A Rising Sound That No One Knows What to Do With Yet

todayApril 16, 2023 25

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Bandmanrill live performance jersey club music new take on jersey club rap

Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

Jersey club rap: whether you’re familiar with the subgenre or not, you’ve surely heard it. Lil Uzi Vert’s “Just Wanna Rock,” Drake’s “Currents,” Coi Leray’s “Playerz” remix — the tail end of last year saw Jersey club rap enter the mainstream in a notable way, with the sound continuing to have a presence in 2023 thanks to everyone from Ice Spice to French Montana. But even in its growing popularity, it’s clear that the rising sound, which comes from Newark, New Jersey, is something that the industry at large doesn’t know what to do with.

Jersey club rap and the intertwined history of Jersey club music and rap music

Jersey club music has been around since the late ‘90s. A derivation of East Coast club music inspired by Baltimore club’s blend of house music and hip-hop, its bouncier cousin from Newark came courtesy of DJs like Nix In The Mix, Mustafah, and Torry T, who brought Baltimore club to New Jersey. Newark’s DJ Tameil would then go on to connect with the Baltimore scene, before starting to produce his own club tracks in 2001, coining the term “Brick City club” in 2002 and starting his own legacy as the founding father of Jersey club.

Jersey club had its first peak in the mainstream during the bloghouse boom of the mid-aughts. Mad Decent, Diplo’s record label, was one of club music’s biggest champions at the time, being one of the only labels to release records with Brick Bandits, an original club music crew that spans across New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Chicago. For the first time, people outside of New Jersey were able to experience the genre. But when the EDM industry pivoted to backing bass-heavy dubstep, it seemingly didn’t care that it left Jersey club behind.

However, that hasn’t stopped Jersey club’s most beloved DJs from keeping the sound alive. Figures like DJ Fade put on annual Jersey Club parties, with the artist recently hosting the second edition of it in East Orange, New Jersey. The lineup boasted legends like Mike Gip and DJ Jayhood, with pioneering dancers, producers, and DJs all in attendance. He aims to bring the newer generation of Jersey club and Jersey club rap artists in the near future.

As for Jersey club’s intermingling with rap, Chad B is credited as one of the first rappers to rhyme over Jersey club beats by longtime Jersey club producers, beginning back in 2005 (he even released “Hit It” in 2010 with Brick Bandits). This marked the beginning of the merger between the two sounds, with the artist now at the forefront rather than the producer.

“​​Jersey club is already part hip-hop,” said Ebony Anderson-Brown, a journalist, DJ, and historian who has been archiving and advocating for Jersey music through her HangTime Magazine platform since 2015. “[Artists] are adding another element, rapping in this case, which is another part of hip-hop, and solidifying the fact that Jersey club is hip-hop.”

The latest evolution of Jersey club and rap goes even deeper. Inspired by artists like Pop Smoke, producers began blending New York drill and Jersey club, inadvertently creating a new sound called Jersey drill. One of the first archives of Jersey drill is from July 2019, when DJ Fade, DJ Wallah, and Unicorn released a remix to Pop Smoke’s breakout hit, “Welcome to the Party.” In October, that same year, DJ Fade and DJ Taj also cleared an unofficial remix of “Dior.”

“I did the Dior remix, I was doing remixes for Fivio Foreign, and they were playing the remixes more than the original songs on the radio,” DJ Fade said. “So that really set the tone for the jersey drill sound.”

Bandmanrill takes Jersey club rap to the next level

Before Drake and Lil Uzi Vert respectively put out their own club-injected hits, the TikTok boom was already starting to form. The genre’s pure bounciness is infectious, making snippets of songs go viral all the time, with users keeping the spirit of the genre by learning new dance moves. Bandmanrill amassed over 300 thousand TikTok followers by rapping to Jersey club beats in his 2021 hit “Heartbroken.” His brisk and baritone drill-inflected cadence not only shined the spotlight on Jersey club rap, but it also brought Jersey drill to new peaks.

“I really feel like I brought Jersey club to the whole world,” Bandmanrill said in a previous interview with Okayplayer. “I was the first one that had that TikTok shit. With TikTok, you could blow anything up. Now all you see on TikTok is club music.”

Jersey club DJ and producer Nadus spoke on Bandmanrill’s impact further, noting how the artist differs from his predecessors.

“They were rapping to the steps whereas Bandman’s rapping ahead of the record,” he said. “His flow is in triplets, and it’s the same shit they rap about over regular rap records.”

On Spotify, Bandmanrill’s music has been placed on dance music editorials like Jersey Club Heat, Electronic + Dance Frequency, and Global Club Music, as well as the rap editorials Hip Hop Controller, and State of Mind. Still, despite Bandmanrill’s influence, Nadus — along with fellow DJs Smallz 732 and Sliink — stressed that what is currently happening with Jersey club rap is an extension of what’s existed in New Jersey for decades at this point.

“What people are calling a new wave isn’t really a ‘new’ thing,” Smallz said. Sliink shared a similar sentiment, speaking further on the matter: “The sound is embedded in our community’s minds, legs, arms, cars, and conversations. We hold the sound to a high standard, [but] for the rest of the world they just may see it as a fad. We are generations deep in the music. We are well past a fad.”

What is the future of Jersey club rap?

As a distinct fusion of dance music and hip-hop music, Jersey club rap can be difficult to pinpoint on an industrial level. But it’s a challenge that it shares with Jersey club music, a genre that, since its inception, labels and A&Rs have found difficult to categorize.

“We’re in this weird purgatory in the industry,” Nadus said. “It’s the same reason you go into a record label’s office and the urban department sends you to the dance music department. But the dance music department is looking at you crazy because you’re not Tiesto.”

Sliink, who’s been making music since 2006, also spoke on the industry’s lack of interest, saying how it can be slow to push a sound until it’s already doing numbers.

“Everyone always wants something to reach its peak. People don’t believe in what you’re doing until it’s actually moving,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Move with us or get moved over’ type of situation. My biggest challenge was getting the people to believe.”

Anderson-Brown said there are many routes Jersey club rap could go as it continues to rise.

“It can go the EDM route, it could go the grime route, it could go the disco route, the soulful route, the R&B route,” she said. “It’s going to be different based on who produces it and who gets on the track. It really introduces people to a new genre and it’s going to continue evolving, so I love where it’s at.”

There’s definitely an interest in the Jersey club rap sound. On her debut EP Like..?, Ice Spice raps over a beat (courtesy of RIOTUSA) that dips into club territory on the standout “In Ha Mood,” which has become one of her most popular tracks. Then, across the pond, there’s PinkPantheress, whose “Boy’s a Liar” is marked by Jersey club’s syncopated bass booms and bed squeaks. Like “In Ha Mood,” “Boy’s a Liar” has become a defining 2023 song, the songs’ connection extending beyond sonic similarities when Ice Spice and PinkPantheress recently came together for “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2.” There’s also an exchange occurring between Jersey and Philadelphia, with songs like Zahsosaa and Dsturdy’s “Shake That” and D4M $loan and Skiano’s “Baby Shark” showing that Lil Uzi Vert isn’t the only Philly rapper experimenting with the Jersey club sound.

Whether Jersey club rap will branch out further or have a trajectory similar to its East Coast cousin, New York drill, remains to be seen. But for those who’ve been a part of the subgenre — and Jersey club — for some time, all that matters to them is continuing to put on a sound and culture that means so much to them, while also hoping that newcomers take the time to learn that it’s more than a trend.

“Life is about moments. I think this culture is about moments,” Nadus said. “I want us to realize that we create those [moments] whether the world sees it or not.”

Arielle Lana LeJarde is a freelance music writer and reporter based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s been published in Rolling Stone, Billboard, MTV News, The FADER, and more. Follow her on Twitter @ariellenyc 

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