You don’t hear a lot about “ghetto house” music these days. And that’s probably for good reason. The short-lived offshoot of classic Chicago house music added little to the original, groundbreaking template. In fact, ghetto house took a form of music that already had a primal, uncomplicated foundation and stripped it back even further.
Most everything except the drums and bass was removed, though it wasn’t “drum’n’bass” in the sense of the dance music subgenre that was emerging in parallel. No sub-bass and pummeling polyrhythms here, just lean, mean four-on-the-floor. What was added was probably the main reason for the form’s short shelf life. Often, though not always, ghetto house was peppered with second-person sexual commands of varying degrees of explicitness. Usually, they were delivered by males. “Ride My Pony”, for example, was one of the more demure titles of the era.
That “era” lasted but a few short years in the mid-1990s. Those years, between ’94 and ’96, are covered by Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness. The 15-track compilation is a sequel of sorts to the two-disc, 24-track Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1995 released by Strut in 2014. It advances the story of the Chicago-based Dance Mania label within a few years of its demise at the turn of the millennium, though the name were later purchased and re-activated by one of the label’s best-known artists, DJ Funk.
Thankfully, Ghetto Madness leaves most of the misogyny in the ’90s scrap heap, while still leaving you a generous taste of what ghetto house was all about. One thing you notice is that while the trademark Chicago house thump has not changed, the music generally sounds far less dated than that produced just a few years earlier. The absence of cheesy synth lines is one factor, but the sharper beats, edgier hi-hats, and ultra-minimal production are key as well.
Don’t go looking for lots of effects and intense blow-ups here. The kick drum occasionally cuts in or out, but otherwise the music on Ghetto Madness is incessantly disciplined and free of splashy dynamics, meant for substance-fuelled excursions into the early morning hours. Paul Johnson’s “Give Me Ecstasy”, for example, leaves nothing to the imagination. And, while no amount of MDMA or cocaine could prevent Steve Poindexter’s “Computer Madness” or Jammin’ Gerald’s “Pump on the Floor” from being flat-out annoying, there’s plenty to like and a few lost classics, even.
Anyone who would argue there is no artistry in this music needs to hear DJ Deeon’s “1112”. The way the almost-subliminal, staccato synth bass interlocks with the alternately whispering and chattering hi-hat and carefully-placed snare explosions is nothing short of artisanal. And if Parris Mitchell’s processed shout-outs to derrieres in all directions on “Ghetto Booty” isn’t exactly high art, the way they are combined with a winking, slinky rhythm is impressive and all kinds of fun.
Ghetto Madness does deviate from its minimalist nature on a couple occasions. DJ Funk’s “Bitches” is a bit of “hip-house”, with funk providing an explicit rap like he’s auditioning for 2 Live Crew. Houz’Mon’s “The Groove” actually hearkens back to more good-natured piano house. Overall, though, this is lean, mean, refined dance music.
Ghetto house deserves a mention in the history of Chicago house, and house music in general. At the very least, its influence on the then-emerging progressive house movement in the UK and Europe is palpable. Ghetto Madness does a very nice job of sparing you the trouble of digging through the crates.