An exhibit at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art spotlights the New Orleans rap and hip-hop sceneRap and hip-hop are popular nationwide, but New Orleans developed its own spin on these genres with a style known as bounce. With roots in local music traditions and regular references to local neighborhoods and events, bounce is uniquely and proudly New Orleans.
Now bounce and hip-hop are the subjects of Where They At: New Orleans Bounce and Hip-Hop in Words and Pictures, a multimedia exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which runs through July 25. Along with photographs and interviews, the show includes videotaped and live performances, collectively designed to provide a picture of the scene. The show was created by Austin, Texas, photographer Aubrey Edwards and New Orleans–based journalist Alison Fensterstock. Recently New Orleans Living interviewed Fensterstock about the exhibit.
What led you to cover bounce music?
After Katrina I became Gambit’s music critic, so I got to dig deeper into local music. I was excited about how obviously bounce seemed to have drawn from street parade and Mardi Gras Indian sounds and thought it should be recognized on par with the more venerable NOLA music traditions.
How would you describe bounce?
It’s New Orleans rap music for dancing to. The chants are upbeat and repetitive—often dirty and often sharing catchphrases like “shake it like a saltshaker”—and usually include call-and-response, name-checking the city’s neighborhoods and housing projects.
What distinguishes bounce from rap and hip-hop?
People usually [say] all hip-hop is rap, but not all rap is hip-hop. Hip-hop implies more lyrical and conscious music. Rap is the poppier, bling-bling or gangsta stuff. We called our project New Orleans Bounce and Hip-Hop because the period we’re covering—the late ’80s and ’90s—was incredibly fertile for the local rap scene.
What is “sissy bounce” and how big a part of the bounce scene is it?
Sissy bounce refers to the out gay [male] and transgendered rappers who came [onto] the scene after 1999, when Katey Red, the first gay rapper, put out [the] first album. It’s actually not a huge part of the scene at large. But the sensationalism of it and the wild dance-party vibe the sissies bring is getting a lot of attention lately, especially from crossover audiences.
Do bounce, rap and hip-hop circles accept the transgender and gay musicians?
Gayness is a hot-button issue in the hip-hop scene. New Orleans is really the only place where out gay rappers have any real acceptance from the larger hip-hop community, as far as I know. But many straight rappers in New Orleans do have problems with the sissies, too. They worry that their popularity explosion will somehow negate the decade of NOLA rap music that came previous to the sissies and don’t want to be identified as gay by association.
What is the importance of bounce in and beyond the music scene?
National rappers [like the Ying Yang Twins and Rihanna] have plucked elements of bounce for their own songs, but few bounce artists have made an impact with bounce. [New Orleans artist] Juvenile, who started out bounce, mostly had his success after his style became more lyrical. Bounce is very important in that it has a strong regional identity, when most regionally distinctive music has slowly grown to sound more homogenous. It’s very New Orleans to preserve that.
To what extent was bounce an exclusively local phenomenon prior to Katrina? To what extent has it spread beyond the city today?
Bounce artists always toured regionally, mostly within the black community, especially when [’60s R&B star, and an important early bounce promoter] Bobby Marchan was alive. But it was always New Orleans party music.
How has the scene changed since the storm?
Lots of bounce artists wound up in Houston and Atlanta after the storm and brought a bit of a scene to those cities because of it. But mostly, bounce since Katrina has either taken on more of a national rap sound, or it’s gone the way of Big Freedia and 10th Ward Back’s stuff, which is really, really fast beat-wise and lyrically more repetitive.
How was the exhibit at Ogden compiled?
Over about two years, Aubrey photographed and I interviewed about 50 [individuals, including musicians and producers] who were part of the ’90s scene. The exhibit will have portraits of each of them paired with a text panel and audio file excerpting the interview. There’s also some performance video and landscape shots of significant nightclubs and neighborhoods. We’re also very excited to have acquired some photos taken back in the day by the local photographers, as well as vintage vinyl from my collection, promo photos, old magazines and even the original turntables DJ Irv first used to craft the song “Wha Dey At.”
Through the multimedia experience, how much will people be able to experience the music scene?
Nothing matches a night in the club, but using video and audio will make the experience very dynamic. I’m also booking four Ogden After Hours events [monthly through July], so Ogden visitors will have a chance to see live performances.
Do you have to be a fan of the music to enjoy the show?
No, I think it’s great for anyone who likes New Orleans music to learn about a genre that’s very significant to the city, very attached to the city’s roots-music traditions. Plus, just visually, the energy and the colors in the photos and the excitement of the video—it’s pretty cool.
For more information about the exhibition and related performances, films and exhibits at Ogden and about town, visit www.ogdenmuseum.org or www.wheretheyatnola.com.