On a balmy Sunday night in August, Bandmanrill strides onto the stage at Elsewhere’s Zone One. It’s his second headline show ever and his very first in New York. Just days away from his 20th birthday, the Newark rapper arrives cloaked in a Palm Angels tracksuit and an air of quiet focus, reminiscent of an athlete before a championship game. A fitting image—for Bandmanrill, performing inevitably evolves into a feat of physical exertion.
“I be really about to pass out on the stage cause I’m rapping so fast, dancing at the same time, grabbing people phones and interacting with the fans,” he tells Audiomack World. “I be going to my shows fully clothed. I leave shirt off, everything, you heard? You just never know, everything unexpected.”
A crew of trusted companions, who previously packed a sprinter van to its gills for the hour-plus journey from Newark to Brooklyn, fan out on the stage behind him. Many of them have known Bandman since he was a student at Maple Avenue Elementary School. One of them is McVertt, Bandmanrill’s longtime friend and right-hand producer, alongside whom he arguably co-authored an entirely new subgenre.
Before the end of Bandman’s first couplet, the crowd of unbothered cool kids transforms into a frenzied sea of limbs and sweat. He promptly ditches the stage for a circle in the crowd, erasing any remaining distinction between spectator and performer. This is one of those rare moments where notions of past and future melt away, and the present tense commands an absolute rule.
Every Bandmanrill show adheres to two commandments: move your body as fast as humanly possible and check your worries at the door. “That’s what club music make you do,” he says. “It’s appealing to a lot of audiences. Not just off of the rap, but because of the beat selection itself. It just goes together.”
Jersey club and its close cousin Philly club are both direct derivatives of Baltimore club, which emerged in the late 1980s. Communities in each region reflected themselves back onto the blueprint of vigorous BPMs, animated breakbeats, chopped samples, and stirring triplet kick patterns, each putting their own spin on the fundamentals of club music.
Despite its saturation in a hyperlocal context, the Jersey club sound that Bandmanrill grew up on strikes a chord with listeners all over the world. Over the past couple of years, club rap scenes in both Newark and Philly have flourished as rappers in both cities have ventured onto club beats, always surrounded by a flurry of dancers and often cranking up the already brisk tempos of the classic club canon. As club rap has soared in popularity, so too has the spirited debate over which rapper—and which region—started what.
What’s undeniable, though, is that Bandmanrill’s “Heartbroken” marked a paradigm shift, solidifying rapping on club beats into a bona fide movement. Clocking in at a whopping 170 BPM, “Heartbroken” took TikTok by storm in spring of 2021, blowing up seemingly overnight. In every sense of the word, Bandmanrill hasn’t slowed down since, dropping exhilarating singles at full tilt, unflustered as he blows through one electrifying beat after the next. Now, as he settles into the world he’s built, Bandman sets out to assert his position in a long lineage of club music visionaries with his debut album, Club Godfather.
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On his first memories of Jersey club… You hear that shit on the radio, at a party... My school used to have parties when I was young-young—like fifth, sixth grade—lil school parties in the cafeteria… DJ Lil Man would come, Dashonn Grant, Jayhood, all these DJs would come and play club music. And I don’t know how, we just all knew the dances.
On his decision to start rapping on Jersey club beats… I’m on the phone with my mans Du5, he’s an interviewer from Newark. He’s like, “Yo, why the fuck nobody don’t rap on no club beat?” ‘Cause like, you don’t really rap on club beats, you’re supposed to dance to them.
It’s no bridges, no hooks, none of that shit. You just rap. Now it’s more organized, but when I first started, it was just straight club. It was no part for the hook or no verse, you just go in there and just say whatever on a club beat. When I first did that shit, it just went off, ‘cause nobody else did shit like that. Not how I did it.
On making “Heartbroken”... The “Heartbroken” sample was legendary. That was a beat that my mans Baggs been dancing to since we was in Maple. Maple was the first school I ever went to, [from] kindergarten all the way until fifth grade. My son Baggs been dancing since like second grade. And I remembered he used to dance on this one beat, it was like “aw aw aw.” I’m like what the fuck is this? And I never found the song.
One day I was going through beats, and Mc—fucking brilliant—remade that shit, like with his own spin on it. So I’m like, “Nah, this that song I was looking for for years, you heard!” I had to do it. I heard this song when I was younger for a reason, now that I’m hearing it again, that must mean something. Like, I gotta do it.
I ain’t gonna lie, I just went in there and started wylin’. I just went in there and said whatever came into my head. It took me like 15 minutes. Made that shit right in my closet.
On meeting McVertt… I been seeing Mc lil’ ass dancing on the ‘gram since he was like 15. I think we became cool when he was like 16, 17, around that time. Before I was rapping, I was on some funny YouTube shit. Mc was already the GOAT in making club beats. So I’m like, I’m not getting my beats from nobody else but you. I know you.
On the perfect Bandmanrill show… My shit be like EDM because my shits really be lit. Other people’s shows, the crowds be dancing and singing to the song. My crowd look like a moshpit, it’s really jumping. I fuck with that shit, ‘cause that’s what club music is. It’s real turnt. You got people dancing in the crowd, you got bitches shaking ass, you got the white boys doing they moshpit shit. And they just all come together in one big crowd and they just fuck with it.
It’s just some lit shit. Some Jersey shit. We coming different. We bringing this Jersey vibe everywhere. At my shows, I want you to feel like you in Jersey, I want you to feel like how they be coming in them parties, I just want you to feel how we do shit.
By Nora Lee for Audiomack