From Louis Armstrong to James Booker, New Orleans is known for celebrating its musical legends with much more gusto after those legends have moved away or died. We won’t likely change the airport to “Soulja Slim International” for another 100 years, and other New Orleans rappers probably won’t even get their due after death—or they weren’t going to, until the NOLA Hip-Hop and Bounce Archive debuted last month.
PhD student Holly Hobbs, who moved to New Orleans from Missouri in 2008, began compiling the archive in 2012 in conjunction with the Amistad Research Center as part of her still-in-progress dissertation on the ways that artists have used music to reconstitute community after Hurricane Katrina. “I knew I was going to be doing a lot of interviews… it seemed silly to only have them in my dissertation and book,” says Hobbs. “I have a background in documentary film, so I started doing videotaped interviews.”
Hobbs has so far collected 40 hour-long video interviews with New Orleans rappers—from the big stars (Mannie Fresh, Mystikal), to the obscure but important artists (T.T. Tucker, 10th Ward Buck), to the newer gay bounce legends like Katie Red and Nicky Da B. “I’m also very passionate about kids being able to access this information,” says Hobbs. “Kids may not read my book, but they will go online and watch interviews of people they look up to, learn something from them, and maybe even write papers about them for school.”
Hobbs also brought on a consultant, New Orleans rapper Truth Universal, who for many years hosted the city’s first weekly hip-hop open mic night, Grassroots. Truth is also a member of positive rap advocacy groups like Hip-Hop for Hope, and is one of very few rap artists to regularly perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. A New Orleans native, Truth’s music is densely lyrical and socially conscious in a way not often associated with New Orleans rap. Once Hobbs invited him onboard, Truth brought on another consultant—rapper Nesby Phips.
The NOLA Hip-Hop and Bounce Archive’s second component includes the 50-plus interviews and personal photos that comprised the “Where They At” exhibit of bounce rap lore created by writer Alison Fensterstock and photographer Aubrey Edwards for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in 2010.
After over two years of gathering oral histories, photographs, and funding (from the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Music Rising, the New Orleans Gulf South Center, and a successful Kickstarter campaign), the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive is now live at the Amistad Research Center, the nation’s oldest and largest independent archive specializing in the histories of African Americans and other ethnic minorities. Hobbs says that Amistad plans an eventual physical museum space for the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive. For now, it only exists online and within a computer at the Amistad Research Center, where visitors can access the files.
I spoke to Holly Hobbs and Truth Universal about the NOLA Hip-Hop and Bounce Archive and what it means for the past and future of New Orleans rap. CLICK HERE to read the Q&A at Vice.com…
Or check out this song from Nesby Phips and Curren$y: