Beyoncé appeared as a disco queen on the cover of British Vogue last Thursday, and the publication’s Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful teased that whatever he’d heard of her forthcoming album, “Renaissance,” was rooted in dance music: “In a split second I’m transported back to the clubs of my youth. I want to get up and start throwing moves. It’s music I love to my core. Music that makes you rise, that turns your mind to cultures and subcultures, to our people past and present, music that will unite so many on the dance floor, music that touches your soul.”
Fans and listeners fantasized on Twitter feeds and Instagram comment sections about what that could exactly mean for Beyoncé, who has recently come off a couple-year stint of music centered around an African diaspora approach, mainly collaborating with artists from West and South Africa to bridge sounds across the Atlantic.
Could it be a callback to early ‘80s house music? An interaction with UK garage? Or something from the mind of Canadian electronic mastermind Kaytranada? Those predictions came to a screeching halt (for some) when Drake — who, next to Beyoncé, inspires the most impassioned musical discourse — released his unannounced seventh studio album, “Honestly, Nevermind.” And at various moments throughout the album, Baltimore club and its derivatives make a pleasantly surprising appearance.
The most striking moment is the voice of Baltimore club legend Rye Rye showing up on track “Currents.” Drake croons about the best way to approach a love interest over Jersey-club-popularized, bed-squeak loops while a sample of Rye Rye’s famous “what” ad-lib punctuates the melodies. The sample is from Rye Rye and DJ Blaqstarr’s 2007 collaboration “Shake It to the Ground,” which, at the time, was one of the most impactful records coming out of Baltimore’s club music scene.
Baltimore club formed out of local producers and DJs putting their own spin on Chicago house records in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, finding a breakbeat and a steady 808 pattern to add. In the decade after its genesis, it became known for its specificity to the local experience, as well as flipping little tidbits and sound bites from regional and popular culture. The more ingredients to the mixture, the more chaotic and cathartic.
Rye Rye’s “what” has become a staple loop for producers all over the electronic music space to enhance their tracks. And it speaks volumes to its impact that it made it on Drake’s new album, although Rye Rye doesn’t show up in the credits (she tweeted that her team is attempting to resolve that).
But taking a look at the track’s producer credits will help make sense of things. Five of the 14 songs on “Honestly, Nevermind” are produced by Gordo, a.k.a. Carnage, a well-known figure in the EDM space who grew up in nearby Frederick County.
“Baltimore club music was always being played in the car or at home by my mother and the family … felt good to bring it to the masses in this album,” he tweeted the day after the album dropped online.
“Sticky” and “Massive” are other moments where club music appears, whether it be from Baltimore, Jersey, or Philly (cities that started to create their own interpretations of the subgenre in the late ‘90s and early 2000s).
On Sunday night, Beyoncé reclaimed her space in the conversation when she released her forthcoming album’s lead single, “Break My Soul.” There are facets of classic house and New Orleans’ dance genre, bounce, which comes from featured artist Big Freedia. The song feels like an attempt at a liberation anthem, as Bey sings about not letting any outside forces deplete her spirit. She also urges people to quit their jobs if they’re unsatisfied.
What do the two biggest living music artists in the world committing to dance music right now suggest? Maybe a push to a more lighthearted and dance-friendly approach is needed as we collectively experience a world in which almost nothing is affordable and seemingly heightened violence is at every turn.
Whatever the reason may be, one guarantee is that attention will be on whatever genres these two are attempting — whether that be people digging for music that’s being sampled or finding artists in those worlds who have been championing and contributing to different forms of Black-led electronic music before this new tsunami of hype.
Some people have been confused by the new trend as well. Defining “dance music” can be challenging, and that’s because there are a vast umbrella of genres that fall under it. There have been references to Beyoncé’s new record that suggest it can be called club music because people would plausibly dance to it in a club. But that isn’t accurate.
It’s safe to assume that the genres Bey would play around with for this album will be forms of electronic music that were pioneered by Black — and often queer — producers between the ‘70s and ‘90s, including house, techno, club, garage, and more. But these names aren’t interchangeable.
Baltimore club is a specific branch of Chicago house that took inspiration from UK drum-and-bass and Miami bass that is traditionally somewhere around 130 beats per minute. “Break My Soul” doesn’t fall into that. But there is reason to believe that Bey could have some club on “Renaissance” when it releases on July 29. If you pay attention to what artists in her orbit have been doing over the past year or so, club music would make sense.
Chlöe, the protégé Bey’s been grooming for years now, released her breakout single “Have Mercy” in 2021, which incorporated a sample of a track by Baltimore club act TT The Artist and Jersey’s UNIIQU3 titled “Girls Off The Chain.” Megan Thee Stallion — the Houston rap star who won a Grammy with Beyoncé in 2021 — sampled the classic 1992-released Baltimore club track “Whores in this House” by producer and radio personality Frank Ski, with vocals by Al “T” McLaran.
We have another month to see, but even if it doesn’t pop up on the biggest pop star in the world’s album, the recent nod by Drake could potentially breathe new life and attract widespread interest into a scene that’s been constantly pushing for the past 30 years.
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