Baltimore Club’s Influence on Drake’s ‘Honestly, Nevermind’

It’s deeper than all that “oontz oontz” trash talk.
Photo: Amy Sussman / Getty Images:

It’s tradition: New Drake music means new cause for: every corner of the internet – skeptics, fans, casual listeners – to hash out their feelings about all things Aubrey. The hook this time for his latest out-of-nowhere release is that Drake’s seventh studio album, Honestly, Nevermind:is his attempt at making a house-ish: record – or at the very least, he’s trying his hand at interacting with a handful of dance-music genres pioneered by Black producers. (It’s even labeled under the dance category on streaming.) South African house music deity Black Coffee – the producer of: More Life:‘s “Get It Together” – contributes to three songs. So naturally, there are tinges of South African house, techno, deep house, and club music here. Some are confused by the experiment. Others are appreciative of it (Drake’s lazy vocal performance… less so). Execution aside, one constant in the man’s career is leaning fully into his pop-star ambitions, his hunger to interlope as far as it can take him. He raps mainly, but also isn’t afraid to stumble his way out of that comfort zone toward a broader musical palette. He gets a hard time for his dancehall dalliances, but there’s more logic to them than, say, his stab at New Orleans bounce on Scorpio:‘s “In My Feelings.” If nothing else, the references he and his producers pull typically lead his audience of millions to his direct sources of inspiration. That’s still true.

DJ and producer Gordo, formerly known as Carnage, produced five tracks on: Honestly, Nevermind:, and in most, the primary element is club music – the electronic derivative of Chicago house that formed in Baltimore during the early ’90s and eventually traveled north to New Jersey, where it now has its most vibrant energy. Gordo grew up in Frederick County, Maryland, about an hour west of Baltimore. “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: after the album’s release. His nods to the genre throughout the album are unmistakable. They’re also far from the first to adapt Baltimore club for the mainstream: MIA’s “World Town,” off 2007’s: Kala:, is an interpolation of the standard scene “Hands Up, Thumbs Down”; Ye jumped onto a remix of DJ Class’s “I’m the Shit” in 2008. But because of club music’s playfulness and a tendency to piece together remixes from tidbits of local and popular culture, it’s easy to deviate from where some of its staple features originated, for the history to get obscured when big names bring new attention to it.

How did club music make its way, three decades later, into Drake’s Canadian hands? And why now? Here’s a walk through the sound’s progression, and a closer look at: Honestly, Nevermind:‘s unsung influences.

Baltimore club’s mid-to-late-2000s run enjoyed a level of global impact that artists and fans of the world present-day scene are desperately longing to experience for themselves. It reeled in would-be – and eventually problematic – music titans like MIA and: Diplo to poke around: and collaborate with the artists that were making significant local headway. DJ Blaqstarr, a staple at high-school parties, and Rye Rye, a teen at the time, had a firm grip on the youth during this era. Their 2007 collaboration “Shake It to the Ground” (eventually pushed by Diplo’s Mad Decent label) was genre-defining: There’s Blaqstarr’s crunchy claps and pulsating 808s, potent enough: to rattle the core when fed through venue speakers; there’s breakdowns that signal for 2000s club dance moves like crazy legs. The song’s video is an endearing Baltimore time capsule – dirt-bike wheelies, khaki cargo shorts, nightclub footage, and New Balance flash across the scene.

But it’s Rye Rye’s shrill voice that crystallizes the whole concoction. Limber, youthful, and assured, it beautifully renders the local confidence in its quirks. Her deadpan “what” – looped throughout the song’s four minutes – has become a signature sample for Baltimore club music and all its derivatives in the electronic-music space. So much so that it pops up on: Honestly, Nevermind’s: “Currents” by way of Gordo’s production (Rye Rye has since: said: they’re working out giving her proper credit for the use of her voice).

In 2020, Issa Rae came on to produce: Dark City: Beneath the Beat:, a musical documentary directed by club artist TT the Artist that had at that point been in the works for nearly a decade. The film is a three-for-one in that it chronicles the current Baltimore club scene through producers and dancers – through the lens of TT’s first-hand experience of navigating the scene as someone who moved to the city for college – while also boasting fully choreographed music videos for original songs from the film’s soundtrack. There are constant references to genre pioneers like the late DJ K-Swift, veterans like Scottie B and Mighty Mark, and active artists like DJ Ayymello, Abdu Ali, DDM and Kotic Couture. None of these artists appear on Drake’s club music moments on the album; but that it comes only two years after this Netflix doc further raised public consciousness of Baltimore club and its continued relevance can not be just coincidence.

Alongside Rye Rye’s “what” on “Currents,” the famed bed-squeak loop, popularized by Jersey club godfather DJ Tameil in the early 2000s, is heavily present. The sound itself comes from the 2004 Lil Jon – produced “Some Cut” by Atlanta group Trillville. (Funny enough: In his Verzuz with T-Pain, Lil Jon blew people’s minds with trivia that the “bed squeak” was actually audio picked up from his chair squeaking while making the beat – but it’s still widely recognized as a bed, the sound synonymous with baby-making.) Shortly after “Some Cut” was released, Tameil looped the squeak and started incorporating it into his mixes, propelling it to become yet another element intertwined with electronic-music production worldwide, to the point of traveling so far from its source that Tameil’s gone unrecognized in the: Honestly, Nevermind: credits, too.

It’s safe to assume Drake has become well aware just how regularly Jersey club producers: remix his music:; in fact, moments throughout: Honestly, Nevermind: suggest they were directly inspired by it. Jersey vet DJ Smallz 732, who remixed Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle,” featuring Giveon, from his 2020 throwaway collection Dark Lane Demo Tapes:, immediately comes to mind: The song is one of the more mellowed-out Jersey remixes you’re likely to ever come across, leaning more into what works for Drake’s lover-boy mood over what would usually make people sweat it out at a house party. The bed squeaks beneath Drake and Giveon’s decelerated vocals feel like the foundation for what “Currents” became.

Lizzo’s Amazon Prime Video series tracks her search for full-figured women whom she can add as her backup dancers. There’s some nice history to the show’s title – it’s a wink at the classic Baltimore club song of the same name, released in 1993 by Jimmy Jones, who died in 2021. Lizzo had already been dancing to the track during her concerts well before the series , with club music sneaking closer and closer into pop culture’s mainstream. (Never forget – Lizzo’s got roots in Detroit, whose own techno scene is historically unparalleled.) Even Chlöe Bailey’s 2021 breakout solo single “Have Mercy,” produced by Murda Beatz, sampled a club track by TT the Artist and Jersey club queen UNIIQU3 called “Girls Off the Chain.”

In 2015, Baltimore’s Tate Kobang launched a career that would take him nationwide when he released a new take on “Bank Rolls,” a then-15-year-old classic by local rapper Tim Trees, produced by Baltimore club titan Rod Lee. Tate’s updated version gave it, and the sound as a whole, a second life, offering newer Baltimore rappers reason to consider the hold that club music could still have on the country. Sure it came and went, but not without setting future Baltimore club-inspired rap production: in motion, passed down, however indirectly, to what’s being made by teens in Newark and Philadelphia right now.

Philly is often overlooked in the wider club-music conversation, but given its geographical position between Baltimore and Jersey, the influence and participation has always been strong. And it might just be the No. 1 hotspot pushing club-music culture to the next generation, on an international level, right now. “Shake That,” from two of the world newest star rappers Zahsosaa and Dsturdy, and its accompanying dance, has been a TikTok mainstay since the tail end of 2021. The song is a fast-paced club beat produced by DJ Crazy, who grew up in Baltimore before relocating to Philly in his teens and spending much of his early adulthood in Jersey. Zahsosaa and Dsturdy ride the beat effortlessly, in a woozy melodic tone owed to Philly rap star Lil Uzi Vert. It’s more than plausible that this movement’s meteoric rise had an influence on a song like: Honestly, Nevermind:‘s “Sticky.” Because, honestly, who is more online and on the hunt for what’s viral than Drake?

Early on, Jersey club’s most recognizable distinction from its Baltimore predecessor was its speed: The traditional tempo for Baltimore’s club music is somewhere around 130 BPM, while Jersey’s starts at the 150 BPM. But it can get a lot faster (and most modern club music, from anywhere, goes for whatever BPM a producer pleases). That’s especially true of the new wave of Jersey club rap that, similar to what’s happening in Philly, is centered around teen dance crews. Rapper Bandmanrill and producer Mcvertt are two of the most visible in the current Jersey club rap scene, adapting a style of rap closer to what’s happening in New York City’s drill scene, given North Jersey’s closer proximity.

Drake’s love for a good, delicate melody was bound to steer him toward different variations of club music beyond just what Baltimore, Jersey, and Philly have to offer. “Massive,” for instance, sits somewhere between deep house and classic club, calling back to moments where club producers took it easy on the bass and raunchy lyricism for something a bit sweeter. “The Perfect Match” by Baltimore legend DJ Technics might’ve done it best – released in 2007, as part of fellow club icon Rod Lee’s mixtape series Operation Not Done Yet:, the track remixes Missy Elliott’s 2001-released “Take Away,” which featured Ginuwine and Tweet. Instead of grabbing soundbites and completely obliterating the foundation of the song for a cathartic trip, Technics keeps Tweet’s bewitching melodic yearns in tact, laying a conversative drum pattern underneath them that makes you want to hit a two step while singing along.

Up until Drake, the biggest pop-culture moment to loudly honor club music came in 2020, when Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s “WAP” exploded the social-media zeitgeist. That “There’s some whores in this house” line you hear repeated throughout was actually a sample of early ’90s Baltimore club, reminiscent of something you’d have heard in the: House Party: franchise. The track “Whores in this House,” released in 1992 by producer and radio personality Frank Ski (vocals by Al “T” McLaran), made huge waves in the Baltimore area; no one expected Cardi and Meg to catch the rest of the world up to it nearly 20 years after the fact.

With each new moment where club music goes from hyperlocal to within reach of the larger public, we’re seeing the myth of cultural “post-regionalism” – this idea that everyone’s influences now come only from a small cluster of shared digital sources instead of an artist’s physical community – further collapse. “WAP” and now: Honestly, Nevermind: have solidified what’s been brewing: The present is meeting the past in earnest, and there’s a real commercial future for this canonically underground world of club music. Even in the missed attempts, there are wins.

Leave a Comment