Tune in to that NOLA Bounce
As I write, results are beginning to trickle in after the opening round in New Orleans' first mayoral election since hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the region last fall (Times-Picayune coverage). The elite media is refocusing yet again, and New York Times music critic Kelefa Sanneh is wondering why a particular part of the city's highly touted heritage is going unappreciated (link).
There was a blitz of benefit concerts, including "From the Big Apple to the Big Easy," a pair of shows held simultaneously at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall last September. A New Orleans jam session closed the show at the Grammy Awards in February. There have been scads of well-intentioned compilations, including "Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast" (Nonesuch), "Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now" (Concord) and "Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert" (Blue Note), a live album recorded at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Benefit. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last month, a video segment paid tribute to New Orleans music through the years, from Louis Armstrong to the Neville Brothers; there was also the inevitable New Orleans jam session.
But one thing all these tributes have in common is that they all ignored the thrilling — and wildly popular — sound of New Orleans hip-hop, the music that has been the city's true soundtrack through the last few decades.
Rap music remains by far New Orleans's most popular musical export. Lil Wayne, Master P, Juvenile, Mannie Fresh, B. G., Mystikal and many other pioneers have sold millions of albums, and they have helped make their city an indispensable part of the hip-hop world. Unlike all the other musicians celebrated at post-Katrina tributes, these ones still show up on the pop charts, often near the top. (Juvenile's most recent album made its debut at No. 1, last month.) Yet when tourists and journalists descend upon the city next weekend, for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, they'll find only one local rapper on the schedule: Juvenile, who is to appear on the Congo Square Louisiana Rebirth Stage at 6 p.m. Saturday.
I largely agree with Sanneh's thesis. Despite its widespread popularity with young Americans and the commericalization that's come along with success, hip-hop is still too young, too wild, too black to share the warm embrace the state and society now extend to blues, jazz and rock musicians shunned a generation ago.
Thanks to a tip from David Drake (blog), I've discovered an .mp3 mix of early New Orleans hip-hop (a variant strain known as "bounce music") uploaded by the elegantly named cocaineblunts last September. It's called Bounce for Relief. It's hot. It's here. And it's free for download, although dude asks that any downloaders make a contribution to Katrina charities. If you give it a go, leave your impression in the comments. We'll chat.