Stevie G: New release by Drake is creating quite a stir

House music remains misunderstood today, but the beat goes on, and there are some great summer anthems coming, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Stevie G: New release by Drake is creating quite a stir

Hip-hop and r&b singer Drake has infused his new album with house grooves and the reaction has been disappointing in places. Picture: Ian West/PA Wire

New releases by Drake and by Beyonce have been among the big talking points of the last few days, both releases being dominated by house grooves.

The reaction to both has been mixed, and some of the reaction in the US has been disappointing, considering the black origins of house music. Both of these artists have used house music before, and both are pop stars with a keen eye on what’s happening in underground scenes, but it’s hardly as if house music is anything new.

House music was disco’s revenge, and there’s a direct lineage from disco to this music, which emerged from modest origins in cities like Chicago and Detroit in the 1980s. Disco became ubiquitous in around 1977, and even regular pop artists jumped on the bandwagon. In truth, it had developed out of Philly soul and other genres that were popular in the early 1970s, and disco had deep Hispanic and Latin American roots, too. The backlash against disco led to a notorious event in 1979, where a local rock DJ encouraged fans to bring their disco records to a baseball game, promising them cheap entry to boost attendance.

It turned into a riot and boxes of disco records were burned. It looked like thinly veiled racism and bigotry against the black and LGBT communities. 40 years later, the homophobia looks very lame, especially as hip-hop has made great strides in recent years by accepting gay artists. One of the best artists in the world in 2022, Frank Ocean, is a child of hip-hop and openly gay, while Kevin Abstract, Lil Nas X, ILoveMakonnen, Syd, Lil Peep, and many others are, too. Dismissing both house music and the LGBTIA communities on these grounds is very lazy and narrow minded.

The Drake album is well produced. Deep Chicago and New York house vibes are married to south and western African influences, and, as always, he’s got some of the best producers involved (Black Coffee, Gordo, Lustig and more). There are even some Jersey and Baltimore beats, two wonderful sub-genres that marry house and hip-hop and which have been bubbling with creativity for years. Drake can be tiresome lyrically and he’s a bit of a meme, though he does poke fun at this in his latest video, for the excellent Falling Back. The album has plenty of bangers.

Beyonce’s latest single is pretty conventional house wise, and it comes ahead of her eagerly awaited Renaissance album, which is set for late July. Again, there’s a host of names on songwriting and production duty, and Beyonce is singing and rapping on the track. I’ve been begging for a hip-house revival for decades, but despite the odd moment (Azealia Banks, Shamir, etc), it’s never quite come to fruition! Maybe the summer of 2022 is the time? At least these two are doing it over some pretty decent grooves, and at least they aren’t content to release just pedestrian rap and r&b all the time (see most of Drake’s previous album).

House music has multiple faces and it’s incredible that so many American music fans are dismissive of its history. The music was originally created in the US (with many European influences), but it really found its place by getting exported to England and Europe in the late 1980s.

Club culture here took off around then, too, and you only had to be at the Marquee last weekend, or at Independent park tonight, to see how much we all love it still. It eventually became commercialised, like everything else, and only really resurfaced in the US mainstream when EDM repackaged a more uptempo version of it. What we now call EDM is often a million miles away from the original music and from its deep black gospel and soul origins, but that’s what happens as music and time travel.

North America once pretty much killed disco and as AIDs swept through the club scene, there was a nasty backlash against anything that was perceived as being effeminate.

House remains misunderstood today, but the beat goes on, and there are some great summer anthems coming from a rich lineage of wonderful musical heritage.

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