UPDATE | Aug. 3, 2022 — On July 26, Beyoncé dropped four official remixes for her single, “Break My Soul,” including two by Chicago house artists: Grammy-nominated Chosen Few DJ Terry Hunter and world-renown DJ Honey Dijon. Listen below.

Original story — When Drake and Queen Bey dropped their respective musical releases in June, it sparked days of tireless debate on social media. The specific topic at hand? It’s house music—particularly, its Chicago origins and whether both artists truly tapped into the genre authentically. 

In Chicago, some enthusiasts immediately vibed with Drake’s new album Honestly, Nevermind while others’ biggest critique was that it lacked soul. As for Beyoncé’s single “Break My Soul,” some saw it as the perfect homage to disco and 1990s house while many house purists thought it too slow and too busy. 

“I love both attempts,” Chosen Few DJ Wayne Williams told The TRiiBE a few days before the group’s 30th annual Chosen Few Picnic & Festival—the mecca of house music hosted by some of the genre’s founding fathers.

“Did they hit the nail on the head?” Williams asked about Drake and Beyoncé. “Part of the reason they didn’t hit the nail on the head is, you know, you should go to the source of those people who actually do house music to do those productions.”

One could say the Chosen Few Picnic & Festival is the source. On July 2, more than 30,000 people came out to Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side. While there, fans got to hear an unofficial house remix of Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” by DJ Terry Hunter. His version speeds up the track, loses much of the New Orleans bounce elements brought on by the Big Freedia sample and instead, creates more space to heavily lean into the electric feel of the track.

“I know for a fact Beyoncé is reaching out to remix this as well, like, real remixes—house music remixes,” Williams emphasized. “So you’re going to hear better versions of that record in the near future.”

Staying true to the Beyoncé honor code of silence, Williams wouldn’t shed too much light into the possibility of an official, Bey-approved house remix. “She’s absolutely reached out to people I know, yep,” he added.

But wait. Let’s backtrack a little bit. Initially, we reached out to another Chosen Few DJ, Alan King, about Chicago’s influence on the track. His response prompted this deeper dive into the conversation of authenticity and whether Beyoncé and Drake’s new tracks should be given the Chicago house nod of approval. 

King shared that many house purists were turning up their noses to “Break My Soul” and Honestly, Nevermind

“There are going to be exceptions to both of these rules because there are no rules in house, but it is probably a little on the downtempo side for a lot of people,” King said about Beyoncé’s track, which is 115 beats per minute (BPM). The average house song ranges from 120 to 128 BPM, such as Jesse Saunders’ definitive 1984 track “On and On” (121 BPM) and Dennis Ferrer 2009 anthem “Hey Hey” (126 BPM).  

“I would call it a house record, but I think it does try to straddle the fence a little bit between house and hip-hop. It’s kind of busy, like, the vocals, background vocals, and there’s even a rap in there. So, I get it,” King continued.

With “Break My Soul,” the first glimpse into Bey’s seventh album, Renaissance (slated for a July 29 release), she gives us a delicate balance of 1990s house and New Orleans bounce—both sounds presented in catchy samples of Robin S’s 1990 hit “Show Me Love” and Big Freedia’s 2014 twerk-provoking “Explode.”

Chicago enters the track on the production and background vocals. Grammy Award-winning producer Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, who hails from south suburban Markham, is credited as co-producer and co-writer on the track. 

Neither Williams nor King was familiar with Big Freedia and New Orleans bounce, an early-1990s-bred, energetic variation of hip-hop that originated in the Big Easy. Williams knows Stewart very well. “He’s not a house-music producer; he’s an R&B and pop producer—a huge producer,” Williams said. 

Additionally, multiple singers on the background gospel-choir vocals also call Chicago home. South Side native Ashley K. Washington is one of them. She previously sang in Kanye West’s Sunday Service choir and dropped her own single, “Unrequited Love,” in 2021.

“Of course for me, being from Chicago, house music is a big, big staple,” Washington said. Her cousin was house singer Kim English, known for blending house with gospel in ways that topped the U.S. and global dance charts before her death in 2019. “House music, of course, is Black music. It’s a place where people can release, where people would let themselves go and lose control. And I feel, like, gospel was that, too. It was the spiritual part of us,” Washington said.

In the thick of a Chicago house party, the music can feel spiritual. There are a few house jams that tap into its gospel-music connections; such as 1987’s “Promised Land,” by Joe Smooth, a Chicago house music producer and DJ. There’s also “My House,” also released in 1987, by Rhythm Control. This signature track opens with Chuck Roberts’ famous sermon about jack; similar to the first sentences of the Bible: 

“In the beginning, there was Jack, and Jack had a groove/

And from this groove came the groove of all grooves”

All of these house classics are some of the most widely acclaimed tracks in the genre’s history. For many, these tracks blur the line between gospel and house, essentially because, lyrically and instrumentally, they’re inspirational in nature, sparking a joy that makes your limbs ebb and flow to the calls of a divine spirit. 

“I think when we listen to house artists, especially ones from Chicago, there is a church element in it—a lot of clapping, a lot of runs and riffs, yells and shouts,” Washington explained.

Of course, since we are talking about Beyoncé, Washington respectfully honored the queen’s secrecy, withholding many details about the behind-the-scenes making of the track.

“Even with what Drake is doing with house, this is what we do [in Chicago] all summer long, all winter long, all year long,” Washington said. “I was just excited to be a part of history, and for this to be her first single, I was just, like, ‘Oh my God, let’s go!”

Speaking of Drake, although it’s not his first dabble into house music, Honestly, Nevermind is his first full-on dance album. When the surprise release dropped on June 17, many Black Chicago millennials took to social media to scoff at his attempt, despite it having production from South African house DJ Black Coffee and Guatamalan-American house DJ/producer Gordo. Some called it “gentrified house music,” “rushed” and likened it to the background music you’d hear while shopping at stores like Zara and Forever 21. 

However, Williams disagreed with the critique. He pointed to Drake tracks like “Massive,” “Flight’s Booked,” “Calling My Name,” “A Keeper” and “Sticky,” calling the latter an attempt at Chicago footwork. Unlike Beyoncé’s song, Williams said, the drums and sounds on Honestly, Nevermind are more updated and experiential—two pillars of house. 

“If you skim through it, you not ‘gon get it and you not ‘gon feel it,” Williams said about Drake’s records. “Because, like in house music, when you’re actually doing a house-music project, you gotta listen because house music builds. It’s not like hip-hop and R&B, which [hit] you right away. House music is a build thing. If you skim through it and listen to the beginning, you’ll be like, ‘Aw, nah.’ But that’s because the groove kicks in later on.”

Listen to tracks like 1986’s “Love Can’t Turn Around,” by Farley “Jackmaster” Funk and Jesse Saunders. 1992’s “Brighter Days,” by Cajmere featuring Dajae. 1985’s “Mystery of Love,” by Mr. Fingers and 1993’s “Deep Inside,” by Hardrive, both of which Kanye West sampled on his undeniable 2016 house track “Fade.” In similar fashion to those classics, the Drake tracks that Williams’ mentioned leave space for the groove to breathe and build through the song. Additionally, thinking about Williams’ earlier talk of tempo, all of the tracks he mentioned are listed at 120 BPM and higher.

Williams has already DJ’d them in the club. 

“My only critique of Drake’s album is, again, he should have used some real house music A&R and producers to help him with it,” Williams said. “And he’s singing too much. He should’ve been rapping a little bit more.”

For funk and disco-infused Chicago rapper Ric Wilson, both Drake and Beyoncé’s takes on house are valid in their own ways. Bey is more so defining the sound of the moment as a global pop star while Drake leans more into the sounds of Afrobeats with influences from Baltimore and Jersey club and techno.  

Wilson, who has previously toured with Big Freedia, considers his own music, songs like 2020’s “Move Like This,” to embody rap house, a subgenre that—along with hip-hop house—wasn’t initially accepted in the house community but is growing in popularity thanks to Kaytranada and Channel Tres. Also ostracized in the traditions of “pure house” were the early beginnings of Chicago’s ghetto house of the 1990s, and juke and footwork of the late 1990s and 2000s. Though all were widely accepted by youth and young adults of their time, each subgenre didn’t initially get the approval of some of their local forefathers, either. It took radio DJs such as Mike Love and the Dizz on WGCI and DJ Nehpets at Power 92 to bring those tracks to the masses, solidifying Chicago’s cultural impact on the world.

“[There are] so many different versions of house,” Wilson explained. “Do you have to be a house DJ, though, to make house music? That’s the next question.”

Wilson sees the idea of purism as a hindrance from house—a form of gatekeeping that doesn’t allow the genre to grow and progress with the times. 

“I don’t think there’s a purist to house. I think a lot of things can be wack, but to say its wack because it’s not pure is weird because house ain’t been ‘pure’ per se for years, in my opinion,” Wilson explained. “I think it’d be interesting to see Beyoncé do something with Derrick Carter. I think this can be a great opportunity for people to bring Derrick Carter into the conversation.”

As for the anticipated wave of new house tracks from others inspired by the recent drops from two of the world’s biggest artist, Wilson said he hopes the fan base for house music grows. He’s been overseas lately working with notable DJ Honey Dijon, who he noted is a transwoman who grew up in Chicago.

“People don’t want to fucking dance on the stage. I’m hoping it expands and gets cool but I see that shit happening already,” Wilson said, pointing to Kaytranda growing into an international star and the increasing buzz that Channel Tres is getting. 

“I think also there’s been hints of house in popular hip-hop for years, like Kanye’s ‘Fade.’ That whole album Tyler, the Creator did: IGOR. That’s straight-up house influence,” Wilson said. “So if Drake is making music that’s similar to what we call house—real house, Chicago house—I think it does nothing but greatness for people who are making similar music to it. It just expands their fanbase because what people are going to do now is start digging deeper. If someone wants to argue ‘purist house,’ they can drive a bunch of young people into the history of house music.”

is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE and a 2023-2024 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.