Can the new Drake album help intensify the global spotlight on South African dance music?

A viable entry point—for the rest of the world—to a varied and inventive scene

Drake slung a major curveball with his newly released seventh studio album, ‘Honestly, Nevermind’. Announced only a few hours to its June 17 release date, the Canadian hybrid superstar gave the music world barely any time to speculate, on the intentions of the album, on its sound, and on its collaborators. But even with that blank slate, not too many people can claim that they had a Drake dance album on the cards.

Eight months back, as 2021 ground to its final days, the rapper and singer released his sixth LP, ‘Certified Lover Boy’, a typically lengthy album that continued Drake’s knack for hopping across modish musical styles. Like several of his projects from the last five to six years, its reception wasn’t unanimously warm; amongst its criticisms was, this was another paint-by-the-numbers Drake album, an attempt to reach the widest variety of listeners possible and appease the algorithms in order to juice up the numbers and continue his hegemony over pop music. Like all of his projects, ‘CLB’ spawned hits and cultural moments, but it obviously didn’t move the needle on Drake’s artistry, nor the discuss around it.

Not too long after ‘CLB’, and months before the announcement and arrival of ‘Honestly, Nevermind’, there were already speculations of a quick turnaround between albums. The tell signs were there: Several ‘CLB’ songs had leaked nearly a year before release, affecting its impact; he famously followed ‘Views’, another highly anticipated album, with the better-received playlist project, ‘More Life’; and Drake has established his preference for being prolific. Patterns, though, are meant to be played with and, even if this surprise release matched those signs, Drake pulled off a new trick with the music direction of his latest LP.

Maybe the garish cover, which is quite atrocious if you ask me, and relatively lean tracklist should have let us know ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ wouldn’t be a typical Drake affair. At 14 tracks, it’s one of, if not, the most concise album from the artist, and it includes only one credited vocal collaborator, in the person of Atlanta rapper 21 Savage. Then, within minutes of release, listeners who use Apple Music pointed out its genre tag as ‘Dance’, an alert that helped jumpstarted the hot takes.

Following its luminous instrumental intro, the rest of the album kicks into gear, a perpetual motion affair of high octane beats with Drake’s straightforward croons, some warbled falsetto, and rare moments of rapping. From a writing standpoint, not that much changes in Drake’s wheelhouse, as he fixes his attention on the complicatedness of modern romance. That means it’s left to the music to carry the weight of inventiveness, and a formidable, sometimes thrilling, series of dance beats are consistently up to the task.

Within general and critical conversations on ‘Honestly, Nevermind’, there’s been extensive detailing of its influences from regional styles of dance music, including Jersey Club, Baltimore Club, and Chicago House. A musical influence that’s not really being given its just due, is House music from South Africa. Maybe because it’s only one song (“Texts Go Green”) that fully bears the imprint of South African Deep House, but a beyond-the-surface look shows just how important it is to the very thread of the album.


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Across ‘Honestly, Nevermind’, a cumulative half of the songs are contributed to by its three South African collaborators, led by globally celebrated producer/DJ and recent winner of the Best Dance Album award at the last Grammys, Black Coffee. Reuniting with Drake after producing “Get It Together” off ‘More Life’, which sampled his 2009 hit song, “Superman,” he’s credited with co-producing two songs, “Currents” and “Overdrive,” which is in addition to being the one of the album’s executive producer.

Sona, Black Coffee’s son and a rising producer/DJ in his own right, helms the thumping and affecting “Texts Go Green,” a gleaming standout from the album’s opening third. TRESOR, the only non-producer of the trio, has his pen work and distinct voice embedded in six songs, co-writing on five songs and contributing vocals to four songs. It’s arguable that, with their contributions, these three put up some of the definitive highlights of ‘Honestly, Nevermind’, from Sona’s evocative piano chords, to Black Coffee’s booming but billowy drums on “Overdrive,” to TRESOR’s emotive mutters on “Down Hill.”

There’s a personal undercurrent to the musical scope of this Drake album that’s impossible to ignore: It’s the work of an apex music superstar flexing his autonomy. This is the first time in a long while that the rapper and singer doesn’t seem to be creating music out of obligation to his status; it’s an album he made because he wanted to, not necessarily trying to please every type of Drake fan there is. Attached to this is the obvious mainstream influence he wields, the kind that kickstarts trends or, at the very least, catalyses increased attention to the sounds he’s tried on for size.

Within an hour of release, ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ scored the highest single day streaming numbers for a dance music album on Apple Music. Even within the divisive discuss that immediately surrounded the project, it’s impossible to deny the absolute power that sort of record indicates, and it’s been suggested that Drake’s latest will help increase interest in dance music, specifically the subgenres that got shine on the album. Obviously, because the influences of Jersey Club, Baltimore Club and Chicago House are on the forefront of these discussions, that agenda explicitly applies to them. It makes sense to wonder if the improved visibility will extend to dance music from South Africa.


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South Africa’s dance music is arguably the most inventive scene within the context of urban African music. It’s a lineage that traces down most notably from Kwaito’s emergence in the ‘90s to Amapiano’s current reign at home and across the continent. The timeline between and around those aforementioned sounds are populated with mainstream and regional subgenres like Deep House, Tribal House, Afro-Tech, Tech-House, Gqom, Shangaan Electro and more. In their own invariably obvious and subtle ways, these different styles of dance music are interconnected with each other, and linked to other prominent sonic forms around them, from Jazz to Maskandi to rap.

With the variety of subgenres and the continent sweeping power of sounds like Gqom, Amapiano and Afro-Tech, dance music from South Africa isn’t just cutting edge, its influence on the multi-coloured tapestry of urban African music is undeniable. Globally, South African dance music has been able to corner its fair share of admirers: Black Coffee, arguably the most popular African house producer/DJ, consistently plays dance festival stages across the world, in addition to his annual summer residency in Ibiza; these days, more than a handful Amapiano producers and DJs go on European tours, while also getting festival bookings. As laudable as these exploits are, the scene could use better visibility on an international scale, to match its importance to African music.

Within the framework of Afropop’s global rise, Nigerian pop music is often afforded the largest share of attention, often overwhelmingly controlling the narrative. Part of that stems from “One Dance,” Drake’s summer ’16 mega smash which featured Nigerian superstar Wizkid, and combined elements of Caribbean pop with the then du jour groove of Nigerian pop. At that point, Nigerian music was already working its way into global music conversation, but the presence of an identifiably Nigerian star and sound on the biggest song in the world for several months, was a massive catalyst.


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Regardless of how you feel about his knack for borrowing from regional styles of music and his globe-trotting tactics, Drake has proven himself to be a catalyst for wider acceptance of previously lesser known subgenres. At his most wholesome, the rapper and singer is an influencer, staking out new sonic territory to add to his omnivorous sound palette and, by effect of his superstardom, exposing his findings to an international mainstream audience.

‘Honestly, Nevermind’ isn’t Drake’s novel dalliance with dance music from South Africa. Also, in the time since “Get It Together,” globally renowned superstars Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé have also tapped South African dance styles and collaborators on compilation projects. At that, Drake’s influencing track record and the sheer shock of a surprise dance album is arguably more monumental, and it’s happening at a time when we’re now accustomed to African music crossing over to a global audience through light curiosity.

Whether Drake has helped to further stoke interest in South African dance music, through his collaboration with Black Coffee, Sona and TRESOR, remains to be seen, but his track record with music of African origins is more than a tenuous basis for optimism. The biggest obstacle to this Drake-fuelled visibility might be narrative. Already, several publications have misattributed the production on “Texts Go Green” to Black Coffee, while Billboard completely omitted TRESOR in an article highlighting key collaborators to the album. On social media, many are comfortable lumping everything into a very American context, misrepresenting the influences of tracks with the South African dance music flavour.

Perhaps, this is where prideful ownership comes in, a loud claiming of their influence by those closest to sound: South Africans—and to an extent, Africans. I remember, in 2016, Nigerians at home and in the diaspora loudly proclaiming the importance of Nigerian pop—under the widely accepted Afrobeats misnomer—to “One Dance” across social media. That made it impossible to misrepresent the sound, and it helped to focus the spotlight of the Drake influence on a globally nascent scene. While none of the songs with SA dance affiliations on ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ have shown the power to be as world conquering as “One Dance,” a similar sort of pointed arrogance could be pertinent—and urgent, even.

In the era of globalisation, where music travels seamlessly across borders through streaming, narrative is important to ensure the actual origins of a sound aren’t obscured. It’s also important in the quest for increased international recognition. While Drake mainly fixated on house music with his South African connections, it could very well be a viable gateway to the curiosity about, and increased global acceptance of, the multiplicity of dance music from a powerhouse country in African music.