Cookiee Kawaii On The Reemergence Of Jersey Club And The Culture That Helped Birth Its Viral Popularity

The ‘Vibe (If I Back It Up)’ creator details how the genre continues to thrive from coast to coast.

If you’ve ever been a passing user of TikTok over the past few years it’s been hard to escape the infectious kick pattern used at the base of many songs that have gone viral on the social media app and the dancing trends and challenges resulting from them.

Whether it’s “Kim Possible (Remix)” by PeacefulJoshua or the recently-released DJ Smallz remix of Coi Leray’s “Players”, the 135 BPM drum hits at the base of it stem from Jersey Club, a culture based in Newark that came to life long before TikTok even existed.

Perhaps the pioneering example of this sound going viral on the app is Cookiee Kawaii’s “Vibe (If I Back It Up)”, which made a huge splash in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic when going outside and interacting with others wasn’t a thing and dance challenges inside one’s home very much were.

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Produced by TrillzMix, the viral hit, which employs an original beat mixed with crunk-era samples from Crime Mob’s “Rock Yo Hips” and squeaks from Trillville’s “Some Cut”, was at the center of thousands of creator’s dance challenges and posts in general. It’s something the Irvington, NJ native says changed her life, but was unique, considering the circumstances of the world at the time.

“My viral moment was definitely an interesting one,” Kawaii said during a recent interview with “The world was shut down, so if anything, I learned more about just the business and how to market and promote and capitalize off of something like that. The three-year anniversary [is coming soon] and people are still shouting my lyrics.”

Jersey Club as a culture though is not something relatively new. It was formed in the late 1990s and early ‘00s when DJs from the Garden State, who frequently traveled, received the blessing from club pioneers in Baltimore to incorporate some of their techniques, which would then be mixed with Chicago house.

The result was an infectious, body-moving and fast-paced sound that filled the clubs of Newark for years, creating an organic culture of music, dance, community and business. DJs like Sliink, Jayhood, and UNIIQU3, among others, were instrumental in forming the modern version of the music heard today through both the flipping of already popular Black music, as well as original songs they created themselves. Cookiee says she used their leading example to become one of the most influential DJs in the genre. It also didn’t help that her parents were Chicago house DJs themselves.

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“I didn't have a choice almost to be exposed to that underground genre, not only just in like Chicago house, but even ballroom music,” she explains. “It's just something that has been a staple of what I've seen, and I've seen how the music affects the culture, I've seen how at every cookout everybody's playing certain songs, and it just creates this certain energy. So, for me, growing up, even seeing the kids doing club music and dancing, it was almost natural for me to just hop into it.”

Cookiee Kawaii herself is an example of the evolution of Jersey Club. Once a culture dominated by male DJs and producers, women are now not only the main consumers of the music, according to Sound Field, but the fastest growing among its dancers and DJs. It’s something she says is a long time coming.

“People are now seeing a woman in that spotlight, and she's holding her own and doing what she needs to do and really entertaining the masses,” Cookiee notes. “It's like, well, why not? Why not have a female DJ headline a festival or why not have a female producer work on this particular track? I just feel like it's that time. It's no reason for women to not be at that same equal playing field.”

Currently, Jersey Club is continuing to grow in popularity in the tri-state area, but it isn’t simply because of the people who reside there. Offline, the culture is growing from people who visit, attend parties and take it back to where they’re from. For Cookiee, it’s one of the largest and most effective ways the genre is expanding nationally.

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“They come to Jersey, they come to Baltimore, they come to Philly, and attend those parties and see this culture, they fall in love with it and then they want to share it with other people,” she explains. “Word of mouth is still the most solid form of exposing people to stuff, so at this point, it's just like the people that have really stapled it, that know the history of it, we just have to continue telling people where it comes from and also collaborate with those other artists that are making this genre because some people are not just trying to take it for themselves and say, ‘Hey, I created this.’ There are people that actually just want to know more about the culture and want to collaborate with the artists that have been doing it for a long time.”

Across the country, Jersey Club isn’t just popular on TikTok. It’s also heavily influenced mainstream Black music as well. The trademark kick pattern is the basis of Ciara’s popular 2019 track “Level Up”, and most recently, Drake’s “Sticky” and Lil Uzi Vert’s “Just Wanna Rock.”

Vert’s October-released mega hit features an electric beat and hook so catchy it has enough replay value for it to be run back continuously. And while many may believe that commercialism may damage the organic nature of Jersey Club, Kawaii says it’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it can expose potential new fans to learning more about it.

“Our job is to make sure we explain to people and constantly let them know,” she says. “Some people think it's annoying but you have to do it because that's when you lose the history. That's when you use the culture – when you're not educating and explaining to people what this is.”

Jersey Club has also evolved within itself as more artists and DJs, who originally incorporated samples into the mixes they were playing at parties, have moved more toward creating original music.

“Now people are looking at us more like, ‘Okay, you're an artist and you're making this genre of music specifically,’” Kawaii explains. “So I think it's pretty cool that the evolution has grown so much from it just being the DJs and producers making the music, putting it out and exposing people, to even radio DJs and now actual club artists making music.”

The evolution of Jersey Club nationally has also influenced Kawaii’s own artistry when it comes to creating music and content. For her, it’s pushed the level of creativity to new heights.

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“Now that it’s expanded in the blink of an eye, I'm actually taking inspiration from the other artists that are now diving in and making club music. I don't have to focus on how can I make it so much different because it's everywhere,” she explains. “You're hearing so many different artists doing club drill, you have so many different sounds of the club narrative being pushed now.

“Most are like personalizing the songs, like now you can start storytelling, now you can start giving people pieces of your past or certain experiences inside that club music because now it's expanded from just being a party genre,” Cooking adds. “Now you could tell stories.”

After immersing herself in the Jersey Club culture for over a decade, Cookiee Kawaii says the hard work she, as well as those who have come before and after her, is exposing the world to the culture she loves.

“Ultimately, it's still a beautiful thing to watch something that's underground and helped so many different DJs, producers and artists like myself now branching off into this huge, huge market to where we can all benefit from it.”

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