Like Beyoncé before him, Drake has recently decided to pay homage to New Orleans bounce music by sampling Big Freedia’s voice on a new single, “Nice For What.” While Big Freedia’s voice is sampled so much that she is listed as a feature on the song, the video for the single fails to feature her—despite the concept of said video being a celebration of women. When asked about the exclusion in an interview with The Fader, Freedia said, “That’s when I say the proper recognition and the proper credit, you know, my voice be on a lot of different stuff and people want to use bounce music as a part of their music, but when it comes to the proper recognition of me being in the video, that’s something that we’re steady working towards to make it happen. The credits are important but, for me, it’s still putting New Orleans on the map and I’m happy with the check.”
New Orleans’ underground rap scene has always had a weird relationship with the rest of mainstream music, no more so than when No Limit Records had dominance over major airwaves in the ‘90s, immediately followed by the rise of Cash Money Records. Even during that time, critics would dismiss both Juvenile and Master P’s output (the prolific critic Robert Christgau opted not to review both of their debut albums). Yet today, you can still find direct callouts to songs of that period, from Kanye West quoting C-Murder’s “Ride for My Niggas” to Kendrick Lamar mimicking Juvenile’s rhyme scheme from “Ha” on “ELEMENT.” Big Freedia’s oxymoronic mainstream “recognition”—where a New Orleans artist’s ”NOLA vibe” is appropriated but their artistry is not adequately credited or compensated—is nothing new. Luckily, the current wave of artists, musicians, rappers, and DJs are going to make it hard for this pattern of appropriation without proper appreciation to continue.
At the forefront of this current wave of the New Orleans underground scene is Delish Da Goddess. Originally from Violet, Louisiana and steadily putting out releases since 2013, Delish (real name Gabriel Major) has quickly established herself as one of the best rappers in the city. In her own way, she perfectly encompasses all of what’s great about New Orleans rap culture. With a voice that can command a room as easily as the best bounce rappers, and a swagger that calls to mind those old No Limit and Cash Money records (she even does a version of “Ride for My Niggas” called “Ride for My Bitches”), it’s no surprise that she has opened for the likes of Big Freedia and Tank and the Bangas. She has staked her claim as one of the hardest working artists in the city.
Full disclosure: I have done almost too many shows to count with Delish Da Goddess. What started as mutual admiration (me being front row for the pits she would rock at Poor Boys and her coming to one of my first live DJ sets), has led to me being a part of several of her shows throughout the city. These shows, which she hosts, headlines (or both), work as showcases of the best New Orleans has to offer, with all the acts having been hand picked by the Goddess herself. The lineups—usually femme-focused—continue to be as diverse as the city itself, featuring artists such as violinist Sultana Isham, noise rapper Lucky, and electro R&B goddess NONDI. After a ripping set by Delish, what usually follows is a dance party ranging from trap rap to house, provided by a rotating cast of DJs including DJ Dreamer, DJ Hell Nah, and, well, myself (as DJ Heelturn). While bounce music is occasionally played, it’s not at the forefront—a trend that is now prevalent in the current New Orleans dance scene, as it has slowly grown beyond just bounce, top 40, soul, and mainstream EDM.
The best example of this change has been two parties in particular: Pink Room Project’s Set De’ Flo at Hi-Ho Lounge and Ascendance at Cafe Istanbul. While there has always been an abundance of dance parties in New Orleans, most of the ones that have survived the longest don’t play much in the way of contemporary tracks. This is not to knock DJ Soul Sister’s legendary nights at Mimi’s and Hi-Ho, or speak ill of Mod Dance Party at Saturn Bar, but I found it strange that New Orleans, a city known for great music, wouldn’t be accepting of something new or different. While there has been a rise in more electronic dance parties (like Disko Obscura nights at The Saint or Bouffant Bouffant house music sets as a part of Trax Only and Gimme a Reason), their hasn’t been a place for people of color to dance to something other than Top 40 and bounce beyond house or warehouse parties.
Funny enough, it took Soul Sister leaving her weekly DJ night at Hi-Ho Lounge and a “gentrifier” bar to kick start the new wave of POC-centric, DIY dance parties happening in New Orleans. Replacing Soul Sister on Saturday nights at the Hi-Ho is Set De’ Flo, curated by The Pink Room Project’s Lil Jodeci and hosted by local rapper/creative Lord Chilla. You never really know what to expect when you walk through those doors. You could bear witness to a set of house music by Quickweave, or catch hip-house rapper Brandon Ares standing on top of the bar, or even see DJ G-Cue scratching through an amazing hip-hop set. Lil’ Jodeci controls the decks for most of the time, with sets composed of the likes of N*E*R*D*, Kaytranada, Toro Y Moi, and 2010-era Kanye. The whole time, Lord Chilla plays the role of an old-school MC, pumping up the crowd in between transitions.
If Pink Room Project’s Set De’ Flo is the rebellious early 20-something of the scene, Ascendance is in their early 30s and just recently got their shit together. Hosted by DJs Chinua and pr_ck in collaboration with herbalist C Gypsi Lewis, Ascendance bills itself as a “monthly party for adults of all racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual identities who love black and brown people as much as black and brown culture and wish to celebrate the zodiac through the electronic musical traditions of the African diaspora.” These bi-monthly dance parties are themed after the zodiac season in which they take place, and the music usually matches, whether it be baile funk for Aries season or afrobeat for Capricorn season. Originating at Sidney’s Saloon late last year, the parties quickly grew in popularity so much that a bigger space was needed. Enter Black-owned venue Cafe Istanbul, which is located in the New Orleans Healing Center. The venue hits that perfect sweet spot between being spacious enough for people to dance and intimate enough that you feel you know everyone around you.
Funny enough, it took a “gentrifier” bar to kick start the new wave of POC-centric, DIY dance parties happening in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, these dance spaces don’t come without problems. But both Pink Room and Ascendance have tried to address them. During Set De Flo’, Lord Chila shouts how the dance floor is a safe space with no racism, sexism, transphobia, or body shaming of any sort. Yet the Pink Room still comes off as a boys club with only one female member (xcarilsax), who is rarely in attendance for most of the events. That plus co-founding member Brandon Ares naming his newest release, GOOD LOVE 2017: DYKE, after a homophobic slur proves that the young collective still has some growing up to do. And while Ascendance tries to be a safe space, DJ Chinua has been open about women, LGBTQ-identifying people, and gender non-binary people not feeling safe in the spaces they provided. The very next day after the last Ascendance party, Chinua shared on the event page a list of articles, from the likes of Bell Hooks and Janet Mock, for men to educate and heal themselves of their toxic masculinity. To me, this shows progress in how these spaces should be operated, but there is still a good deal of conversation to be had about ensuring a safe space for all.
As a person of color who is from this city, it has been so refreshing to see such growth in a place where it has been hard to even find a DJ who was willing to play Toro Y Moi. While one could argue that this is a byproduct of gentrification, most of these spaces are provided by POC artists and DJs who are from here. And whether it’s watching Delish control a crowd of people at Poor Boys, soaking in the incense at Ascendance, or dancing at Hi-Ho during Set De’ Flo, it has been such a pleasure to bear witness to and be a part of this continually evolving New Orlean scene.
A PROPER CREDIT MIX
Here are a list of projects to get you properly introduced to the “New” New Orleans Underground:
DELISH DA GODDESS
With the track “Not My Fault,” Delish rails on—among other things—her experience at Bonnaroo in 2017 (“They liking the shit that I did / I put the voodoo on them kids / now they can suck on my clit / I’m not going back to that shit”) and the results are one of the hardest hitting tracks in her blossoming catalog.
Much like the Ascendance parties he hosts, DJ Chinua releases stunning mixes on his SoundCloud dedicated to each zodiac season. He perfectly captures the traits for each sign, whether it be smooth R&B Capricorn season or Baile Funk for Aries season.
The Pink Room Project member has an ear for what makes house music great, and uses it to make amazing edits of old school Brandy and Jagged Edge singles.
When “Only You” first dropped on Soundcloud, I obsessively listened to this for days on end. While promoted as an ode to Cowboy Bebop character Faye Valentine, this synthy number can’t hide the real heartbreak that inspired the track.
Released late last year, the BLOOD MOON EP by composer, violinist, singer, and dancer continues to surprise. “SNATCH” is a highlight that will be stuck in your head for days.
While only starting to perform live around the city just last year, Nondi has quickly grown into an amazing live presence. Her debut EP Soft City, with beats provided by local producers STONE and Jaek Basquiat, highlights what makes her live show such a treat.
Released in collaboration with artist Riley Tehan, 6: An Unbirth is a visual album filled with beautiful imagery backed by songs that could fill a stadium. If you get a chance to catch any of her live installations you will quickly understand her power as a performer.
Available on YouTube
“To Tha Side” was recently released as a video by Baton Rouge native Hu$hpuppy (formerly known as EVAN LEE), which features the local rapper in doooooope outfits while lounging atop a piano being played by fellow artist NONDI.
Available on YouTube
AF THE NAYSAYER
A veteran of the New Orleans electronic and beat scene, AF THE NAYSAYER (ALL CAPS like DOOM) has recently started incorporating more dance music into his sets. “Briefing Room (Staff Roll) [peaceFIRE Remix]” from his album Armed Wing Battle Unit is the perfect introduction to this transition.
Joining the New Orleans underground scene after performing at the Black and Brown punk fest Deep Cuts, this rapper is at their best when casually throwing shade with the best of them. Released on her latest EP XPOSED, “Free”—produced by local beatmaker Feathermeal—contains one of my fave lyrics (it mentions North Rampart and grabbing your piece).
This duo, who has slight affiliations with local label Community Records, spreads their brand of electronic R&B in the most soulful way possible with their latest release Post Gospel Disco. Lead singer Justin Batiste has one of the smoothest voices you are likely to hear in the city.
Though she recently just moved out of the country, you can still see Sol’s influence around the city since she designs fliers for the likes of DJ RQAway and Ascendance. “Rosa.re,” a track released just before leaving the city, shows how easily she can portray and describe heartbreak within just a few minutes.
photos GABBY GARCIA-STEIB; top photo of BRANDON ARES