Last summer, two of the world’s biggest performers introduced a sound of music that many people in urban areas along the East Coast and Midwest are all too familiar with. When Drake dropped his highly anticipated seventh studio album, “Honestly, Nevermind” and Beyonce released her summer single “Break My Soul,” fans questioned what was this ‘oontz oontz’ music and why they were trying to push it into mainstream. However, club and house music has been making impressions in the inner-city club scenes of Detroit, Chicago, Philly, Baltimore, New Jersey, and even New York City for nearly four decades and natives of these areas were quick to defend its sound and impact on the culture. And while the genres are all close cousins, each city and sound has its own rich history. Together, we’ll be exploring the impacts and how it grew into a phenomenon in black dance culture.
In the late 1970s, house music began to emerge on the scene as DJs and producers in Chicago who were well versed in disco and hip-hop began embracing synthesizer technology from brands such as Roland and Korg. Although the exact origins of house music remain unclear, many music historians say evidence suggests that it originated at ‘The Warehouse,” a nightclub on the Southside of Chicago. It later became shortened to ‘House Music” after many would enter record stores searching for this sound of music played at the club.
DJs like Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, and Ron Hardy played a huge part as disco evolved into house as they played around and experimented with different techniques since many DJs didn’t have the equipment necessary. This point in time was also when roles including producers and composers would merge with the title of DJ. The “Godfather of House” A.KA Frankie Knuckles would remix songs using a reel-to-reel tape machine. Also adding percussion breaks, tempo changes, rearranging sections, etc in order to create mixes that would make more people dance. By the mid-80, many DJs were releasing original compositions and of course, record labels were taking notice. Soon, the sound of house music would begin to spread rapidly across different cities and even internationally to Europe as technology began to improve. Other subgenres would begin to derive in urban cities along the East Coast and by the late 1980s, the sound of house made its way to Baltimore, and not too long after Baltimore Club Music was born.
A subgenre of breakbeat, Baltimore club is a mixture of hip-hop and choppy staccato and became popularized by DJs such as Scottie B, Shawn Ceaser, Frank Ski, Miss Tony (Big Tony after he stopped presenting in Drag), and DJ Equalizer. In the city, DJs were drawn to tracks that used the ‘Think Break’ beat from the James Brown-produced track ‘Think’ by Lynn Collins and as the years passed and the genre continued to evolve, the sound also changed. What started at a tempo of 125 BPM increased to 130 BPM and by the late 90s and into the early ‘00s, Baltimore club was a cultural staple throughout the city! As its popularity peaked, it could be heard weekly in clubs like The Paradox and Hammerjacks and eager partygoers would show up and show out every single time. DJ K-Swift would soon be a household name and her influence would begin to spread north to the Greater Philadelphia region.
As Baltimore club music continued to gain traction and the attention of many throughout the 90s, DJs in New Jersey would soon be introduced to the sound. DJ Tameil, who was a household name known for his house-inspired mixtapes, would start making connections with popular Baltimore DJs. Shortly after, he would start playing their records at clubs and parties before creating an original sound for Newark and the surrounding areas. At the time, other DJs didn’t know where his inspiration was coming from but they would soon find out. The sound of NJ club was similar to that of Baltimore, but the tempos were faster at 140 BPM and less raw and violent, and more smooth. Classic tracks such as F**k ‘em up by DJ Tameil, and Swing Dat Sh*t by Tim Dolla along with others hit the scene and it was only up from there!
As music entered into the 2000s and nearly 20 years since the creation of the unique sound, DJ K-Swift, Blaqqstar and others began to reach peak popularity in the City of Baltimore and the sound of Baltimore club began to make its way into Philly. Young producers DJ Dwizz and DJ Sega picked up the sound and began to create their own sound. Although inspired by Baltimore club, the sound and evolution of Philly club is all its own. Often played at a faster tempo similar to New Jersey of 150 BPM but incorporates that original raw, raunchy sound from Baltimore based around staccato and syncopated beat. However, the originality of Philly Club was inspired by the sound of EDM or Electronic Dance Music. Unlike its cousins, Philly club or party music maintained a low profile for much of the early 2000s, but around 2007, the club scene would start to become more developed and receive major radio airplay. The sound began gaining more traction and further developed into the 2010s by notable people such s DJ Fresh, Tim Dolla, Swizzymack, and many others.
House, club, and party music all significantly impact urban cities along the East Coast and across the midwest. Today, the sounds inspired by each of these cities can be heard on tracks performed by well-known mainstream artists such as Drake and Beyonce. As music continues to evolve rapidly, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more songs and tracks inspired by the sound that is so significant in the upbringing of this generation.
What are your favorite tracks? Which style do you prefer the most? Share your thoughts with us!
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