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The endless evolution of Jersey club

With its high-energy beats, infectious dance routines and community ethos, Jersey club has become a global phenomenon. Tice Cin reports from New Jersey on some of the people pushing the sound forwards, the special moments they create, and their hopes for the future of the music

Over the past 20 years, Jersey club has become part of the fabric of its home state. Pioneered by DJ Tameil, the late, great Tim Dolla and others, and developed by a burgeoning talent pool of DJs and producers throughout the years, the genre — originally called Brick City Club — transformed into an active culture, integrated into the heart of the community.

“This music was everywhere,” explains DJ/producer TAH, “in Downtown Newark in the chicken shacks, in barber shops, hair salons...” In schools, cafeteria tables became kick-drums, played by the feet of kids climbing onto them, everybody turning up at once. At home, teens made tracks on cracked versions of FL Studio. The music could be heard on street corners, at dollar parties thrown in backyards and events at Newark venues like The Centre, the Robert Treat Hotel and the historic Terrace Ballroom. Parties were often held at the same venues as iconic balls, adding a rich socio-cultural history to these spaces. Jersey club music and its culture is ripe with Hall Of Fame memories.

Introducing: TAH

Originating from Baltimore club and taking in elements of house, Jersey club quickly became its own sound, with steely triplet kick-drums that are instantly recognisable, the backbone to exuberant vocal chops and shaped melodies. The kit has always been key — like the signature ‘bed squeak’, sampled from Trillville’s ‘Some Cut’ and chopped up by DJ Tameil in 2004 — but everybody puts their own stamp on it. “We freak the music to a point where you won’t even tell the sample,” says producer LilC4.

South Jersey’s Hyped-Up Reese explains how the integrity of the sound was protected: “When I started making Jersey club in 2014, you couldn’t just Google ‘Jersey club downloads’, that folder don’t exist... you gotta really do your work in order to grab those sounds. The producers are open to giving you those kits, but you have to make that authentic connection.”

Introducing: Hyped-Up Reese

Connection and community are the lifeblood of Jersey club and best displayed in the history of its ‘street team’ culture, an essential cog in Newark’s DIY scene that helped the sound evolve. Groups of DJs, promoters, graphic designers, dancers and artists would align to create special moments. The manifesto of the scene’s most storied collective, Brick Bandits, shows the ethos that drove the community from the early 2000s to now. In it, OG member Mike V shares, “Brick Bandits is not just a production team, it’s a family... we eat together, we laugh together, we drink together and we have fun together.”

Seeing a need for more women-only spaces, new-gen artist and self-styled ‘Jersey club queen’ and previous DJ Mag North America cover star, UNIIQU3, went on to make the Vixen street team. “All girls, it was like a sisterhood. We’d meet after school, learn dance routines and do Sweet Sixteens,” she recalls.

Dances fuelled the culture. The Running Man. Percolator. Rock Yo Hips. Tip Toe. Juiceskiii Bounce. The list goes on. Co-founder of dance crew Lab Sisterz, Neyy Boogs tries to convey the energy of dancing to Jersey club. “It’s about how you feel doing it. The music gets your blood pumping in a cypher — a 16 count, an eight count — as each person jumps in, the next person gets better and better. It’s lit."

All artists

"Some dance music is for appearances and posing. NJ club is for activity. You gotta feel something, and it puts you on your feet. It must make people move!” -  ’89 The Brainchild

Whole houses would be dedicated to Jersey club battles and young people would sneak into clubs after high school. TAH relays how second-wave stars Nadus and DJ Sliink (“they were like big brothers”) would sneak them into gigs in Brooklyn. In the New York borough, parties had larger capacities and budgets than in Newark, highlighting a disparity and a need to grow the scene back home.

In Newark, this included spots like Submerged, with young collectives like #THREAD (DJ Sliink, Nadus, DJ Reck, Ezrakh, TAH and more) building a reputation for throwing boundary- pushing nights. “We even invited people from outside the States, like Zora Jones and Sinjin Hawke, to these random-ass parties Downtown,” says TAH.

Rahway resident and rapper ’89 The Brainchild rhapsodies with pride about the pull of Jersey club: “NJ club is another shining example of [the] Black musical innovation coming out of the Garden State since P-Funk. Some dance music is for appearances and posing. NJ club is for activity. You gotta feel something, and it puts you on your feet. It must make people move!”

Introducing: LILC4

Jersey club has always thrummed with digital activity, too. It’s grown up in the age of the internet and the two have evolved together. MySpace was an early hub, an audiovisual vault of dance videos and tracks, while AOL’s AIM chat was key for moving songs. “We’d go on AIM with our tracks and use them as currency to barter for other songs that we didn’t have — that exclusive access. It helped with the expansion of club music,” TAH explains.

Jersey club now has its own The Shade Room-style gossip pages on socials where the community shares the latest happenings in the scene, from safeguarding warnings about people to avoid working with, to celebratory uploads about the successes of different people involved.

Introducing: Kia BHN

TikTok has allowed more Jersey club artists to monetise their craft. Outside of its local context, people will sometimes even refer to Jersey club as ‘TikTok music’ because of the instantaneity with which Jersey club blows up on the platform, as if made with some secret algorithmic potion.

Artists make a regular income from the app, and find it keeps their profiles visible in a more connected way. Recently, producer-artist KAYY DRiZZ went viral with their track ‘Skinny Girlz’, with well-known TikTokkers like Spook Locc dancing to the track online. Ase Manual’s 2017 track ‘Shake That Thing’, featuring SBF and LVCKYFEM, has had a similar viral explosion.

LilC4, producer of TikTok hits like ‘Jade’, confides, “TikTok saved my life, no funny shit”. Fellow prolific producer and cousin JIDDY adds, “We’ve always been here, but now with things like TikTok, we’re starting to be seen.”

Club music remains an active harbour for the Jersey community, as this writer witnesses on a trip to the Garden State in June, visiting different pockets of the scene. Hyped-Up Reese DJs at a football camp in Cherry Hill for elementary and high school players. She cues in RoBB’s viral ‘Ain’t No Way Remix’ and Jersey club interrupts the football drills, the athletes’ focus turning instead to dirt bounces and hands on heads.

PBNJ Block Party

“Jersey club comes from Jersey — that’s what people need to understand first and foremost. We need to keep documenting our journey and tell our stories the way we want to.” - UNIIQU3

Another day, Kia BHN plays at Juneteenth NJ. She has members of the Lab Sisterz performing on stage with her. A circle opens in the crowd where some Lab Brothers of varying generations have joined the fold. Kia’s ‘Jersey Club Anniversary’ plays. Soon, both teams are on stage; everyone knows each other, the love is palpable. After the set, Neyy Boogs is down in the crowd, labbing with the boys. That night, TAH relaunches sweatystickysweet, their party series that focuses on creating dance music spaces with Black — and especially queer Black — folk as the priority, with DJs like KAYY DRiZZ playing. “People came up to me afterwards saying it was one of the Blackest dance spaces in Brooklyn they had been in,” says TAH.

The global demand for Jersey club has ebbed and flowed, but its presence now feels stronger than ever. Scene OG Mike Gip ‘The Handsome DJ’ is having his contribution recognised, reaching into the present day as his ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ remix sets crowds moving across the world. 

Introducing: JIDDY

UNIIQU3 – who founded and curated both editions of Newark's annual PBNJ Block Party, pictured above – has become a focal-point for the international audience, playing festivals and clubs around the world. Beyond the scene’s own artists, Jersey club’s influence is indisputable in projects like Drake’s ‘Honestly, Nevermind’, released in June this year. “I knew it was crazy when, like, celebrities, they’d been dancing to our stuff. We’ve been going viral before viral was viral,” observes LilC4, who’s had his own success with viral dance videos (and an album called ‘VIRAL’).

With that level of attention, it’s important for the original sound and culture to be credited, and for local creatives to be looked towards as experts in their field. “I want them to know that we exist, because mainstream artists or corporate labels take on our sound so much, but they don’t really tap into the people that are doing it, and instead go to somebody else who isn’t familiar with the sound and its context,” says JIDDY. “We’re prepared and ready to go.”

Introducing: KAYY DRiZZ

UNIIQU3 shares her perspective: “Jersey club has always been a genre that has been appropriated — whether by a top 40 artist or otherwise. We’ve been telling our story, so now if people don’t know what Jersey club is, at least they can look it up.

“Jersey club comes from Jersey — that’s what people need to understand first and foremost,” she continues. “We need to keep documenting our journey and tell our stories the way we want to.”

“It’s a whole big battle of tug o’ war that all of us are going through here,” adds rapper Marcus Ariah. “We are on the cusp; as soon as that cusp breaks, I feel like there will be 100 Jersey people out there blowing up and it’s going to be  how Chicago had their crazy wave after Chief Keef dropped.”

Introducing: NEYY BOOGS

It’s a scene that is juggernauting with a socio-economic thrust, meaning unity is more important than ever to keep the scene healthy and uplift everyone. “It’s experiencing Black culture. Kids. Food trucks. Jump rope. Hot, sweaty. Besides the BS that happens in our state, we know how to come together,” says scene stalwart, Kia BHN.

With the community in mourning since DJ Tim Dolla — a teacher, mentor and champion for Jersey club — passed away in July, it is important to celebrate the people who are ambassadors for the culture; they are the gateways that have allowed the movement to flourish. Speaking of his loved one online, fellow Brick Bandits founder Mike V wrote, “His legacy is this Jersey Club culture, from the DJs/ producers to the dancers. There wouldn’t be a culture if he had not played such a significant role in its creation, development and evolution.”

Artist-led, community-nourishing music needs to be the template. The culture is in a transitional period but has a rich history to draw from, while its cardio-pumping energy remains an easy pull. “Nothing hits as hard and is this groovy — layering 10,000 kicks over something that is soulful, funny or just a track you like,” says TAH, before hitting on what the key factor will be in uplifting the scene. “We are the most important aspect of club music, that’s what needs to be focused on, the us.”

Listen to TAH's Jersey Club mix, and check the tracklist, below. 

Tracklist:

Mike V ‘Feelings’
Kia BHN ‘Jersey Anniversary’ 
Kayy Drizz ft. Opxra ‘Get Ready’ 
Letsgo Yanii ‘Only You Knew’ 
Ayoo Lyve  ‘Shake That Donk’ 
JIDDY ‘RIDE’ 
LILC4 ‘Move Ya Body’
Saucy P ‘Ochie’ 
SZA ‘I Hate U (Hyped-Up Reese Jersey Club Remix)’ 
DJ Tim Dolla ‘Loyal’ 
Ayoo Lyve ‘I’m Close (Ra Ta Ta)’
TAH ‘DAT ASS’
Kayy Drizz + DJ Problem ‘Skinny Girlz’ 
DJ Tim Dolla  ‘head (she really want it)’ 
Kayy Drizz ‘SLAYE INSTRUMENTAL’ (no drops) 
TAH  ‘Gone Fishing’ 
KMD - Nitty Gritty [Dumille  Brother’s Tribute] (TAH remix) 
TAH ‘Mercy!’
DJ SLiiNK + JIDDY ‘Feeling It (Cartel Mix)’ 
SBF ft Kayy Drizz  ‘PRESSIN’ 
Letsgo Yanii ‘Get Low’
SBF ft UNIIQU3 ‘Touch The Ground (Dirty)’ 
TAH + JIDDY ‘She Chose’ 
JIDDY ‘Doo Da (feat. Roddonabeat)’ 
Hyped-Up Reese ‘Like That’ 
LILC4  ‘Damage’
Vivid the Producer ‘Elephant Man (Def Jam)’
TAH ‘Pop, Pop, Bend, Bend That’
TAH ‘STRENGTH’

Want more? Revisit UNIIQU3's DJ Mag North America cover interview here

Tice Cin is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @ticecin