In the old days (the ’80s), most New Orleans rap was released by labels from outside the state. Dallas’s Yo! had handled Gregory D & Mannie Fresh and Tim Smooth. Ft. Lauderdale’s famous bass label, 4 Sight, released Ninja Crew’s “We Destroy.” Juvenile was initially on New York’s Warlock. When majors got involved, they invariably mis-handled the artists. Gregory D & Mannie Fresh moved to RCA; Warren Mayes and pioneering west bank rapper MC Thick signed to Atlantic.
All that changed following the bounce explosion of 1991. New Orleans’s long established Soulin’ Records finally got into the rap game, releasing DJ Jimi’s debut single, the bounce classic “(The Original) Where Dey At?” Seemingly overnight, a number of cottage industry labels sprang up, including Big Boy, Cash Money, Parkway Pumpin, Slaughterhouse, Take Fo’ and Untouchable. None of them except Cash Money lasted into the new millenium. But for a time, they collectively produced and recorded some of the most overlooked and greatest rap of the decade and routinely outsold nationally-promoted rappers of the day, helping turn the tide toward the south.
One of these labels, Mobo Joe Records (later just Mobo Records), sprang up over on the West Bank and initially focused on West Bank rappers. In doing so, it brought deserved attention to rappers frequently overlooked in the focus on their East Bank neighbors. Like them, Mobo had its share of bounce rappers. However, what made it more unique was groups like Dog House Posse, Lower Level Organization, and Ruthless Juveniles, who crafted the label’s undeniably low budget, raw strain of gangsta rap characterized by morbid, horror imagery that even, on at least one occasion, sampled a Fulci film. Or, as Mobo described themselves on one of their compilations, they had a bounce side and a hustla side.
Their albums looked different too. Definitely operating on a budget, they rarely approximated the gaudy Pen & Pixel collages of their East Bank neighbors, but often featured hand-drawn covers. For singles, they usually stuck with cassettes well into the CD age — those usually didn’t have covers at all.
Behind it all was Ivory Joe Paynes (aka Mobo Joe) backed up by his gargantuan vice president, Kenneth M. Taylor. Joe rapped and handled some production too. However, most of the music was handled by Ruthless Juveniles’ Death (although notably, Merril “Real Roc” Robinson and Leroy “Precise” Edwards were credited at times).
The first two releases on Mobo set the tone. Ruthless Juveniles (Lil Badness, 4-Shob and Death) and Lower Level Organization (Ace “Notorious A” Nitty and Mobo Joe) were both West Bank rap groups trading in the darkest, most anxiety-inducing gangsta rap imaginable.
Death released a solo record. Harvey’s Dog House Posse made music in the established Mobo sound. MC Spud, however, was a talented bounce rapper from Fisher. Hollywood was another bounce rapper on the label.
New act Final Approach released their gangsta bounce Final Approach Cassette EP without art and Lower Level returned with their second album.
St. Bernard (7th Ward) resident Ricky B released B For Bounce, “City Streets / What School” (the B-side bounce/electro/bass hybrid) and “Shake It Fo Ya Hood.” His use of the John McDonogh HS Band (John Mac) stresses bounce’s connection to the second line. Bounce pioneer Everlasting Hitman released “Work That Back/Holla If You Hear Me.” Later that year, he was murdered in the Fisher projects. The Queen of Bounce, Cheeky Blakk, released her cassette EP, Gots 2 Be Cheeky before moving to Tombstone. The Mobo Click compilation featured many of the labels stars; Ricky B, MC Spud, Cheeky Blakk, Everlasting Hitman, Final Approach and Lower Level Organization. Ruthless Juvenile’s Hard as the F**k II didn’t feature 4-Shob, as he was locked up.
Ricky B & Manny Boo moved to No Mursy Records. MC Spud moved to Triple Beam. Ace Nitty was dead (ending Lower Level) and Lil Badness joined 4-Shob in Prison. Ruthless Juveniles was reorganized as a trio comprised of Mobo Joe, Death and new member, Skully Skull. At this point Ruthless Juveniles made what was probably the label’s only video. Souljas of Sorrow produced some truly memorable, bizarre gangsta bounce with their unique delivery, aided by some of Mobo’s best beats on Bang 2 the Buck. Kaelyn, the girls behind the R&B hooks on Mobo, released their own album, as did bounce rapper Lil’ Goldie with Act A Donkey On A...
Tim Smooth was one of the earliest rappers in New Orleans. When he briefly worked with Mobo, he was fresh from ghostwriting at Big Boy as Playboy Sha-Burnke.
The self-proclaimed Bounce King, 5th Ward Weebie, released his debut, Show the World and was also included on the Mean Muggers compilation. Surrender debuted with Gangsta Gangsta.
After that, the label ceased operation, as Mobo Joe got caught up in drugs, ultimately doing a two year stretch as 79353-079. A lot of the musicians from the label moved to other labels or retired. Mobo’s silence ended in 2004, when Ivory “Mobo Joe” himself released a solo record on Mobo Camp following his release from prison.
Nowadays, most Mobo stuff is very rare and goes for a lot of money. Mobo also lives on in the larger Dirty South scene with their mix of bounce, electro, bass and gangsta. Just trying to fill in the pieces of the hardly written about Mobo saga was tough and often involved translating from Finnish and Japanese, proving that the legend of the label is still growing.
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.
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