When hip-hop first arrived in New Orleans in the mid 1980’s, crews of DJ’s would set up and perform in the yards of housing projects, alongside major streets, or anywhere else where they were able to draw crowds. Among these early hip-hop DJ’s was Slick Leo, who introduced turntable scratching and live mixing to New Orleans hip-hop, as well as crews such as the Sugar Brown Clowns, the DJ Magicians, and Fellas DJ’s (featuring Shawn “Lil’ Nerve” Temple and his younger brother Jerome “DJ Jubilee” Temple). The first rap group known to exist in New Orleans was New York Incorporated, led by Denny D. from New Orleans and featuring the future No Limit recording artist Mia X, and future Cash Money mastermind Mannie Fresh. In its infancy stages, most New Orleans rap music contained little to no reference (lyrically or musically) to its city of origin. It wasn’t until 1989, when Gregory D. and Mannie Fresh released “Buck Jump Time” that a New Orleans hip-hop song featured distinct references, musically and lyrically, to the Crescent City. With programmed rhythms taken directly from second line brass band music, and specific lyrical references to the city’s housing projects that most New Orleans hip-hop artists called home, “Buck Jump Time” serves as something like a prototype for the distinctly New Orleans style of hip-hop music known as Bounce. However, the origins of Bounce music’s stylistic development can be traced all the way back to West Africa over 300 years ago.
In approximately 1719, French traders brought 500 Africans, mostly from the Senegambia region, into Louisiana. At the time of the 1810 census, the black population in New Orleans totaled 42 thousand. This number was comprised of two distinct populations: the English-speaking uptown blacks, whose ancestors had arrived in New Orleans via South Carolina; and the French-speaking Creoles of color, coming from Cuba after fleeing Haiti during the revolution. Unlike most other U.S. cities at the time, New Orleans allowed its immigrant slaves to retain their native language and cultural traditions, including their diverse array of French, Spanish, African, Cuban, and Haitian musical influences. Because of the geographic location of New Orleans, the city was granted the status of a Caribbean community, which ensured continuing cultural and musical exchange between New Orleans and the islands of the Caribbean.
Under Spanish colonial rule during the American Revolution, Louisiana enlisted militias containing both whites and blacks to fight alongside the Spanish army against the British. These militias included military bands, which contained many black and creole members. This is a significant factor in New Orleans’ musical development because it allowed black slaves to continue to play drums, unlike black slaves in other regions, who were forbidden from doing so at the time.
During the period of French colonialism, the eagerness of Napoleon Bonaparte to keep brass bands in the colonies helped to ensure that black people in New Orleans had access to Western instruments. While New Orleans brass bands were not unlike most other brass bands in the country initially, the diverse ethnic composition of the city necessitated that the bands be able to play music that appealed to the tastes of every major ethnic group in New Orleans. There was a significant demand for Cuban musical styles resulting from the large population of Creole immigrants from Haiti, who had spent nearly a decade in Cuba before ending up in New Orleans. Because of this demand, and also because Cuban styles were already in the repertoire of many local musicians, brass bands began incorporating Cuban elements into much of the music they played. One such element was the Afro-Cuban rhythmic style, thought to have origins in West Africa prior to recorded history, that eventually came to be known as the contradanza, the habanera, or the tango. In order to make the songs they played more danceable, New Orleans brass bands altered the style a bit by cutting the meter to 2/4 time, adding syncopation (which gives the rhythm a less rigid and more swinging feel by moving it slightly off of the beat), and embellishing the melodies. This development influenced nearly every subsequent musical style, including early jazz, associated with the city of New Orleans (For specific examples of other music that utilizes the same rhythmic foundation—with varying tempos—see “Bo Diddley” by Bo Diddley, “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, nearly every Reggaeton song, and the first four notes of the theme music to Dragnet).
The Afro-Cuban influence was more fully explored and expanded in the 1940’s and 1950’s by Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd, a.k.a. Professor Longhair, who popularized a playing style sometimes referred to as the “Spanish tinge”. Professor Longhair’s truly innovative style used the boogie-woogie blues form as a template into which he added nearly every significant element of New Orleans’ musical tradition—including jazz improvisation, Mardi Gras Indian-style chants, and the second line rhythms derived from Afro-Cuban styles (the “Spanish tinge”). Expanding these influences even further, The Neville Brothers (Aaron, Art, and Cyril—nephews of George Landry, a.k.a. Big Chief Jolley, founder of the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indian tribe) bridged the jazz traditions, Afro-Caribbean and military rhythms, and Mardi Gras Indian aesthetics of New Orleans’ past with modern R&B elements. The music of The Neville Brothers defined the sound of New Orleans popular music that endured well into the late 1980’s.
The prominent musical traditions of New Orleans first collided with hip-hop in the late 1980’s with Gregory D. and Mannie Fresh’s “Buck Jump Time,” but it was in the early 1990’s that this collision gave rise to an entirely new musical movement in the city of New Orleans. In 1991, MC T Tucker and DJ Irv began performing a song called “Where Dey At” in a nightclub in the 17th ward called Ghost Town. The song featured a sample—commonly referred to as ‘Triggerman’—of a repeating three-note synthesizer melody underscored by a subtle synthetic cowbell rhythm, taken from the song “Drag Rap” by a rap group from New York City called The Showboys (the song features a sample of the first four notes from the theme music to Dragnet, which is an example of the Afro-Cuban-derived rhythmic phrase previously mentioned), and highly repetitive, chanted vocals that were firmly rooted in second line dance and Mardi Gras traditions. “Where Dey At” became so popular in the club that MC Tucker and DJ Irv recorded a live performance of it and hastily issued a bootleg cassette of the recording, which sold hundreds of copies locally and received heavy radio airplay. A year later, DJ Jimi recorded a song ironically titled “(The Original) Where Dey At,” which features the same Triggerman sample and similarly repetitive lyrics delivered in the chanted rhythmic style employed by T Tucker on “Where Dey At.” Slightly more complex and much more polished in both performance and production, DJ Jimi’s version was released on the Memphis label Avenue Records and subsequently achieved nationwide exposure, briedly landing DJ Jimi onto the Billboard charts.
These two songs spawned a subsequent wave of imitators who used the same Triggerman sample and similar call-and-response vocal style. Although it’s difficult to piece together the chronology of much early bounce music due to the absence of releases dates on many releases, Everlasting Hitman may have been the first artist to deliver chants of housing project names over a Triggerman sample. With the release of “Bounce Baby Bounce,” Everlasting Hitman not only helped to solidify the stylistic elements of Bounce’s lyrical content, he also unknowingly provided a name for the genre.
While the Triggerman sample remains ubiquitous in New Orleans hip-hop to this day, it wasn’t until several years after the release of “Where Dey At?” that Mannie Fresh introduced a second rhythmic element into the mix, a percussion sample known as the “Brown Beat,” Further solidifying the stylistic foundation of bounce. In 1995, Mannie Fresh produced the Cheeky Blakk song “Bitch Get Off Me,” for which he sampled the beat from club DJ Cameron Paul’s 1987 track “Brown’s Beat” (itself a looped sample of the first few measures of British rapper Derek B’s 1987 single “Rock The Beat,” at a slightly different tempo). By combining the Triggerman sample with the Brown Beat sample, Mannie Fresh created an entirely new beat that added a whole new layer to the foundation of Bounce music. The song was such a huge local success that the instrumental backing beat, now affectionately referred to as the “Cheeky Blakk beat,” has now been sampled and rapped over by countless bounce artists.
The appeal of the Brown Beat, which gave way to the runaway success of the Cheeky Blakk beat, is almost certainly the result of its similarity to the habanera rhythm that has been present in New Orleans music from perhaps as early as the late 18th century. This rhythm’s foundation can he heard in everything from second-line music to early New Orleans jazz, and throughout the mid-to-late 20th century by New Orleans artists such as Professor Longhair and The Neville Brothers. It is a rhythm that nearly lives and breathes in New Orleans, to the point that it has become a permanent fixture in the city’s cultural landscape.