“It’s fine if you don’t get it yet. It’s perfect. This is what we do. We are waiting for you to catch up. Drake’s response to his dance album Honestly it doesn’t matterThe mixed reception of could be seen as another Drake-ism – the superstar scorned by negative Twitter reviews, the great experimenter defending his transition to dance music. Or, the artist unwittingly capturing the moment the genre finds itself in.
Drizzy has only given us a few hours before releasing his seventh studio album. Nine months after the inheritance attempt Certified loverboy where he flexed his rap and R&B muscles, no one expected. Honestly it doesn’t matter is categorized as “dance” on Apple Music, and throughout, Drake commits to singing along to lush, clubby beats, leaning fully into the chill-dance-pop music he briefly slipped into with his 2017 hit “Passionfruit.” From Afrobeats to grime, in recent years Drake has managed to consistently affiliate with emerging genres that have crossed over globally. For the Canadian superstar, devoting an entire album to dance music carries weight. Of course, Drake’s house version is a little too steeped in R&B and pop melodies and his sometimes lackluster vocals might distract from what he’s actually trying. Because it’s this easy familiarity that gives audiences unfamiliar with dance music a doorway.
Whether Honestly it doesn’t matter was a conversation starter, with Beyoncé dropping a surprise house-inspired track four days later, confirming what we already suspected (and hoped for): house music is on the verge of a pop revival. Where Drake flirts with Afrohouse and dance music of the late 2000s and early 2010s, Bey’s “Break My Soul” is an unrestrained homage to ’90s house; a legitimized feature-length attempt by New Orleans bounce legend Big Freedia and a snippet of Robin S.’s “Show Me Love” – the hit song that defined the sound of house music in the early ’90s 90. Each in their own way, Drake and Beyoncé seemed to summon the audience to get up and leave their worries on the nightclub floor. But are the people ready? A quick look on Twitter following the Drake album suggests: Not really.
When Drake and Beyoncé sent fans into a frenzy last week with their home efforts, my first reactions were, Honestly, what’s the problem? Dance music has been bubbling lately – purists would say it’s never gone away, and depending on where you go, that’s also true. This type of experimentation has always been there, hip-hop in particular has been teasing a dance music comeback for a while. Producers like KAYTRANADA and Channel Tres have anchored this gradual change, while the list of rap artists trying their hand at house beats is also growing. Santigold, Doechii, MIA, GoldLink, Solange, Azealia Banks, IDK, are just a few names that come to mind – IDK’s 2022 album Simple., in my opinion, set the standard for how to do a home project as a rapper. In the UK, many rappers have lent their streams to the country’s dance-tinged garage subgenre – which would have seemed like the most obvious path for Drake to take. Then, in Africa, the popularity of South Africa’s Amapiano sound, which borrows heavily from the local house scene, also signals a cultural shift towards dance music. Overall, audiences seem ready for a revival, but Drake fans’ internet debates – and as the world’s most-listened to artist, that means “nearly everyone” – are left baffled by his latest show house music offering. have still not registered in mass consciousness.
Many rap fans shared bad reviews and memes on social media in response to Honestly it doesn’t matter, unhappy with what they saw as a competitive rapper dropping the ball. A lot of people interpreted this new direction as a move towards the electronic “oontz, oontz” and EDM-influenced pop music of the early 2010s – you know, when David Guetta reigned supreme. But it’s not house, it’s not the kind of dance music that Drake and Beyoncé are trying to get you to listen to. House is playful, it’s moving. Originating in Chicago in the 80s with the experimental sets of DJ Frankie Knuckles at black gay club The Warehouse, house has become a positive and defining soundtrack for black and queer communities. Hip-hop and house are by no means sonic siblings, but they are rooted in a similar struggle to speak for their people. While hip-hop’s early rap stars quickly brought the genre into the mainstream, house has largely avoided the charts, choosing instead to thrive on the dance floors of its chosen communities. In a sense, it may have been because house never transitioned from collective superstar to individual superstar that it missed out on a major commercial crossover.
Drake is trying to take on this monstrous task before anyone else can, edging out Beyoncé who is set to release her own full-length dance album, the aptly titled Renaissance. Even through the confused and lukewarm responses, Drake again struck gold. Within days of its release, Honestly Nevermind became the greatest dance album in Apple Music history. The numbers in no way speak for its quality; Honestly it doesn’t matter is absolutely a commercialized and watered down version of house music. In all of this, the issue of ownership and culture comes into play. Drake is no stranger to accusations of cultural appropriation for his passing musical obsessions. In his 2019 Rap Radar interview, he addressed these, saying, “Whenever I embark on one of these journeys, I make sure that I don’t just give all the verbal respects. I make it a point to give people I respect a chance.
It’s true, time and time again Drake steps out of his comfort zone, continuing his experimentations by recruiting heavyweights of the genre into his orbit. On this album, it is once again the theme. Iconic South African deep house DJ and producer Black Coffee contributes three songs. And Baltimore club music icon Carnage (under his house alias Gordo) has produced five. The song “Currents” samples a squealing noise that Jersey Club producers have been using for years. With these major cultural aids, Drake’s mundane pop ballads turn into the perfect echo chambers to appease skeptics in house music. Drake’s adaptability and ability to give pop appeal to “new” sounds is perhaps his greatest asset. And when we look back one day on the crossover of dance music on the charts, I’m pretty sure this record will be considered a defining moment.
When “Passionfruit” dropped on the rapper’s 2017 mixtape More Life — which also brilliantly features production from Black Coffee — it quickly became one of my favorite Drake songs. I’ve combed through every project since I searched for that house-ish vibe, and when those couldn’t be found, I scoured SoundCloud for danceable remixes. The rapper wasn’t ready to take the leap five years ago, and now he’s decorated an entire album with that sound. So what has changed?
The thing is, Drake and Beyoncé’s “house music revival” isn’t just about house as a sound. In a British Vogue interview with Queen B, editor Edward Enninful describes the “soaring vocals and ferocious beats” of Bey’s unreleased album that brought him back “to the clubs of his youth” in the late 1900s. 80s and 90s. There seems to be a feeling of escapism at the heart of this musical shift, a need for flip. House, perhaps more than any other genre, represents the impulse to get up and dance your worries away. Beyoncé’s unrestrained call to “Free your anger, free your mind / Free your work, free the time / Free your business, free the stress / Free the love, forget the rest”, is the type of dance challenge that has long traveled by house music. That’s what made it a haven for black, gay, and working class people in the first place. Two years into a global pandemic that has nearly crushed club culture, taken lives, jobs and security, more than ever, house music sounds like a fitting anthem.
For listeners who are new to this sound, “C’est tout bon”, welcome. It’s okay to admit that Drake or Beyoncé put you on dance music. It’s good to take advantage when things go mainstream. And for house fans who wrinkle their noses at this mainstream assimilation, that’s the beauty of music, it adapts, evolves and grows. House music is originally black and queer, as long as that is always put first there is a strong future for the genre to come.