Beyoncé And Drake Might Have Predicted The Next Recession
We are entering a new era of house music with Beyoncé and Drake dropping massive house-forward records, and it’s rumoured that Frank Ocean might be doing the same.
But is it just a coincidence that these major artists are dabbling into the world of house music? Or have the bouncy BPMs got something to do with a looming recession?
When the global financial crisis hit in 2008 trillions of dollars disappeared from the economy and 4 million Americans lost their homes in just two years.
Australia wasn’t hit anywhere near as hard (thanks to Kevin Rudd for deciding to ‘go hard, go early and go households’) but the pace of our economic growth slowed significantly, our unemployment rate skyrocketed and it was a time of heightened uncertainty.
For millions of people it was a period of serious economic hardship, and what soundtracked this time of making every cent count? The likes of Flo Rida, The Pussycat Dolls and Usher, all singing about lifestyles only possible with a pretty hectic disposable income.
We often hear major political issues captured in music, whether that be police brutality in rap music or domestic violence in country music, but the sounds of economic hardship and recessions are much harder to hear.
When we look across genres what we see is that high selling, big name-driven tracks in almost every style of music offers very little in the way of economic critique. Sometimes in mainstream music we’ll hear artists singing about gender or race but economics rarely get a mention in commercial pop.
To find music that mirrors our economic reality, we need to look outside of the mainstream and to the fringes because at times of broader financial distress, unlike figures of GDP, BPMs are on the rise.
Tempo acceleration in popular music during economic hardship is well documented. For example, let’s take the top songs during the GFC, we’ve got The Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga releasing tracks with house-inspired production and way higher BPMs than the top songs from Beyoncé and Rhianna only a year before.
The song that had us all in a chokehold in 2007 was Rhianna’s iconic track ‘Umbrella’, which sits at 87 BPM. The GFC occurred in late 2008 so it’s best to examine the top songs from 2009 to see the broader impacts of the recession taking hold on pop music.
In 2009 the top song on the Billboard Charts was Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas which is 130 BPM, almost double the speed of Umbrella.
In 2022 we’re on a similar financial trajectory with the looming ‘r’ word being whispered in the media (as to not summon a real recession to life.) So with that in mind it’s not too surprising that we are seeing this explosion of house music.
The Weeknd, Dua Lipa and Doja Cat have embraced housey tones and high BPMs, but now that Beyoncé and Drake have dropped house-heavy records, it’s safe to say the house renaissance has arrived.
House music was born in Chicago in the 1980s, off the back of a major economic downtown in the US which was triggered to fight inflation. Prior to the 2008 GFC this downturn in the 1980s was the worst recession that had rocked the US since the Great Depression.
Frankie Knuckles is the godfather of house, and he dubbed it “disco’s revenge” because house rose from the ashes of disco, bringing with it one of disco’s key features: big soulful vocals.
‘Ride On Time’ is an iconic house track that features vocals from Loleatta Holloway’s disco anthem ‘Love Sensation.’
In fact the acapella cut of ‘Love Sensation’ was remixed numerous times on Chicago radio station WBMX, home to the legendary group of djs the Hot Mix 5.
The Hot Mix 5 played a pivotal role in popularising house music with over 1 million people tuning into their show every Saturday night. Listeners would record the radio show on cassettes and send them all over the world and this helped spread the genre outside of Chicago and Detroit.
The group also went from mixing tracks live on air to playing original house songs made by local Chicago producers. These songs had the other key element of house: the Roland TR-909 drum machine.
This drum machine is the predecessor to the Roland TR-808, the golden instrument for rap music, and when it was released it was predicted to be a hit. However this wasn’t the case the Roland TR-909 turned out to be a flop.
About 10,000 units were produced and most of them ended up in second hand stores and pawn shops, a place frequented during times of economic hardship. This created the perfect storm for local producers to be able to pick up these drum machines cheaply.
The Roland TR-909 is unique because it uses real drum samples for the high hats and symbols. Mix this in with songs drenched in digital piano riffs and you’ve got the perfect ingredients for a house track.
As the genre evolved into the 1990s we saw sub-genres emerge like Acid House, Deep House and Italo House. But the thing that links all the sub-genres is that house music is all about dancing and creating communities, which in a time of economic hardship, truly makes everything all the better.