Ogden exhibit chronicles the originators of New Orleans 'bounce' rap
Ogden exhibit chronicles the originators of New Orleans 'bounce' rap
July 19, 2010
Cultural movements often pass undocumented at their inception. By definition, relevance, importance and longevity are conferred by time.
'Where They At,' is an interactive exhibit at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, currently on display about the Hip-Hop and Bounce culture in New Orleans.
Thus, researchers and cultural historians struggled to piece together the genesis of jazz, blues and zydeco long after such originators as Buddy Bolden, Robert Johnson and Amede Ardoin had passed into legend.
"Where They At: New Orleans Hip-Hop and Bounce in Words and Pictures, " a temporary exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, does yeoman's work in chronicling the origins of bounce, New Orleans' contribution to contemporary rap.
Local journalist Alison Fensterstock, a contributing music writer for The Times-Picayune, and Brooklyn-based photographer Aubrey Edwards spent 18 months assembling an exhaustive oral history and portrait gallery of the music's originators, innovators and capitalists, the players and payers who made bounce culturally and commercially relevant.
Bounce is defined in part by repetitive, call-and-response chants that often reference New Orleans neighborhoods and housing projects. Hyper-sexual innuendo and swagger replace the violence of gangsta rap, all set to an insistent beat derived from second-lines and Mardi Gras Indian rhythms. The so-called "Triggerman beat," often sampled from New York rap group the Showboys' 1985 single "Drag Rap," was a recurring element early on.
This contemporary branch of Southern roots music sprouted at New Orleans block parties in the 1980s. "Where Dey At, " a 1991 cassette-only local release by rapper T. Tucker and producer DJ Irv, is considered its first formal product. In 1992, the pioneering DJ Jimi released an album called "Where They At"; the song "Bounce for the Juvenile" introduced a teenage rapper nicknamed Juvenile.
Fast forward seven years. The homegrown Cash Money Records and multinational corporation Universal Music Group team up to move 4 million copies of Juvenile's "400 Degreez" CD, thanks in large part to the bounce single "Back That Azz Up."
Photo by Aubrey Edwards
New Orleans bounce duo Partners N Crime is part of an Ogden Museum of Southern Art exhibit tracing the origins of this local form of rap.
More recently, superstar Beyonce borrowed a bounce beat for her "Get Me Bodied." "Saturday Night Fever" screenwriter and cultural critic Nik Cohn authored a 2005 memoir, "Triksta: Life and Death and New Orleans Rap" (Knopf), about his brief immersion in the bounce scene.
The music made multi-millionaires out of brothers Bryan "Baby" Williams and Ronald "Slim" Williams, co-founders of Cash Money Records. A Williams brothers protÃ©gÃ©, the currently incarcerated Lil Wayne, is arguably the most acclaimed rapper in the world.
Fensterstock and Edwards went to great lengths to tell bounce's back story. They were even briefly detained by St. Bernard Parish sheriff's deputies who raided a home where the journalists had gone to interview Juvenile and his producer, Leroy "Precise" Edwards. (Fensterstock's tape recorder was on during the bust; an audio snippet is included in the exhibit, titled "Bad Day in Arabi.")
"Where They At" pairs words and pictures with iPods containing interview clips and music samples. The roster of performers and producers is a who's who of Crescent City characters: Ice Mike. Tim Smooth. 10th Ward Buck. 5th Ward Weebie. Chev. Cheeky Blakk. Partners N Crime. Mannie Fresh. DJ Jubilee. Kilo. Katey Red. Ms. Tee. DJ Captain Charles. Big Freedia. Mia X.
Also included are such auxiliary figures as WQUE-FM deejay Wild Wayne and Odyssey Records owner Gary Holzenthal, who consigned early Cash Money releases directly from the Williams brothers' car.
Artifacts include the original reel-to-reel recording of "Where Dey At, " a DJ Irv turntable from the early '90s and a crudely printed business card placing the Cash Money Records office in the 1100 block of Tulane Avenue -- a long way from the penthouses the Williams brothers now occupy.
As bounce caught on, some observers objected to its explicit lyrics and equally explicit dancing. Gregory D recalls how his "Buck Jump Time" was banned from school dances. He also reiterates the local pride present in his songs.
"Everybody was scared to talk about wards and projects in New Orleans, " he said. "Not me. I wanted to put the city on the map and represent New Orleans."
The exhibit places bounce in the context, and continuum, of New Orleans music. Producer Don B., aka Don Bartholomew, worked on early Lil Wayne and B.G. albums; he is the son of Fats Domino producer Dave Bartholomew.
"Precise" Edwards recounts recording at a studio owned by Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductee Allen Toussaint.
"We're doing what you was doing when you were younger, " Edwards explained to him. "Trying to live out our dreams and do what we love to do."
A corner of the exhibit is devoted to Bobby Marchan, the cross-dressing veteran of the Dew Drop Inn and Huey Smith & the Clowns. In the early '90s, Marchan emerged as a key mover and shaker in the bounce community, booking shows, hustling radio play and organizing talent contests. His old cross-dressing routine hinted at the "sissy bounce" stars of today. When Marchan died in 1999, Cash Money Records footed the $12,000 cost of his funeral.
The exhibit's 48 portrait subjects are cast, literally, in a flattering light. Rather than rely on natural light, Edwards deployed flashes. The result is a stylistic consistency in shots ranging from extreme close-ups to longer views that take in the surrounding environment (or, in the case of Magnolia Shorty, a clutch of young fans with water guns).
A separate gallery of C-41 prints by Edwards documents the Bottom Line Lounge, Mor's Lounge II, Club Ceasar's, the Big Man Lounge and other neighborhood bars where bounce took hold. A set of soft-focus, black-and-white silver gelatin prints capture the housing projects -- Lafitte, C.J. Peete aka Magnolia, B.W. Cooper aka Calliope -- that functioned as the music's incubators.
The exhibit benefits from the contributions of Sthaddeus "Polo Silk" Terrell, an early bounce scenester. His snapshots amount to a glimpse at bounce's baby album. The late Soulja Slim is seen dancing with his mother, Linda Tapp Porter. Baby Williams poses alongside a young woman in glasses and an awkward black and yellow ensemble -- the future Magnolia Shorty.
And who is that slight, sleepy-eyed teenager with the modest Afro, chilling on a green couch backstage at the House of Blues? A baby-faced Lil Wayne, flanked by fellow Hot Boys Juvenile and Turk.
"Where They At" spells out where Lil Wayne came from, and where bounce may be headed. In his reflections, DJ Raj Smoove observes, "Back in the day when jazz first started, it was looked down upon by its predecessors. We're kind of going through that same cycle now.
"Hip-hop will be the traditional music at some point."
WHAT IS BOUNCE?
A contemporary rap form that sprouted at New Orleans block parties in the 1980s.
Defined in part by repetitive, call-and-response chants that often reference New Orleans neighborhoods and housing projects.
Sexual innuendo and swagger replace the violence of gangsta rap.
Beat derived from second-lines and Mardi Gras Indian rhythms.
First formal recording: "Where Dey At" (1991), a cassette-only local release by rapper T. Tucker and producer DJ Irv.
Biggest hit: "Back That Azz Up" (1998) by Juvenile, which sold 4 million copies in 1998.
Read more online: Alison Fensterstock describes her research for the exhibit, including an interview that turned into a drug bust, at nola.com/music.