Rap music culture and practice grew in New Orleans throughout the decade of the 1980s thanks to the efforts of DJ groups like Denny Dee’s New York Incorporated and the Brown Clowns. The first rap record released by a New Orleans-based group was “We Destroy” (1986) by the Ninja Crew, tellingly, on a Miami-based label, 4-Sight. The New Orleans rap infrastructure was still largely nonexistent. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, artists like Bust Down and the rapper/DJ team Gregory D. and Mannie Fresh recorded and released records on local labels, but forged connections with independents in other cities (Dallas and Miami, respectively) in order to expand their careers. A local infrastructure began to take shape, with producers, engineers, and label owners from previous generations being joined by younger aspirants. Releases by MC Thick and Bust Down (originally on local labels Alliv and Disotell) were picked up by majors for national distribution in the early 1990s.
The New Orleans rap scene incubated in concerts, nightclubs, teen clubs, house parties, and block parties throughout the city, as well as through radio play and recording sales. It drew upon qualities already in existence, including a fractionalized urban geography of neighborhoods, housing projects, and wards that often structured business arrangements and formed an axis around which artistic and commercial competition could revolve. The city’s highly-developed traditions of expressive culture — represented by Mardi Gras Indians, brass bands, and “second line” parades — provide analogues to the emerging rap scene in terms of the intensity of creative engagement and the strong sense of competition driving the efforts of rival groups or factions. These two central features — the city’s relative isolation vis-à-vis the centers of rap music industry and its deeply rooted traditions of expressive culture, including those related to carnival — profoundly influenced the development of the New Orleans rap scene and style.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the rap scene slowly expanded and took root in New Orleans. A variety of artists — including 39 Posse, Tim Smooth, and Warren Mayes — rose to local fame. In late 1991, the New Orleans scene and style changed dramatically due to the impact of a song called “Where Dey At” by MC T Tucker and DJ Irv. The duo hastily recorded a version of a song they had been performing at a nightclub called Ghost Town, with lyrics consisting of various phrases repeated and chanted in a rhythmic manner, backed by music taken from a recording of “Drag Rap,” a 1986 song by New York group The Show Boys. “Where Dey At” took New Orleans by storm, selling hundreds of copies and receiving play on local rap radio.
A similar release by DJ Jimi in 1992 helped establish a distinctive sound, and a vital scene coalesced around the new style of music soon christened “bounce.” Local independents like Cash Money, Parkway Pumpin’, and Pack supplied the growing demand with releases by Juvenile, Lil Slim, Magnolia Slim, Pimp Daddy, Everlasting Hitman, Silky Slim, Cheeky Blakk, and dozens of others. Grounded in a participatory approach to performance and composition, the style that these artists helped to create relied upon a dance orientation, vocals structured by call-and-response, and lyrics featuring local references. Chanted phrases which often unfolded in basic melodic patterns formed part of the polyrhythmic layering of the music along with elements such as handclaps and highly-inflected bass drum patterns similar to those in second line parades.
Excerpt from http://www.southernspaces.org
Dirty Decade: Rap Music and the U.S. South, 1997-2007
Matt Miller, Emory University