If you enjoy hip-hop, I guarantee that the sound that you love comes from Louisiana. Most people don’t know the influence that the music, style, and sounds from Louisiana have on the industry, but today I’m going to break down what you’ve been missing.
Long before the hip-hop scene took over, the main style of music in New Orleans was something called bounce, which originated in neighborhoods and social spaces in the 1980s. Bounce is a call-and-response style (great for crowd-engagement) with super funky beats that can be heard by brass bands in high tempos to keep the music steady. The funny part is that when bounce first started, most DJs would go to a club or a street corner and just perform bounce beats. It wouldn’t be until a couple of years later that the artist would grab the mic and start rhyming over those beats.
One DJ who started to make a name for himself during this time was DJ Sabu. Sabu played parties, street corners, cookouts, and eventually started getting hired for more prominent gigs. While Sabu was gaining notoriety, there was a figure behind-the-scenes who began to see the potential in this flourishing scene. This person was Mannie Fresh, Sabu’s son.
Mannie started off with bounce beats he learned from his father, but what made him different is that he made his own style of bounce by giving it a hip-hop flare. He learned how to use an 808 drum machine which took the beats to next level instantly. At parties, people would want Mannie to only perform on the elite machine and use nothing else.
Mannie still wasn’t very popular around this time, but upcoming artists in the neighborhood wanted to collaborate with him to see what they could create together, including incorporating more hip-hop beats. Mannie’s first collaborations were with New Orleans rapper Gregory D. Fresh. Gregory D got in the studio and wrote a bounce track with the traditional call-and-response style, but with hip-hop flare in which Gregory would shout out different neighborhoods within the city to make everyone feel included.
As the scene took off, many new artists rose to prominence including Big Freedia, Katie Red, Cheeky Blake, Jubilee, and the list goes on. The New Orleans rap scene was taking hold.
On the other side of this, a young artist named Percy Miller, aka Master P, made his way into the game after years of hustling. He wanted to make legal money and he knew he could do so by selling music. He received a settlement from a malpractice lawsuit and used the money to open up his record store called No Limit. Little did we know he had plans to turn the shop into a record label and would go on to take over the industry as an independent guru.
What set Master P apart was that he wanted to bring social awareness into his lyrics. He rapped over hip-hop and bounce beats while sending a message instead of the typical party type of vibe. It didn’t resonate well with people at first. CDs were thrown back at him a couple of times, and he was booed on stage, but that never stopped him.
Master P went on to put together No Limit records, a group consisting of him and his brothers and a couple of other artists from the city to whom he had taken a liking. No Limit would become the first hip-hop label to represent New Orleans on a national level. The artists would go on to release an album, Ghetto D, containing the hit single “Make Em’ Say Uhh,” which sold over 760,000 copies and was certified triple-platinum.
After having being misunderstood and criticized for so long, the rest of the world would now catch on to what Master P and No Limit had to offer, and would give New Orleans the national recognition it deserved. And little did we know, a few people in New Orleans were already planning their first move to leverage the attention No Limit had brought to New Orleans and catapult it to the next level. Those people were Birdman and Slim.
Birdman and Slim were two young brothers from the Magnolia Projects, and they knew they wanted something bigger than New Orleans. The brothers started Cash Money Records, which remains one of the biggest labels in the game to this day. At this time, a couple of upcoming artists generated buzz around the city: Turk, Lil Wayne, Juvenile, and BG. Mannie Fresh came on board to be the group’s main producer and the one most responsible for keeping the New Orleans sound alive. Cash Money was pretty similar to No Limit but less socially conscious.
I wouldn’t say that Cash Money had zero social awareness, they were a little more flash for the camera. Guess you could call them Flash Money? Also, their definitive look was a white t-shirt, bandana, Girbaud jeans, and a pair of soldier Reeboks (which were named after the late Soulja Slim). Every young male across the country desired to be in this wardrobe, and you probably even had a couple of older guys trying to pull it off. Considering that before this era most people only knew New Orleans for Mardi Gras, this was eye-opening and refreshing. The whole world was emulating something that originated in our backyard, and suddenly we felt like we were at the center of the cultural universe.
Many producers nowadays always give credit to Mannie Fresh and Beats by the Pound (the production group for No Limit). The bouncy drum patterns, high snares, hard kicks, and precise playing of the 808, manifested feelings of jubilance and made everyone want to dance and move their body, even if they didn’t know how.
The hip-hop side of the beat generated from other rappers and artists trying to mimic this style, while adding their own twists. Mannie Fresh spoke in an interview and said that New Orleans style can’t be stolen or appropriated because essentially that’s what bounce music is: taking something from something else.
Everybody has taken inspiration from this style of music, and while plenty has changed with so many more sounds, production styles, beats, and accepted stylistic idioms, you cannot deny that the New Orleans sound lies at the foundation.
The following videos are of three different New Orleans sounds. One of the biggest staples in New Orleans was Juvenile. He started at an early age, and everyone around him knew he was going to be the next big thing coming out of the city.
I have included an early clip of him which was his first music video for the song “Soldier Rags.” In the next video, you can see his ascension with the multi-platinum song “Back That Thing Up.” I also wanted to put a bit of vintage New Orleans so I added a Jubilee song which he came up with a self-titled dance and instructions to go with the lyrics as well. Each song is very different in its own way and I want you to just listen to the progression of sounds over time and the difference in lyrical content.