Last week, as Philadelphia’s, native son Lil Uzi Vert neared the end of his set at Roots Picnic, the music died out, and Uzi surveyed the crowd like a wrestler at the top of a turnbuckle, preparing for the drop. The crowd had been engaged and eating out of his hand for most of the performance, but in unison, a hush fell over the field and everyone snapped to attention, anticipating the big finishing move that was sure to come.
The BPMs kicked up to around 150, as if someone had pierced the monitor’s breast plate and injected it with pure adrenaline. The palpitating baseline and kick drum anthem “Just Wanna Rock'' faded in and the young crowd began convulsing their hips in a manner with which you’re undoubtedly familiar if you or someone you love has Tiktok. Some began hopping in place on one leg, and stabbing the ground with the other like they were mashing wasabi into soy sauce with it. Uzi ran through the song once, then ran it back, calling a crowd of children and teens to the stage to perform the viral dance associated with the song.
The crowd was participating in a dalliance that goes back generations. While “Jersey Club” may sound like the worst place on Earth,it’s actually a sound that rap is very much into right now. The drum pattern of “Just Wanna Rock'' has functioned almost as a secret handshake among niche music circles, but the secret is almost out. Kendrick Lamar and Baby Keem just brought it a step further with their fun new collaboration “The Hillbillies,” which was produced by Evilgiane of New York’s Surf Gang. Like trip house and hip house- the niche sub-genres that preceded it- Jersey Club is a hybrid of rap and dance music that has seemingly broken through to the mainstream like never before.
When—and where—did it start?
Jersey, obviously. I was initially called “Brick City Club” back in the 90s, a reference to Newark and a close relative to Baltimore Club, which dates back to the 80s, an iteration of house married with hip hop that eventually made the 180-mile journey North on I-95, emerging from the Newark’s DIY club scene and eventually going international. Brick Bandits member DJ Tameil is often cited as its founding father, and once dubstep came into vogue on a national stage and Jersey Club’s ’s first wave died out, it was kept alive by artists like DJ Fade and DJ Jayhood.
What does it sound like?
The Jersey sound they produced is more aggressive than variants in Baltimore and Philly, a harder kick with a harder chop on the samples and generally raised BPMs (Going as high as 150). Its beat is typically composed of a four-on-the floor capped with a triplet, which you’d recognize immediately if you’ve heard it more than once. It makes sense this is the sound that has most successfully bridged the gap between dance and rap, as its origins were a form of dance blended with hip hop production whose influence is now reversing directions. After years of opiate-inspired emo rap, singing about ex-girlfriends over cloudy production through autotune, rap is back on uppers, growling over caffeinated hyper drums, with Jersey Club rap poised to become the vanguard of the trend.
What is its impact on mainstream music, specifically Hip-Hop?
Drake and Beyoncé’s dance albums from last year (Honestly, Nevermind and Renaissance, respectively) flirted with dance and Jersey Club elements across a few tracks. i But predating those groundbreaking albums, the sound had perhaps found its most natural relative in drill, an already white knuckle, revved up drum pattern. Cash Cobain, one of the producers leading the charge in bringing Jersey Club to drill, tells GQ that no matter the sub-genre , he typically makes beats in the 150-160 BPM range, so the relative tempos and energies makes them natural bedfellows. As Evilgiane theorizes, as to why there's been such a peanut-butter-and-chocolate relationship between the two genres: “Maybe it’s that the kick pattern is similar to the hi-hat pattern in drill beats.”
Both Evilgiane and Cash Cobain have long histories within the genre. Giane’s mother used to play it in the house, and Cash was introduced by friends in Maplewood, New Jersey. “Just being outside there, you hear it everywhere” Cash says.
But many with less fortunate personal connections and fewer family members with eclectic tastes have discovered it on Tiktok, where both Jersey Club songs and Jersey Club-influenced rap have strong virality potential, thanks to the high energy and movement-heavy dances they tend to inspire ideal for a medium that operates in easily digestible, seven-second chunks. “I don’t really pay attention to the Tiktok shit much, but I guess it does play a big part in it blowing up,” Giane says.“Young kids getting into it and making their little dances? All that shit is cute as fuck.”
Dance music journalist and event curator Arielle LeJarde credits the rise of the genre to the willingness of its artists to be ambassadors, to branch out and bring outsiders into their sound.“The second to third wave of Jersey Club producers who’ve been around since 2010 are working together with Jersey Club rap artists like Bandmanrill.,” she explains. “I think because everyone is working together, which is kind of rare in dance music, it’s helping them all get to the mainstream.” She continues, “Originally with all the different club scenes, it felt like they were fighting more than anything, like ‘if you’re not from Jersey, don’t do this’, but this generation is getting along and bringing everyone up with them together.”
Which of my favorite songs right now are indebted to Jersey Club?
There’s the aforementioned “Just Wanna Rock” and “The Hillbillies”. You can also hear Jersey Club and its signature squeaking mattress springs (which can apparently be faked with a rocking chair) on Drake’s “Currents.”
LeJarde points to Cookiee Kawaii (who linked with Tyga for her hit “Vibe (If I Back It Up)”), DJ Smallz 732 (whose club remix of Coi Leray’s “Playerz” was another inflection point), and DJs Sliink and Taj (who have both made popular Jersey Club remixes of songs by Brent Faiyez, Drake, and Ice Spice, among others) as artists who have help spread the Jersey Club gospel beyond the original environs of an insular scene.
Speaking of Ice Spice, the Bronx rapper recently was featured on the Jersey Club-influenced viral smash by English R&B songstress PinkPantheress, “Boys a Liar pt. 2.” The producer Mura Masa is also English, a reflection of just how widespread the Jersey Club sound has gone in a short period. In an interview, Masa said, “I started with the main chords and the little melody line. I think that’s the musical earworm of the song. Then drums-wise, we had been talking about Baltimore and Jersey [club music] and these unsung Black music cultures that are coming to the forefront now with Uzi doing Jersey Club and these kinds of things. That was something that she was really interested in exploring.” 128 million views on YouTube in four months suggest she wasn’t alone.
Who are the artists leading the charge?
While Brick City rapper Bandmanrill isn’t the originator, people like Cash Cobain credit him as the first to popularize the trend of rapping over Jersey Club. “He was the first I heard really going hard with it,” Cash says. “That’s why I always give him his flowers.”
Evil credits Bandmanrill as well, citing the Newark rapper’s “Bullet” as his favorite Jersey Club rap song (made by someone else). We also have to note producer Mcvertt (who Philly’s Lil Uzi reached across state lines to tap for “Just Wanna Rock”).
Projecting trends and influence in rap is a historically tricky and unpredictable endeavor, but Cash Cobain feels Jersey Club influenced rap and pop will only expand and continue to be a force in culture. “It's been here for the longest, and I don’t see it going anywhere for years.”