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In the early 2000s, New Orleans was well on its way towards becoming a rap mecca. Cash Money Records was one of the hottest labels on the planet, Master P was puppeteering a multimedia circus through No Limit Records, and Hollygrove’s Lil Wayne was chiseling his statue amongst the Rap gods.
Bounce music—an utterly New Orleans creation (not unlike jazz) that the New York Times says “borrowed in equal measure from Mardi Gras Indian chants and the dawn of hip-hop itself”—was snowballing in influence. Magnolia Shorty, whom New Orleans music writer Michael Patrick Welch deemed the “undisputed queen” of bounce (one could argue it was Big Freedia), was churning out sweaty club bangers of unmatched velocity. Simply put: the amount of ass-shaking and raucous rapping they had goin’ on down in the bayou was monumental.
But that was all over a decade ago. It’s 2022; what’s new? The lore of Lil Wayne remains strong and can be recited from Harrell Park to Uzbekistan, but hasn’t uplifted the next wave. Curren$y arrived at the tail-end of Wayne’s reign, and acts as a Godfather-like-figure for the current scene, putting a spotlight on young voices in his Welcome To Jet Life Recordings projects. That’s great, and Spitta is certainly a true champion of the city, but when compared to the motion that Atlanta, Houston, and even Baton Rouge have seen recently, it’s a damn drop in the bucket. So what happened? Where did the electricity go? What stopped the momentum?
As with most things related to present-day New Orleans, it all boils down to Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, the Category 3 storm broke through the city’s levees and left at least 1,500 dead, 10,000 homeless, and 1,000,000 displaced. One of its innumerable gut wrenching effects was the dissipation of the New Orleans rap scene. Let me explain:
The city of New Orleans sits below sea level. Since its inception, high class has correlated positively with high property, meaning that, on average, the higher above sea-level your land sat, the lighter your skin was. Predictably, white people built their communities on the high grounds, and Black communities were left with the flood-prone low lying areas. From drainage infrastructure built in the 1800s to the senile “Cancer Alley” built just recently, the majority Black city is a blatant product of environmental racism. This is why the Lower Ninth Ward was a lake during Katrina, while the rich & wxhite Nashville Avenue hardly flooded. (I wrote more about this in my senior thesis published recently.)
Political Scientist Robert C. Lieberman put it best:
It is now well established that Katrina’s destructive and disruptive effects fell most heavily on the African American poor of New Orleans…who lived in the lowest-lying areas of the city and its outlying areas, [which] were poorly protected by the human-engineered system of levees, canals, and other flood-control devices that have long made the city habitable.
After the horrendous use of FEMA relief aid, and a boneheaded redevelopment plan, the city of spicy gumbo was flattened by a gallon of heavy cream.
A major “demographic shift was happening,” recalls Dr. Holly Hobbs, founder of the NOLA Hip-Hop and Bounce archive, in an interview with music critic Corrigan Blanchfield. “Neighborhoods were shifting, names were changing. The Magnolia Project, which features centrally in all Cash Money output, is now Harmony Oaks. Everybody still calls it the Magnolia, but Magnolia as a thing does not exist anymore.”
Instead of rebuilding the projects after Katrina, the city decided to replace them with mixed-income units, which are scattered around senselessly. The city’s bounds are no longer clearly defined. The spirit and culture of pre-Katrina New Orleans remains, but now amounts to a bundle of tangled wires rather than a cohesive web.
So how does this tie to the city’s rap scene? Well, rap music, obviously, is a Black art. And many of these pre-Katrina stars were embedded in historically Black communities, where the essence of the city’s hip-hop world was nurtured and built upon. Essentially, that very foundation washed away with the storm. In a recent interview I conducted, red hot New Orleans rapper Rob49 explained that after Katrina hit, “every rapper who was big at the time left” and that the new generation “had to build a whole new rap scene.”
Heroes of the golden age continued to produce, but future stars were left without the in-house support that their forefathers so heavily benefited from.
On top of this, rampant gun violence remained an omnipresent present issue, as New Orleans-based writer Nigel Washington explains:
“The gun violence and over-policing that existed before Katrina never went away. Artists who made headways eventually became victims of incarceration or gun violence. BTY Youngn, Young Greatness, and so many others who seemed like beacons, had their careers cut short.”
This is not all to say that there hasn’t been motion in the city–because there has been, and a lot of it. It’s just that for some reason, no one has really given a shit.
“I feel like a lot of industry people are intimidated by New Orleans and think that we’re a risky venture,” one of the city’s bright new voices, 504icygrl, tells me over Twitter DM. “A lot of us are really in the streets and / or the trap, so that’s a major liability right there for labels and investors. We come off very strong when we talk, so a lot of people think we’re disrespectful, but that’s just the way we talk. Also…We have this stupid label of everyone being ignorant or uneducated, so that along with lack luster first impressions are killing our artists chances of getting investors.”
I have to imagine that if the labels and investors were rooted in New Orleans, these problems would not occur.
As eerie as things have been for the 504, I predict that the tides will soon turn. While the Cash Money Records pipeline is nearly decimated, and the groundwork laid by generations of Black creatives is wavering, the new generation of artists, highlighted below, has what it takes to put their city back on the map. – Millan Verma
The Prince of the Crescent City. The Chosen One. Growing up in the 4th and 9th wards, Rob49’s early life was a mountainous hike through a thunderstorm. His father was locked up and his mother struggled to support their family. Rob had to be a grown man by the age 10.
From the moment he touched a mic in 2019, his star power was crystal clear. His latest tape, Welcome To Vulture Island, featuring Lil Baby, Babyface Ray, and Doe Boy, is the proof in the pudding. Through the 17 tracks, he raps with a ferocity aimed at putting his city back on the map.
Rob embodies a Nas/Kendrick archetype with the mogul-mentality of Jay-Z. In this interview with A Million Roses TV, he explains that he only wants to rap for 2-3 more years, then be “one of those guys in suits,” who can just “sit back and watch everyone else win.”
Read my recent interview with Rob49 here. – Millan Verma
CeeFineAss was a force from the moment she stepped on the scene. With breakout hits like “Payback” and “Mad,” she quickly established herself as a Hurricane of no-bullshit bounce rap concocted with one part fierce NOLA-flair and two parts X-rated bars. She garnishes those ingredients with unwavering confidence and a homegrown New Orleans accent, shaken and served with a straw.
It’s a recipe ready to be packaged and disseminated to the masses. Record deals came her way quickly, along with features from fellow southern stars like Moneybagg Yo and Pooh Shiesty. With massive amounts of charisma and an infectious subgenre at her fingertips, Cee is primed to dominate her lane on a national level. – Nigel Washington
Neno Calvin raps like a tenor-voiced Future who never got out of Monster mode. He makes side-hustle music; dirty-doggin’ ‘em down music; ‘lemme blast this while I give you a tattoo in my garage’ music. He is undoubtedly one of the scene’s leaders, and has features with nearly every artist on this list.
Neno is from the Magnolia projects and has been releasing mixtapes for over a decade. He signed to Cash Money in 2019, then established himself as a hood superstar, but has struggled to enter the national playing field. If Katrina hadn’t happened, I imagine Neno would be the face of a much more virtuous and tapped-in Cash Money Records. – MV
Want to see a rapper enjoying life through the highs and lows? Pick one of La’Glen’s videos, like “St. Bernard Ave.,” and watch as the 22-year-old delivers somber stories from memory lane with an everlasting smile glued to his face. The former JUCO football player turned 7th Ward rhymesayer croons with a spry delivery that reminds me of NBA Youngboy.
He has a ton to be happy about lately. His infectious energy has made him another young up-and-comer in a city bursting at the seams with them. And the wins for La’Glen will keep coming; he recently welcomed his baby girl to the world and will be releasing a new project, Let’s Be Real About Life, on April 28th. How could you not root for him? – NW
Treety’s mesmerizing 2017 bounce song “Dick drop off” catapulted her into the national spotlight. But since that initial push, Treety has worked to redefine herself. “I was never a bounce artist,” Treety recently told Nolazine. “Even when I was making bounce music, I was rapping on the bounce beats.”
Treety would rather showcase her talents as a rapper’s rapper. She has shied away from the bounce beats that’ll make you shake and opted for ones that’ll make you snarl. Her Louboutin-high-heel-to-the-neck aggression feels like Latto with a New Orleans accent. The rebrand allowed Treety to properly introduce herself, making her one of the leading artists in the New Orleans rap scene . – NW
Take a good close look at 504icygrl and you’ll notice a thick “504” tattoo on the right side of her neck. The ink is fitting, because her music embodies everything boisterous about her city: it’s lively and dangerous, yet irrefutably fun. She cites peak-Young Money era Nicki Minaj as her biggest influence, but I’d compare her more to Rico Nasty. She talks shit like a sore-winner, and can make a bounce banger just as easily as a rap song that samples The Second Line. – MV
I consider Kenneth Brother to be New Orleans’ Common. His catalog is a collection of street hymns focused on loyalty, moving smart, and building a legacy. In high school, KB played safety for a state-championship winning football team, and had his sights set on making it to the league. But when tragedy befell his best friend, KB worked out his muddled emotions through song. The end result was not only mental catharsis, but the realization that he was a proficient rapper who could naturally translate complex emotions into 16-bar verses. He found his calling and ran with it, and has since become a local staple whose stout morality keeps heads lifted during the cloudiest of days. – MV
The new avant-garde of New Orleans rap hasn’t established a consensus style like other prominent rap scenes typically do when they’re in the midst of a moment. Beats by The Pound and Mannie Fresh dominated the region with their respective sounds for years, but they haven’t quite inspired the city’s more recent producers to hone in on a unique sound.
Enter BluShakurX, with a sound pulled from the deep, muddy pockets of the Mississippi River. It’s dark and grimy, dangerous and tantalizing. With the inspiration of Assata Shakur embedded in her name and a soft but slithery flow, the 7th Ward rapper unleashes bass-heavy, Memphis horrorcore-inspired rap that could fuel the overthrow of a government—or, at the very least, make you want to throw a steel chair through a window. Blu is a necessary force in the budding rap landscape by the river, daring to strike conventional norms with a 2×4 and push the scene’s creative bounds into unseen territory. – NW
Stone Cold Jzzle
Thanks to Okay Player for being the only platform with global reach to cover this scene. Thanks to Newtral Groundz, OffBeat Magazine, and A Million Roses TV for doing such important groundwork. And shoutout to Nigel Washington for putting in that freelance work for his city.