Where They At?
Alison Fensterstock and Aubrey Edwards’ Where They At archive is now available online. It’s a pretty impressive archive of New Orleans bounce and rap music featuring photos, ephemera and excerpts of interviews with the likes of DJ Jimi, Mia X, Mannie Fresh and more (hopefully the full text will be available in some form in the future?) I haven’t gotten too too deep into the site yet, but I did notice this interesting point brought up by one time Young Money and Psychoward DJ Raj Smoov:
Even still now, I don’t think hip-hop and rap are too widely accepted as… I think it’s still looked down upon. Even within the city, jazz music and brass band music – and there is a lot of culture – New Orleans has its own hip-hop. It has its own history of it, but people don’t really look or pay too much attention to that because it’s not, I guess, traditional. Right now jazz is what everybody knows New Orleans for being for. But 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. I think there eventually will be a point where all the people that grew up on hip-hop that are my age, once they start getting in positions of power – they are handing out the grants and they are doing the stories and memorials and they have the power to do different things – you’ll see a lot more happening with hip hop because that is our music. That will be the traditional music at some point.
Raj’s comments immediately brought to mind the most visible representation of New Orleans music today – David Simon’s HBO series Treme. Though not entirely unexpected, it’s been disappointing to see how New Orleans bounce and hip hop has been almost entirely unacknowledged on the show so far. Apart from a brief placement of two post-No Limit Mystikal cuts and a few verses of screen time by an (as far as a I can tell) unknown female rapper named Baby J the characters and song selections have been more Eddie Bo than “Eddie Bow.” With Simon & co. having so thoroughly addressed the marginalized communities in Baltimore with The Wire I had hoped that they’d do the same for less publicized/canonized New Orleans musicians (especially on a show that’s ostensibly about under-publicized New Orleans music). But it doesn’t seem like they intend to, or at least not this season.
Yes, the Jazz legacy of New Orleans is awe inspiring, but the city’s largest recent footprint on popular music has come directly from its hip hop corners. Still so much of this sprawling and influential scene remains undocumented, and certainly underrepresented in the national image of the city’s musical legacy. (Perhaps somewhat strategically? I can’t imagine a bunch of suck a n***a dick for a pork chop chants and uncouth transvestites would do much to draw in the tourist dollars.) Sure the Sissy side of the fence has gotten a little bit of a buzz in the media as of late, partially because of the novelty factor and partially because it plays into the hack gender studies theories of many reporters,* but we are talking about almost twenty five years of recorded music here, with or without cross dressing. Fortunately projects like Where They At and the excellent Ya Heard Me documentary exist to pick up that slack, but it seems like it’s about time those stories are weaved into the larger narrative of New Orleans music. It seems like an all too obvious extension to the story, given the obvious rhythmic, thematic and instrumental ties Bounce shares with the city’s more revered strains of music as well as its direct lineage to long standing NO musical icons like Bobby Marchan.**
I’m well aware that even bringing all this up makes me sound more than a little bit like Steve Zahn’s elitist music nerd protagonist from Treme.*** But whatever, if they had written that character right he’d be the one ranting about the underrepresentation of bounce and, I dunno, hanging out with Jubilee at a block party or something instead of playing really obvious mainstream Mystikal records to prove how down he is. ****
* AT LAST TEH GHEYS HAV TEH RAPPS! THIS IS SUCH AN UNEXPECTED CONTRAST! A REALLY STRIKING COMMENT ON SOCIETY!
** Take note, my Sissy chasers in the media: Marchan was also into drag and I ain’t talking Triggerman.
*** Except I’ve never even been to New Orleans.
**** A real obsessive would have at least reached back for “Neva Gonna Bounce,” no? I demand nothing less than authenticity in the representation of authenticity obsessed music nerds. And while I’m making that list, I also demand a reprint of TT Tucker’s “Wha Dey At?” T-Shirt.