In the House: How Drake and Beyoncé Led a Dance Music Renaissance in 2022

'Honestly, Nevermind' and 'RENAISSANCE' are the latest in a long line of pop hits borrowing from underground club culture

Photo courtesy of Sony Music

BY Dylan BarnabePublished Dec 12, 2022

First it was Drake, whose surprise seventh album Honestly, Nevermind brought house, ampiano and Baltimore club beats to the fore. Then, a month later, Beyoncé cemented it with her homage to dance, house and ballroom on RENAISSANCE. The king and queen had spoken: the Third Summer of Love was upon us. 

Reflecting on the musical trends of 2022, it's impossible to ignore two of the industry's biggest names dipping into the eternal springs of underground electronic music and club culture — a scene that remains as American as apple pie, largely born of Black, Latino, queer and working class communities from Chicago, New York and Detroit. 

House music, heavily influenced by disco, Black and Latin nightlife, emerged in the 1980s following the swift backlash to disco and found its home in Chicago. The godfather of house, Frankie Knuckles, would play sets out of the Warehouse on the industrial side of town, where groups of young people would congregate until the early hours of the morning. House dominated the 1990s, with DJs like Ron Hardy, Larry Levan, David Morales and Knuckles elevated to godlike status behind the decks at Power Plant, the Sound Factory or Tunnel. The DIY roots of the genre allowed for near-constant experimentation and innovation, as DJs constantly reworked and retooled disco's beats alongside the latest drum machines and synthesizers. The '90s also birthed the Club Kids, whose takeover of club culture influenced everything from fashion to art, and whose legacy as ambassadors of the lifestyle remains larger than life to this day. 

Rick Laplante, an Ottawa DJ and founder of Framework Music, has been professionally DJing for over 25 years in the nation's capital. Since 2017, his group has been organizing a local all-night dance event, White Rabbit, every month in the city's core. Speaking with Exclaim!, Laplante observes that Drake and Beyoncé are the latest in a long line of mainstream pop artists drawing from underground club culture.

"In my opinion, house music is the perfect evolution of dance music," he says. "It provides a foundation that can be amalgamated in so many other styles of music. Any flavour of music, like country or R&B, can be incorporated into it."

He isn't wrong. From Robin S's "Show Me Love," to Madonna's "Vogue," there are countless examples of house feeding the mouth of popular music. It has remained the constant undercurrent throughout recent pop history, pushing new sounds to the surface while seamlessly integrating new technologies, such as DJ Pierre's foundational experiments using the Roland TB-303. The concept of house creeping into commercial music isn't new or even particularly noteworthy, but the sheer cult of personality surrounding Drake and Beyoncé has renewed conversation on the topic.  

"Dance music gets your heartbeat going. It's pretty primal in a way," says Trevor Walker, who began DJing in the late 1980s and spent 21 years as a resident at Ottawa's Mercury Lounge, one of the longest lasting and most respected venues in the country. He currently hosts a two-hour slot on CKCU FM. "The tempo, the kick — it's in all music. If you listen, you can find that 115 bpm to 140 bpm. It's your heartbeat; it's just infectious. Disco's always been bubbling, and house music is just disco for the modern era. It never left."

For artists like Drake and Beyoncé, whose success is partially predicated on streams and their ability to push their sound to new heights to maintain their stardom, pivoting to another genre perhaps isn't so much a creative exploration as a necessity. This shouldn't diminish the effort or production value of either artist, as both clearly did their homework and delivered carefully crafted homages. 

"I think a lot of the headlines when Drake and Beyoncé released their take on house talked about house being 'revived' — but I wouldn't say it was revived because it never went away," Laplante says. "You look at the co-producers on Beyoncé's album and some of the greats of the industry are on there, like Honey Dijon, Green Velvet. … These are people that played such a large role in defining the sound of house music and have been a constant over the past three decades. There's a sense of continuity in Beyoncé having some of these stalwarts of the house music scene involved as contributors on the album."

Similarly, Walker sees some benefit, and even altruism, in their efforts: "Of course, they want to sell music, but really it's a big risk to either of those artists to show their take on house music. The backlash alone to Drake's album from his current crop of followers was telling. They didn't like the rapping, they hated the house beats, the Baltimore influences"

Honestly, Nevermind received mixed reviews and was largely touted as a middle-of-the-road album for the Toronto rapper, though singles "Massive" and "Sticky" performed well. Meanwhile, RENAISSANCE was lauded by critics and club enthusiasts alike as one of the year's best albums and modern works of referential art. (It's near the top of Exclaim!'s Best Albums of 2022 list.) Abounding with Easter eggs befitting even the hardest house head, RENAISSANCE succeeded in creating a veritable carnival of club culture, lifting up the veterans and day ones who paved the way for its success. 

"It's a good thing, overall, for bringing the next generation into the scene," Walker reflects. "In a way, it might saturate the market, but that's always been the case no matter what. Maybe you'll get some evolution out of it; kids having a new take on it. There's been a real classic '90s house revival from early to mid-'90s, with that kind of sound making its way back. Culturally, it's been bubbling the whole time."

The enduring power of house is something that comes up again and again when DJs and producers talk about the scene. The pressure to conform falls away in the underground, where innovation and creativity don't hinge on No. 1 hits or algorithms. "What we're seeing, as far as house music being commercialized and distributed to a wider audience, is the tried-and-true, already-tested elements that have stood the test of time," says Laplante. "But the underground side is where the innovation happens — where everything fresh and exciting happens. As long as there are people in the scene who are hosting live events that are true to the original spirit of house music — a non-judgmental shared experience of music and dance — it's always going to be there."   

Electronic music has long presented alternate ways of living, borrowing from the spirit of punk in the mid-1970s. Its abstract instrumentalism, for one, provided the space for many members of the LGBTQ2 community to express themselves and escape from reality. The core of club culture has always been to probe questions of gender, identity and equality — and is indelibly tied to place. While the music of Drake and Beyoncé may help draw new members to the community, the club itself is where you ultimately find yourself — in the neon glow of the dance floor, beyond the radio edit.

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