music that fueled thousands of broken glowsticks and serotonin burnouts in the mid-aughts to do something totally different: He's become a really good rap producer.
It's not a surprise that the man born Gregg Gillis has an interest in hip-hop. If you listen to any of his Girl Talk records, he's clearly schooled in the classics of the genre. But for those who don't closely follow the careers of your college party heroes, it might be shocking just how tapped into things he is. His newest track "No Problem," released today, is a collaboration with the young Atlanta great Young Nudy, of all people. But Gillis has been on this tip since at least 2014, when he started a creative partnership with the Philadelphia rapper Freeway. They released a boisterous EP called Broken Ankles—which featured a typically ecstatic appearance from Waka Flocka Flame—on which Gillis demonstrated an obvious love for the lush, muscular approach of early period Roc-a-Fella productions.
Since then, Gillis hasn't released a lot of music publicly, but when he has, it's almost exclusively been limber beats for rap experimenters. Last year, he twisted a sample from Julian Casablancas side project into a menacing beat for Flatbush Zombies member Erick the Architect on "Trouble in Paradise." Back in January, he produced the low-slung T-Pain and Tory Lanez track "Getcha Roll On," on which he demonstrated some skeletal drum production and a command of thunderous 808 work. Today, his Nudy track shows he understands the sonic language of contemporary Atlanta, bathing Nudy's wheeze in horror movie arpeggios and chest-caving bass work. "No Problem" is especially triumphant, even in comparison to all of his other recent rap tracks; It's bruising, but composed. It's melodies are foreboding, but kind of beautiful. He uses sounds you've heard before, but in unexpected ways—which mirrors what his approach has been to music from the beginning.
The three tracks he's released over the last year show, more than anything, that Gillis is adaptable as a producer. The people he's worked with are about as different as you can get in the wider rap world, but no matter the circumstance, he's been able to find palettes that work for each of their voices. For Freeway, his beats were expensive-sounding and otherworldly. For T-Pain, they're shuddering and neon. For Nudy and Erick the Architect, they're minimal and menacing. Working in service of the artist at hand is arguably an even more valuable skill than developing an immediately identifiable signature as a producer. Given the encyclopedic knowledge of music from across styles and eras, it's not all that surprising that he's good at this.