Throughout 2022, there has been a house reawakening within the hip-hop/R&B community. Previously a sparsely-populated fusion genre within the modern mainstream, rappers and house DJs are collaborating more than ever, with house artists like Kaytranada, Calvin Harris and Fred again.. all putting out tracks with rappers this year. In addition to that, hip-hop’s biggest names are trying their hand at house, most notably with Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind and Beyonce’s Renaissance this past summer. Within this greater trend of house-rap fusion, a regional subgenre has ascended to national attention through its adoption by major artists, going viral on the internet several times in the process. This is the story of Jersey club.
Jersey club was born out of underground house parties in inner-city Newark, N.J. Inspired by the hip-hop/house fusion sound that DJs down I-95 in Baltimore pioneered, Newark artists started putting out tracks distinguishable by their hard kick sounds, triplet drum patterns and layered 808s that quickly became the soundtrack for Newark’s dance scene. The genre developed in-state for most of the noughties before receiving its first taste of national attention as part of EDM’s push to the mainstream in the early 2010s. Well-known electronic and hip-hop musicians began to take influence from the distinctive sound of Jersey club, with artists like Skrillex, Cashmere Cat and DJ Khaled all putting out Jersey club-influenced tracks during this time period.
Late in the decade, Jersey club experienced another metamorphosis. While the instrumental structure of the genre was already well-established, local artists began to fuse it with the drill rap that had taken over the other side of the Hudson. Jersey club’s use as the backing beat for original music as opposed to stand-alone dance tracks allowed the genre to become even more popular, as songs with more vocals, like Cookiee Kawaii’s 2020 hit, “Vibe (If I Back It Up),” went viral on social media. The virality of Jersey club exposed its unique sonic profile to a new generation of musicians, and during 2022’s house renaissance, mainstream figures in both rap and house music have featured the genre prominently in their own work.
In early 2022, British rap star AJ Tracey appeared on a freestyle for New York-based radio show On the Radar, where he rapped to the beat of a Jersey club-esque drill instrumental. This crossover exemplifies the speed at which Jersey club has diffused overseas, as the exchange of ideas and styles between the greater New York and London areas has flowed freely. The freestyle became so popular online that Tracey eventually dropped it as a single, titled “Seoul.” This interpretation of the Jersey club sound was through more of a drill lens, whereas another apostle of the genre offered a different flavor on his most recent solo album.
Drake, as the world’s largest streaming juggernaut, serves as a sort of tastemaker in popular music right now. Luckily, he seems to have a good ear for subgenres, and even when the product is subpar, the mere inclusion of the genre on a Drake album allows it to reach new ears if nothing else. Two songs on Drake’s attempt at a house album, Honestly, Nevermind, incorporate sound patterns intrinsically associated with Jersey club. “Currents,” an otherwise unmemorable song, features the squeaky-bed drum sound, a hallmark of Newark house parties for decades. “Sticky,” actually one of the album’s bright spots, utilizes the distinctive Jersey club triplet kick pattern as the foundation of its instrumental. When fans of the genre first heard these homages, they stirred up a frenzy on social media, which exposed Jersey club to even more listeners.
Philadelphia rapper/singer Lil Uzi Vert’s foray into the genre, titled “Just Wanna Rock,” first made its way onto the internet via an Instagram snippet in September 2022 and went viral almost immediately. More than 150,000 TikTok videos have been made using the snippet as their audio, and Uzi’s team capitalized on this hype, dropping the song on streaming services two weeks ago. Uzi sounds perfectly at home, riding an unorthodox, synth-heavy Jersey club beat effortlessly and crafting a danceable anthem that serves as another internet hit for the formerly fringe soundtrack to underground house parties in Newark.
As Jersey club continues to permeate the mainstream and gain admirers across the world, it is important that New Jersey-based producers remain at the forefront. Local drill rappers such as Killa Kherk Cobain, Bandmanrill and MBM Franko continue to make a name for both Newark and Jersey club, even as artists from thousands of miles away co-opt the sound.
Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at email@example.com.