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Ok, so I have to make a confession which, if you’ve been keeping up with my writing on here, is a tiny-bit obvious at this point. *Sigh* I’m still stuck on components of Drake’s Scorpion.
Not only am I hooked to the quiet storm moments of his album, but also its usage of Bounce, Bass, and regional Club Mixes. Apparently, I’m not the only one fixated on these genre baits, as “In My Feelings” now reigns at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for a sixth week. Scorpion’s other Bounce single, “Nice For What,” sat in that chart’s summit position for eight. Then there’s one of my favorite deep cuts from the album, “Summer Games,” which incorporates a Jersey Club Mix breakbeat.
I’ve been noticing for a while that these genres of regional dance music have been resurging in today’s mainstream, notably starting with some singles from Beyoncé’s LEMONADE. At the end of last month, I saw a video circulating of our next pop&B supreme, Normani, in the studio with Big Freedia, one of the scene’s leading enforcers. Not to mention Ciara’s comeback single, “Level Up,” which revisits the sounds laced throughout her later discography.
I’ve always had a nostalgic soft spot for regional club music. Although I’m originally from Charleston, South Carolina, I also grew up in South Jersey (adjacent to Philly) and Baltimore, becoming quite familiar with their scene’s local radio rotations and musical culture. At this point, I think it’s fair to explore and unpack why songs like “In My Feelings” rep distinct regional sounds so well, and why they are infectious for black listeners worldwide.
Welcome to REVOLT’s Master Class on Regional Dance: The Bass, Bounce, and Club Music of Miami, New Orleans, New Jersey, and Baltimore.
This lesson starts with, well… all the aforementioned regions! During my research and fact-checking, it was quite difficult to discern which area started what first. On one hand, the person given the most credit for discovering Miami Bass said it was an accident. There’s a blog post from a Baltimore native claiming their club scene existed in the 80s before people caught on in the 90s. Jersey Club Music seems to have gone through two distinct phases, with its latest form heavily influenced by Baltimore DJs. Not to mention New Orleans bounce’s influential presence throughout mainstream hip-hop’s history.
It would be best to commence with the song that jumpstarted the movement of hip-hop’s fusion with electronic dance music: Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock.” The leader of the Bronx-based group cited Kraftwerk as one of their primary influencers—sampling the German synth-pop band’s 1977 song “Trans-Europe Express” and 1981’s “Numbers.”
Starting around the 1:35 marker of “Trans-Europe Express” exists the nearly 10-second computeristic snippet that Bambaataa would use as the backbone for the beat of “Planet Rock.” Released in 1982, “Planet Rock” added a new lane for hip-hop, placing a futuristic dance spin on the genre. DJ Cabin of the Zulu Nation, starts off the song by riling up the “party people” with a vocalizer. We eventually hit the “Trans-Europe Express” interpolation, which is powered by one of hip-hop’s first usages of the Roland TR-808 drum.
As a teenager, around the time of “Planet Rock” reaching No. 48 on the Hot 100, Amos Larkins II played bass instrument while studying jazz at the University of Miami. He shadowed producers under TK Records, where his father was a manager. Due to his exceptional skills, Larkins started booking work at the Miami Sound studio as a session musician, eventually hanging out with the local street cats and hustlers of the skating rink and club scenes. That lead to his infatuation with “Planet Rock” and his main song of inspiration, Osé’s “Computer Funk.”
In a rare interview with Red Bull Music Academy in 2015, Larkins—who many credit as the Godfather of Miami Bass— explained that the scene never referred to the music as such, but rather “drop.” “Computer Funk” introduced him to the sound of the 808-drum, as Der Mer’s “Fall Out” and Ultimate 3 MC’s “What Are We Gonna Do?” further peeked his intrigue in the electronic infiltration of 80s hip-hop. When Larkins witnessed local icon-turned-world renowned songwriter “Pretty Tony” Butler DJing his Freestyle signatures (such as “Don’t Stop The Rock”), he decided to take a crack at the 808-drum.
Soon, he’d start producing records for TK, leading to an early, robust career—the stripclub being his main source of inspiration, and an outlet for his cocaine habit. One night in 1985, after a binge on the white powder, and hardcore partying with strippers and friends, Larkins hastily worked on Double Duce’s “Commin In Fresh,” adjusting the bass levels without a sound check, before completely abandoning the track to continue indulging his vices. Of course, record labels were expecting something that morning; unbeknownst to them, they would receive Miami’s first official bass track.
“Commin In Fresh” resonated for its slower moving and deeper bass, which complimented a ringing thump that also clapped along with the beat. Voices of the song’s rapping emcees echoed throughout the track, as the song’s futuristic vibes matched its “Planet Rock”-era predecessors. While visiting his friend’s record store, Larkins was at first displeased at how the song was potentially “tearin’ up my fucking speakers,” but immediately saw how much local Miami listeners enjoyed the record. His next Miami Bass anthem, “Party Rock (Set It Off),” would be inspired by my personal favorite of that time, Strafe’s whistle-blowing “Set It Off.” Larkins also aided in the production of M.C. A.D.E.’s underground success story, “Bass Rock Express,” which included the sounds of a moving train.
Ironically, Larkins mentioned how the producing error that resulted in “Commin’” was caused by paying too much attention to “the pussy and the booty” of his female conquests. Sooner than later, that would become the central focus for Miami Bass thanks to the popularity of Luther “Uncle Luke Skyywalker” Campbell and his 2 Live Crew. As Miami Bass had settled into its groove by 1986, the 2 Live Crew debuted with The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are, simultaneously introducing porno-rap into the subgenre with cuts such as “We Want Some Pussy” and “Throw The ‘D.”
By the time of their third album, As Nasty As They Want To Be (1989), Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew had ushered Miami Bass into the mainstream, much to the chagrin of government officials waging censorship wars on music. The orgasmic moans sampled from a Richard Pryor film in the group’s signature standout “Me So Horny” were one of the many reasons why radio stations didn’t feel comfortable playing the song. Their album lead to bans across the nation, and an eventually appealed conviction for obscenity. That victory in the courts lead to an even larger surge in mainstream appeal for Miami Bass in the 90s with songs such as Tag Team’s “Whoomp (There It Is),” 69 Boyz’ “Tootsee Roll,” Quad City DJ’s “C’mon Ride It (The Train),” and Wreckx-N-Effect’s saxophoned-out “Rump Shaker.”
As Miami’s sound grew larger on the radio, DJs in Baltimore started taking notes, spinning the likes of Uncle Luke at local clubs such as Odell’s and Club Fantasy. The Baltimore party scene primarily fell on house music, but DJ Scottie B and DJ Shawn Caesar wanted to be different, bringing the breakbeat DJing style they experienced in New York City to Charm City. According to Scottie, one night he decided to break the house tradition by playing hip-hop, much to the crowd’s enjoyment. Both DJs realized that their city’s musical taste drastically changed, as the crowds wanted harder and tougher music that matched the rugged grittiness of Baltimore’s streets. That lead to the fusion of house records with hip-hop ones, but only simple snippets on a repeated loop grasped party-goers attention spans.
The birthing track of B-More Club Mix (as the genre would soon be nicknamed by natives) was 2 Hyped Brothers & a Dog’s 1991 hip-house single, “Doo Doo Brown,” known for dropping a random “Think!” tag and looping a drawn-out 16-count breakbeat sample of Uncle Luke yelling “pop that, don’t stop” (from his “I Wanna Rock”). The song’s producer Frank Ski began promoting the song on local radio, including the city’s main hip-hop and R&B station 92Q. From there, B-More club mix became a city staple.
Scottie and Caesar kept the movement going with their Unruly Records, eventually enlisting the help of drag performer Miss Tony to emcee their mixes. Signed under Unruly Records, DJ Technics provided the scene with one of its most famous, a B-More Club Mix of the The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman.”
Less than 200 miles away, DJs in Newark started picking up on B-More Club Mixes in the mid-90s, as Charm City’s best would pass out their mixtapes in the Tri-State area. Previously, Newark had developed a deep house sound thanks to DJ Tony Humphries, who had a residency at Club Zanzibar starting in 1982. A little less than a decade later, he took up residencies in Europe, leaving a void stateside.
Pioneered by the likes of DJ Tameil, DJ Tim Dolla, Mike V, and DJ Black Mic, “Jersey Club” transformed into “Brick City Club”—monikered after Newark’s nickname and their Brick Bandits Crew. As DJ Tameil nicely sums it up, the difference between B-More Club versus Brick City Club is that the former prefers “a lot of horns, while [the latter uses] harder kicks and chop the samples up a lot more.” In the 2000s, the pioneering DJs got frustrated as the new school took over, making the scene younger with more trippy, chilled out effects, dance battles with revamped wu-tanging and spongebobbing, and the inclusion of a bed squeaking sound effect, as exhibited on DJ Trippy Turtle’s Jersey Club mix of “Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay,” and DJ Taj’s “Work” and “Boo’d Up.”
By the late 90s, New Orleans also got its fill with club-centric hip-hop with its call-and-response Bounce music. Filled with repetitive hypersexualized vocals, chromatic tics, and whistles, Bounce is primarily driven by the Triggerman Beat—a one-bar drum loop at the beginning of The Showboy’s 1986 “Drag Rap.”
Kevin “T.T.” Tucker would be the first to implement this on a mainstream scale, with DJ Irv on 1991’s “Where Dey At.” This set the example for Master P and No Limit Records—who’d sign Mia X and “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!” in 1997—and Cash Money Records—who was “taking over for the ‘99 and 2000,” with Lil Wayne suggesting to “drop it like it’s hot” on Juvenile’s 1998 opus “Back That Azz Up.” With stars such as Big Freedia getting her props and making cameo appearances in videos and song’s monologues, Bounce also stresses an integral importance in the LGBTQ community. Freedia’s trailblazing alone is responsible for influencing “sissy bounce,” a form of rap ruling the ball culture scene.
Earlier in this article’s intro, I selfishly went on about how these club scenes influenced some of my musical preferences. As a 13 and 14-year-old back in ‘07 and ‘08, I didn’t realize that I was growing up in the midst of these scenes’ renaissances—thanks in large part to listening to 92Q.
At first, I was taken aback by this random cacophony of noise plaguing the 5PM drive every weekday, as I’d tune in to the station while doing homework. That timeframe meant DJ K Swift was at the turntable spinning B-More Club mixes. Soon enough, I went from being a transplant in the city to a full-fledged native. My favorites included: “Hands Up, Thumbs Down,” where a lady would chant the title before saying “represent that B town”; “Hand Clap,” which instructed various neighborhoods and counties of the DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia region) to “hit the hand clap”; a sampled loop of Lil’ Kim’s best line from “Quiet Storm”; the hypnotic “ah ah ah” refrain in the back of “Feel It In The Air”; and my ultimate favorite, DJ Johnny Blaze’s hard-hitting remix of the Spongebob Squarepants theme song.
Unfortunately, DJ K Swift passed during summer 2008 after an accident at a pool party, and the B-More Club Music scene hasn’t been quite the same. Still, her legacy lives on through her music partner in crime DJ Blaqstarr, who gifted the scene with “Rider Girl.” M.I.A. has used his production to help shape her sound on projects including “Bird Song” and “The Turn.”
Now club mixes exist throughout the interwebs, including a three-part B-More Club Mix segment that features Beyoncé’s “Freakum Dress.” What was always fascinating about 92Q’s radio mixes were how accurately they reflected the buzzed about pop culture moments that resonated with the local audiences. 92Q loved them some Queen Bey, and as a fan I had been delighted to hear her B’Day bonus tracks receive those extra spins, along with Toni Braxton’s “Take This Ring.” Like “Freakum Dress,” those B’Day cuts—“Back Up,” “Lost Yo Mind,” and “Creole”—not only bumped, but revitalized Bounce’s usage in pop and R&B, fusing it with Rich Harrison’s DC gogo sound just under 50 miles away from Baltimore. As we saw with “SORRY,” “FORMATION,” and “6 INCH” on LEMONADE, these sounds were brought back to life just in time for the Formation World Tour and the J-setting x HBCU-inspired Beychella set.
In the present mainstream, Bounce is the current leader out of all the hip-hop meets dance fusions. Whether that’s at a cookout or any other family function, you’re bound to see line dances to the likes of Travis Porter’s “Bring It Back,” Soulja Boy’s “Donk,” or NERD and Rihanna’s “Lemon.” Like the Miami Bass pioneer Amos Larkins II would probably want, stripclubs rotate the best examples: Khia’s “My Neck, My Back”; A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problems”; Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance” before transitioning nicely into Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” and Cardi B’s verse on “No Limit.” And we can’t forget the countless Uncle Luke references—whether that be in Tinashe’s “Superlove” or the hypnotizing sample in French Montana’s “Pop That.” Ok, so maybe I’m reliving my college days with this paragraph’s playlist, but you still get the point.
It’s yet to be seen who else is going to go the route of Drake and Beyoncé, and fully embrace the sound. Ciara’s “Level Up,” which constitutes more of a Jersey Club sound, exemplifies her heydays. What comes to mind for me is not “Lose Control” or “Gimmie Dat,” but rather her 2006 Evolution deep cut “Get In, Fit In,” which does the “ichi-ni-san” Japanese numeral count inspired by the one and only “Planet Rock.” It’s kind of crazy how moments in hip-hop continue to bounce around in a circle, especially when you stop dancing and pay attention to its history.
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