I created the following AntiGravity magazine cover to accompany my interview with bounce rapper Vochak Redu (below photo).
It may seem like AntiGravity will write about any new local rapper that pops up calling themselves “sissy bounce,” but 27-year-old model-esque Vockah Redu is actually one of the originals — he’s just been gone a minute. And as you’ll read, he doesn’t necessarily align himself with New Orleans’ newest gender-bending trend. He’d rather you focus all that attention on his original brand of bent bounce music, and his elaborately choreographed stage show.
To that end, we avoided asking the dramatic and colorful Vockah anything about his sexual orientation. But since it obviously matters to sissy bounce’s new large fanbase of white collegiates, punks and fauxbeuxs (who don’t seem to be following Chopper or Partners-n-Crime around town) we’ll offer this: Vockah does have a five-year-old daughter, and an intensely close relationship with voluptuous, blonde Jayna Jensen, who minds the artist’s business, keeps track of his incense, and sometimes serves as a dancer — the two kiss hello, and Vockah rests his hand on her knee during our interview. On the other hand, Vockah was the first male ever on his high school dance team, he does keep himself in extraordinary physical condition, and he did open his recent gig at the Valentine’s Day Sweetheart’s Ball with an Alanis Morrisette instrumental, so…
Y’all figure it out.
More important subjects seemed to be his sudden eruption (or re-eruption) onto the New Orleans scene, and his place in the “Where They At?” museum exhibit on New Orleans bounce music, created by world-renowned music photographer Aubrey Edwards, and award winning New Orleans music journalist Alison Fensterstock, who are also taking Vockah and other bounce artists to this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) music fest in Austin.
And OK, we asked him how he keeps his bod tight, too.
AntiGravity: So, I first heard about you from Nobby and Freedia and Katey Red. When I interviewed them each separately, they all complained there were too many sissy rappers, but said Vockah Redu was the badass real thing.
Vockah Redu: Thank you man. But I am totally separate from the rest of the artists because I am theatrical. My concert tells a story. And I don’t really consider myself “sissy bounce.” My birth is bounce though, that’s what I’m here to represent: bounce in the form of art and music and dance.
AG: So when did you start out here in New Orleans?
VR: I started performing in ‘97, when I was still in high school at NOCCA. Some time after that, Take Fo’ were coming to my house; they saw me perform. But when I didn’t record they went to the Melpomene and went to Katey Red. And some of the girls who sang in her group had been singing with me. But she was ready and I was not, and she got with Take Fo’. Then after all that, I met this guy Sam Scully who said, “Man, you need to go with a company that’s just going to be focused on you. Take Fo’ has a lot of artists.” And that did make sense to me, and being the only child I did want all the attention. So I went with him and dropped mine like a week after Katey. Then in 2002 I left for Grambling State University to get my degree in Theatre. Then after the storm, I moved away to Houston. I wasn’t performing my music there, just writing, contemplating. And when I’d come back home I kept hearing remixes of my songs, people taking samples out of my stuff, and everybody would approach me, ‘Hey come to the studio.’ The reunion was me coming back to my city to perform. I played at Katie Red’s birthday party, and Jayna, my good friend, was like, ‘You have to come back here!’
AG: So you didn’t come back to New Orleans to capitalize on the sissy blowup? All you have to do is say you’re sissy bounce and boom, you get a spread in our magazine.
VR: It’s what’s happening. But I think I’m the one to say, ‘the sissy stops right here.’ I always went for a different sound – which, it’s never gonna be that different because everybody’s based on the same beat. But then I started cutting it and chopping it, and hearing wind and crazy sound effects, to not sound like everyone else. Of course people still followed my trend, using the beat I produced myself. But how I’m different is I perform. A lot of people come up to me and tell me they’ve never seen a bounce show like that before.
AG: You’re obviously very visual, and it seems like any bounce music with a visual element is labeled sissy bounce, no? The rest of the world’s rappers seem to all dress the same.
VR: Well, I don’t think Chopper and all them would appreciate that, because they’re thugs. And I know Jubilee wouldn’t consider himself a sissy bounce rapper but he has a visual, he have boys dancing and stuff. But every dance move in my show means something though: in one move [me and the Cru] are swimming, and then we are on land, taking off the chains and stuff from when we were captured from hatred. If you see in some of my concert pictures where people ballin they fist up in the air, it’s because I tell them to take any hate or negativity people have against you whether it’s your race or…we take it and ball it up until it’s non-existent. It’s awesome. I also teach in my concerts, and do poetry.
AG: The show also seems pretty different from other bounce in that the skits and the dancing seem designed to make them pay attention to your every move.
VR: I definitely try to give people something to pay attention to.
Jayna: He brings people up, there are climaxes, then he takes you down, then brings you back up.
AG: Those kinds of dynamics are what’s frankly missing from most New Orleans music. Bands that play party music will rarely play a slow song, or switch styles, like they’re not allowed because everyone will walk out or something.
VR: Well I’m the only bounce artist who do that (laughs). And I’ve never had a problem.
AG: That intro skit I saw is pretty un-bounce, where you dance to Alanis Morrisette while smoking a blunt.
VR: That’s an incense actually. My incense calm me down and set me into a trance, while I’m giving you an introduction of what I represent, which is “pop-rock-neo-Vockh.”
AG: So your Cru of dancers and backup singers seem like an interesting, dedicated, talented bunch. Wanna tell us who they are?
VR: Jayna right here is like my promoter, and she also danced with us in New York.
AG: I saw that clip on-line, “You’re under arrest…”
VR: Yes, “you’re under arrest / put your hands behind your head and move your breasts.”
J: (rolls her eyes) I had just bought my breasts… It’s fun. The rest of the Cru is Shortee Whop, 9th Ward Jody, Energizah, Alex Hotpants, Mellie… And I am “VaJayna.”
VR: I make up names for everybody.
AG: Your show also seems to have a sense of humor. Like the skit for your song “I Beweave.”
VR: (laughs) That was me as an only child, raised up on the third floor of the Magnolia, and I used to also do hair, and those girls “beweaved” in me. So that’s what inspired that song. Magnolia Shorty who did “Smoking Gun,” I used to do her hair, and one time we was clownin in the house and I was singin a song, “Jump high to the sky, watch out for the ceilin / all you sissy bitches need to stop stealin,” which is a switched up line from her song, “Monkey on the Dick.” Magnolia Shorty was like ‘That’s good!’ So she was kind of the first who told me to get myself out there.
AG: How did you meet Aubrey and Alison to do the museum exhibit?
VR: Well, Jayna saw a flier for Katey Red’s birthday and pointed out, “Your name is not listed under this picture, so whoever this person Aubrey [who took the picture] is, obviously don’t know that that’s you!” So Jayna called Aubrey, and we ended up doing a photo shoot. And then I ended up in New York City! In New York we played at Aubrey’s and Alison’s show at The Abramson Center museum, and I met so many people. That was my first time ever being in New York in my life.
AG: What was it like performing in the museum?
VR: It was not my full 43-minute set, just 30 minutes. They danced, they watched, they bought merchandise, some people followed me to all six New York shows. Some people from Sundance said they want to make a music video for me. Then I came back here and did the Valentine Sweetheart’s Ball.
AG: Aubrey and Alison also hooked you up to perform at the upcoming SXSW as part of their bounce exhibit.
VR: Yes. It’s my first time at SXSW. I don’t think I have a whole set to myself, so I’m doing my homework on how I’ma interpret myself… I’m looking into something very futuristic. Everything is neo soul but I’m gonna be like pop rock. You’ll see on my myspace page the genre is “pop punk,” not punk as in gay, but punk rock.
AG: Are these folks at Sweetheart’s Ball and All Ways Lounge the same crowds you were playing for before you came back? Meaning, the punks and other white kids.
VR: No it’s a different crowd, and I’m very excited by it. But even before when I was performing, which was every week at Club Vibe, I would give each night a theme, like “Vockah Goes To Disney,” where everyone wear Disney shirts, or else “Vockah Goes Pop,” and everyone dress punk rock. So I get the same energy from the old to the new, the only real difference is, I wouldn’t crowd surf at places in the old days like I did on New Year’s Eve at All Ways Lounge. Cause before they woulda drop me to the floor (laughs). The [white crowd at All Ways] caught me.
AG: Do you now play Caesar’s and those other hardcore bounce spots?
VR: No, no.
AG: Do you have any albums or mixtapes people can check out?
VR: The songs I am performing to now, I call it “World War III, The Recession Part I.” It’s all my older music I didn’t get to perform very much that I was sittin on. Plus music from my first album Vockduism, and some music from Can’t Be Stopped, and some from my three compilations.
AG: “Vockduism,” that’s funny. I did notice you have an Erykah Badu…thing. Especially with some of the poses you strike.
VR: Yes, she’s my birth mother to the industry. Alison Fensterstock wrote that, “If Prince and Erykah Badu was to have a child and raise him in the Magnolia, it would be Vockah Redu.”
AG: Have you ever met Miss Erykah?
VR: No but I met Lady Gaga in Austin, and her sister bought a Vockah hoodie. I look forward to playing [with Erykah Badu] at the JazzFest this year, though again I don’t get my own time slot…
AG: It’s great that you’ll be there though; at least someone at JazzFest will be representing New Orleans music in 2010. But that’s also a case of, again, if you weren’t lumped in with sissy bounce you wouldn’t be playing JazzFest.
VR: Yeah, I’ll go for that lump.
AG: My editor Dan Fox wanted me to ask you about your workout routine. You and the Cru are all remarkably ripped.
VR: To keep my physique tight I wake up to a hot pot of tea, I eat some fresh fruit. I usually take a jog and when I return I meditate and relax. I also am rigorous with my dance routines, practicing those each day. Mostly my workout routine revolves around keeping my head clear and staying relaxed. I like Pilates and yoga a lot as well and do both as often as possible.
AG: Please explain your name.
VR: My birth name is Javocca Rene Davis. I took the spelling and rechanged it, shortened it and made it rasta with the spelling, Vockah. Then I took the R-E from my middle name Rene, then the D is from Davis, and I added U as my fan (points at interviewer), so thank you for being a part of this gift.
VR: Yeah I always have to explain that, so it’s kind of rehearsed.
AG: What non-bounce like, lyrical rappers do you like?
VR: Lil Wayne, Common, Jay Z…
AG: And Kool Keith, obviously.
VR: Kool Keith?
AG: Super interesting and weird veteran rapper. Very conceptual, with costumes. He thinks Andre 3000 stole his whole space-age deal. He’s maybe a little…tetched.
VR: We all are.