How Drake and Beyoncé brought house music back to life

The two artists recently unveiled projects inspired by this flagship genre of the 1990s. With, perhaps, the wish to recall the Afro-American roots of this music born in the clubs of Chicago.

Drake and Beyoncé surprised by drawing inspiration from house music from the 1990s: a revival that honors forgotten African-American pioneers of this current of electro music.

The Canadian fired first with the album Honestly, Nevermind June 17, four days before Break My Soul, single from the American. Exit rap or R&B: the two megastars give in to a house register, a branch of electro widespread in European clubs 30 years ago.

“I’m a little flabbergasted: who saw this coming?”, comments for AFP David Blot, French journalist and organizer in the 90s of the house evenings “Respect” exported from Paris to New York. “Drake with ‘Passionfruit’ (2017) touched a bit on house but there, it’s shocking, in the good sense of the word. And Beyoncé, it’s downright ‘dance’, even if ‘Formation’ (2016) had already some house colors” continues the co-author of the graphic novel ‘Le chant de la machine’, dedicated to the history of house.

The two stars are well placed in the charts, despite a sometimes rough reception. Drake was targeted on social media, amid alleged betrayal of the African-American community (where his father is from). Like this tweet: “What is this Drake album for white people? It’s for EDM clubs”.

Frankie Knuckles

EDM, “Electronic dance music”, is an expression that picks up the most commercial electro music. In the 1990s, Ace of Base, a Swedish group with hits, was one of the symbols of what is also called Eurodance, an outgrowth of house. But Questlove, American drummer of The Roots, a true musical bible, has refocused the debate on its social networks, starting to the rescue of “D&B”, either Drake and Beyoncé.

The musician first denounces a “disdain” for the importance of black culture in electro. And says he is happy “that D&B is leading the charge”. Because the history of house was also written with African-American DJ-producers.

Among musical archaeologists, for the origins of house, a city, a club and a name always come back: Chicago in the 1980s, The Warehouse, Frankie Knuckles, African-American DJ-producer who died in 2014.

The anecdote is famous. One day, Knuckles sees on the front of a bar: “Here we play house music”. He asks the person with him what it means: “That’s the music you play at the Warehouse, Frankie!”

At the time, club regulars met at the “House”, short for Warehouse. Knuckles said modestly: “People didn’t want disco anymore, they were given another music”.

larry levan

In fact, by mixing several pieces of music, Knuckles rids disco of its artifices, injects a heartbeat groove and a slamming rhythm. Knuckles, a name fallen into oblivion in the United States, like those of other of his peers, Ron Hardy or Marshall Jefferson.

“In the USA, this music remained indifferent for a long time, no doubt because of the links with the black, Latino, gay communities of the scenes of New York, Chicago or Detroit (techno, for this city)”, adds David Blot, voice of Radio Nova station in France.

In Break My SoulBeyoncé samples a 90s dance music standard, show me love by Robin S. The future album of “Queen B”, Renaissanceon July 29, will it be all house?

The album will in any case sound very club, according to the clues of vogue, the only media that could listen to the disc at Beyoncé. For the shoot, she wanted to evoke “the 90s garage scene” and “80s excesses,” according to the magazine.

Garage house is a musical branch that refers to Paradise Garage, a mythical New York club of the 1970s and 1980s where Larry Levan (deceased in 1992), African-American DJ, Knuckles’ mentor, officiated.