In hip-hop circles, you often encounter self-appointed arbiters of hip-hop taste who decry certain supposed negative trends in hip-hop. One frequent target for these musical Taliban is the prevalence of “bling,” which is regarded as a new corruption of the scene (conveniently ignoring Gucci-clad, Rolls Royce-flaunting, “paid in full”-singing Eric B and Rakim or the massive gold ropes that adorned every rapper from Big Daddy Kanedown the alphabet to Yella.) These paternal advocates of fiscal responsibility feel that rappers should be saving their money, I suppose, and not spending on ostentatious jewelry.
These conservative cultural watchdogs usually then go into an oft-repeated, well-rehearsed diatribe about meaningless, party-centric lyrics, the lack of reliance on DJing, the importance of being real and other things that place them ideologically in the traditionalist camp alongside their trad jazz forebears that griped when jazz moved beyond its Dixieland roots, the guy that yelled “Judas” when Dylan plugged in and prog-rock fans who decried the lack of humorless, showy, technical proficiency when glam began took over the charts and hearts of rock fans in the 70s.
But music evolves, regardless (and sometimes in defiance) of the griping and sniping of those stodgy snobs who stand scowling and motionless with arms folded whilst the masses keep on getting down. In 1968 Nik Cohn virtually created rock criticism with his book Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock. As the title suggests, Cohn viewed the meaningless, shallow, fun music of rock’s dawn in higher regard than the pretentious progressive rock of his day. Another genre of music that haters love to hate isBounce music. I felt like my love of this despised genre was validated, in a way, when the same Nik Cohn moved to New Orleans and worked with Choppa, an under-rated rapper from Algiers on the West Bank who had a big regional hit with “Choppa Style.” Choppa dubbed Cohn “Nik the Trik” and Cohn wrote another book of criticism about his experiences, Triksta: Life and Death and New Orleans Rap.
Now, if you remember the late ’90s, with the rising profiles of No Limit and Cash Money, the term “bounce” started getting thrown around by East & West Coast rappers who incorporated slightly southern rap-inspired beats to their club hits in what amounted, from where I stand, to a new form of minstrelsy that I call Southface. Jay-Z did “Can I Get A” and dropped excruciatingly wooden verses on a remix of Juvie‘s Bounce-inspired “Back That Azz Up,” Ice Cube did “You Know I’m a Ho” with Master P and the southern-flavored “U Can Do It” and R. Kelly gratingly drove the word “bounce” into the ground with that one song that I’m not even going to try to remember the name of, lest it get stuck in my head. None of these songs really bore more than a passing resemblance to real Bounce music though and Bounce labels Big Boy (which initially had Mystikal and Partners N Crime) and Take Fo’ (who had DJ Jubilee, Willie Puckett and Tec-9 fromUNLV) as well as Bounce pioneers like TT Tucker & DJ IRv, DJ Jimi, and Everlasting Hitman were left where they started– with little more than devoted regional cult followings.
Real Bounce is the extremely repetitive New Orleans-centered rap genre that draws from an incredibly small pool of samples. The source of all Bounce tracks is pretty much just the song “Drag Rap” by obscure 80s East Coast rap group The Showboys. The rest of the samples come from British DJ Derek B‘s “Rock the Beat.” How those two little-known tracks became so important to New Orleans hip-hop is a mystery to me. Bounce lyrics usually amount to little more than repeated call-and-response chants, shouting out dances and the names of New Orleans’ many projects. If you want to learn more about it, check out the film Ya Heard Me which, from what little I’ve seen, looks to be a pretty entertaining and informative documentary about the critically-ignored scene.
Anyway, a few years into the Bounce game, along came Katey Red, pretty much the first openly gay rapper to achieve any degree of popularity when he/she dropped Melpomene Block Party in 1999. Katey’s on Take Fo’, a label which promotes what they consider a positive image, shying away from lyrics about drugs and guns, but having no problem with lewdness– kind of a European sensibility, really. This is N.O. after all– a city deep in culture and older than the U.S.A. itself.
Finding out anything about Sissy Rap on the web has proven frustratingly difficult. Either I’m a journalistic pioneer, a computard, or both. Here’s a few other Sissy Rap artists I’ve heard of:
Sissy Jay: I have nothing on Sissy Jay anymore. I think I had an mp3 but my old hard drive crashed so now all I have is my memory of the name.
Sissy Nobby: I don’t know much about him personally. He’s from Gretna, over on the West Bank (according to his Myspace page). Since Katrina, he and Big Freedia have often performed as a duo.
Vockah Redu first gained my attention with “Fuck Katey Red.” The concept of Sissy Rap beef intrigued me. It seems like it was a joke though. I swear he was the one working at Adam & Steve’s Meat Market in the filmDa Block Party (alongside bounce/New Orleans rap luminaries 5th Ward Weebie, Choppa and Kane & Abel) but I can’t find him on imdb. He released Can’t Be Stopped in 2000 and lives in Houston now.
Chev Off the Ave: I can’t find anything about Chev. According to Alison Fensterstock, “Chev off the Ave did a bunch of collaborations with the group SWA (Sissies With Attitude) and was on the 2000 (I think) Battle of the Sissies comp that DJ Black N Mild made. Chev also lives in Houston now and claims to be not gay anymore. No more gay! He’s done with that.”
Big Freedia (ne Freddie Ross) used to conduct a church choir until responding to the higher calling of Sissy Rap. As students at Walter L Cohen High, Freddie did some songs with the future Katey Red as Big Freddy and K-Reddy. “Gin In My System,” from the 2000 album Queen Diva, is one of the club classics she made.
In addition to many corrections that Ms. Fensterstock has provided, she also adds “Also, Katey, Nobby and Freedia guest on the new album from the NOLA weirdo hippie funk band Galactic coming out in February. (They share this distinction with Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas…).” Read her article about the Sissy scene here.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Click here to offer financial support and thank you!