Perhaps Rusko never set out to be dubstep’s chief ambassador to the Americas — first with screw-faced bangers like “Cockney Thug,” which suited the aggressive tastes of stateside fans weaned on rock, and then with his debut album, O.M.G., which had just enough variety to appeal to listeners not yet ready for an hour of unremitting wobble. (Getting signed to Diplo’s Mad Decent label didn’t hurt, either; an anointing from the king of coolhunting does wonders for your bookings.) Released in 2010, it came just in time to establish Rusko as one of dubstep’s most versatile performers, and one capable of bringing together both hardcore moshers and fair-weather fans, all while retaining his credibility as one of the U.K. scene’s true innovators.
In the meantime, of course, came Skrillex and a host of domestic dubsteppers with a homegrown take on the music, sometimes derisively called “brostep” — rougher, uglier and far less rooted in dub than its British sibling. Wisely, for his sophomore album, 2012′s Songs, Rusko bowed out of the bass-driven arms race, disavowed his ties to brostep and expanded the parameters of his sound to include buoyant melodic house, old-school jungle, radio-ready R&B and even fizzy, uplifting trance. Just as importantly, though, he celebrated the musical continuum that made his own career possible — both a sign of respect and a canny means of cementing his own authority.
The opening track makes it clear that he’s all about homage, as a narrator pays tribute to Jamaica’s reggae pioneers. (At the same time, he’s not afraid to be a little audacious, as claiming the mantle of King Tubby certainly is.) Throughout the LP, Rusko avails himself of dance music’s most enduring tropes, from piano house’s thumping chords to jungle’s roiling breaks and incendiary MC chatter; “Love No More,” “Be Free” and “Mek More Green” are all essentially purist digi-dub tunes. At the same time, with his whole-hearted embrace of mainstream dance styles — just check the trance stabs of “Thunder” — he shows that he’s not about to get bogged down in tradition. Not all of his populist gestures are successful, but even his failures are interesting. With Rusko’s Songs, dubstep becomes less a format than a platform.