Under-appreciated Styles Part 1 - Bounce

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Since Rap Genius is a lyric-based site, both its creators and users tend to get caught up in a very specific idea of what “good” rap is, one that begins with Rakim and ends somewhere around the time Big L got murked (with MF DOOM and Lupe as the guardians of the wordy flame). While we at RG love lyrical miracle spiritual rap as much as the next man, there’s a lot more to the world of hip-hop

So we begin today an occasional series that will take a look at often-overlooked corners of the rap world. Hopefully you (and we) will learn something and begin to appreciate what a vast amount of styles co-exist in our genre

Rap music, for most of its history, wasn’t even a proper genre at all. It was more like a collection of local folk musics. Rappers who were huge in Trenton were unknown to those who were making moves in Oakland, while folks who had Atlanta on lock had nothing to do with people who were legends in Cincinnati

Cross-pollination did occasionally occur, though, and often in interesting and unpredictable ways. So it is with our topic today, bounce

Bounce music is a style that came out of New Orleans sometime in the late 1980’s-early 1990’s. Despite having an outsized influence on the music world via some of its more famous proponents, and despite also a recent renewal of media attention, it still remains inextricably linked with that city

The stylistic hallmarks of bounce are worth examining in detail. We’ll look at its musical spine, the “Triggerman” beat; and we’ll investigate the genre’s most famous producer, whose name you’ll surely recognize. Lyrically, we’ll examine its hyper-sexual nature; its party chants that are passed down from one song and artist to another, often changing form along the way to create an ongoing, genre-wide conversation; and its “project rap”, that moment in almost every bounce song where the entire city of New Orleans is shouted out on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Lastly, we’ll look at the ways bounce has morphed over the years, adding almost from the beginning a gangster element to its party attitude, at least sometimes. And we’ll examine how the genre took a surprising turn in its return to prominence

The history of rap, like the history of anything, is full of mysteries. In our case, the question is how a forgotten song by a second-tier Run-DMC label-mate somehow managed to become the backbone of a whole style of music, even though nobody even knew the song’s name. We begin at the beginning:

In 1986, Profile Records artists The Showboys released a song called “Drag Rap.” Unlike most music by its contemporaries, it had street-based, violent crime story content. While it sounds weird to say that a rap song about crime was novel, remember that BDP’s Criminal Minded, the record that really kicked off the gangster rap craze, wouldn’t be released until the following year

The song was called “Drag Rap” because it interpolated the theme from the TV show Dragnet. It was, in the style of its early 80’s forbears, a long song — about six minutes. In addition to the TV theme, it opens with an unusual musical line played on what sounds like a xylophone. The use of the word “triggerman” is prominent throughout (see 1:10), and the narrator of the song seems to refer to himself as “triggerman,” though that’s a little jumbled

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJyo1fjtNw4

For reasons that no one, even the people who were around at the time, can exactly pin down, the record, which was largely ignored in the Showboys' native Northeast (the group was Queens-based), became a huge hit in the South. Some speculate that the criminal content of the record appealed to a New Orleans that was then one of the most violent places in the country. Others think that it was the song’s use of the 808 drum machine, whose sound was already popular at N.O. house parties and clubs

This was not a unique situation. As Oakland rapper Too Short recalls in this interview, rap from New York City was always the one exception to the local-based nature of the genre

Everything that was coming out of New York [in the early 1980’s] was huge in Oakland. There’s some records that were big out here that, I talk to guys like Erick Sermon and they weren’t even big records in New York

Regardless of the reasons, “Drag Rap” was an underground sensation around the South, but particularly in New Orleans. Complicating matters, though, was that few people outside of DJs and producers knew the record’s real name — everyone just called it “Triggerman.” Its opening bells would feature in just about every early bounce number. See one of the earliest bounce tunes, DJ Jimi’s 1992 “Where They At”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIZORAwc-ww

Five years on, Li'l Goldie’s “Act a Donkey On A…” begins the same way:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNLsdbKDLrU

There are far too many examples to enumerate here. Mannie Fresh, who was the production force behind much of the genre, explained the impact of “Triggerman” in this interview:

Right now [spring 2009], lets just say you a hot emcee and you open up in New Orleans and you just hear that first little crash on “Triggerman” where the DJ would catch it from, the crowd would go crazy, dude. Like “that’s my favorite emcee, rocking ‘Triggerman.’” The response is just straight crazy

Speaking of Mannie Fresh, his importance to the genre absolutely cannot be overstated. In addition to producing the single most important proto-bounce song, Gregory D’s “Buck Jump Time”, he worked on many, if not most, of the genre’s early classics, both independently and in his capacity as house producer for Cash Money Records

While the name “Cash Money” may now bring up visions of sad-eyed Canadians and past-their-prime rap rockers, this was not always the case. The label at its start was New Orleans to the core, and much of what they released was bounce or bounce-influenced. Just about everything they put out from 1993-2005 was either produced or co-produced by Fresh. He helmed albums by such seminal early bounce artists as Li'l Slim, Pimp Daddy, PxMxWx, and the big man himself, label head Birdman, whose “lost” 1993 album I Need a Bag of Dope features three Mannie instrumentals. These records helped create the sound of bounce, as well as giving the first inkling of how it might expand — an expansion that would be largely overseen by Fresh himself

In terms of lyrics, bounce music will make no sense to the new listener unless two things are remembered. First, this is music meant to be partied and danced to. The call-and-response nature of the lyrics make a lot more sense in a crowded room than they do on headphones

And to that point — the call and response idea has been a staple of African-American music since its beginnings. This is largely thought to have been brought over from Africa, since that technique is a defining characteristic of much African music. It lives on in the repeated party chants and crowd exhortations of bounce — its calls to “Pump tha party,” its frequent questions to the listener about which part of the city is “kicking it,” and so on

Another thing to keep in mind is that bounce is not for the prudish. In addition to the mind-blowing dancing that takes place at many shows (the dance move is called “pussy-popping” for a reason, after all), the lyrics themselves are hyper-sexual. Performers of both genders issue demands of lovers, sometimes explicitly in return for material goods. Commands to “suck a nigga dick for an outfit” are rife, as are invitations to hotels. The genre also has a long-standing preoccupation with hitting it from the back and asses that resemble salt shakers. The female performers, it must be said, get their licks in as well

In addition to the overtly sexual back-and-forth, there is another type of chant that is found in nearly every proper bounce song. At some point or another, almost the entirety of New Orleans will be shouted out, usually via the city’s ward system. This section is usually referred to as the “project rap,” a term that comes from a lyric in the aforementioned “Buck Jump Time.” At the time of that song’s release, 1987, no one was shouting out N.O. neighborhoods, and, according to Gregory D, everyone thought he was crazy for doing so. As it turned out, both the shout-outs and the beat (a mix of the then-popular TR-808 drum machine and, according to Mannie, a “New Orleans jazz” feel) made “Buck Jump Time” the most popular song in the Crescent City for about five years straight

Due in no small part to that success, the “project rap” very quickly became a staple of bounce. See Da' Sha Ra’s 1992 “Bootin' Up”, or Cheeky Blakk’s 1995 “Twerk Sumthin'” for examples. This succeeded in keeping bounce local — after all, who outside of New Orleans would care whether the Ninth or Thirteenth Ward was twerking something?

But keeping the music N.O.-specific had a very particular benefit. The entire genre functioned in its early days as an extended conversation. A young Juvenile would order listeners to “Bounce for the Juvenile”, and DJ Jubilee could respond, bigging up his previous hit:

“Bounce for the Juvenile”? That ain’t it
“Do the Jubilee All,” we made that hit

First lady of bounce Mia X responded to Li'l Slim’s “bounce biggety bounce” exhortations (which gave the genre its name) with a dis of her own:

“Biggity-bounce, baby, bounce”? Bitch, I ain’t no ball
You get excited if I ride it, but your dick too small

And so on throughout the genre. Much as “Drag Rap” reappeared in tons of beats, lines from one song would show up, either directly or in modified form, in another, and listeners knew good and well what the reference was to

From its earliest days, the party-centric form of bounce was getting mixed with grittier content. Groups such as UNLV were progenitors of what came to be known as “gangsta bounce,” mixing bounce musical and lyrical styles with tales of the street. It was this strain of bounce that finally brought the genre nationwide, through the success of a young supergroup of sorts

The Hot Boys, featuring bounce pioneer Juvenile and “baby gangsters” Lil Wayne and B.G., as well as fellow youngster Turk, were the first group to really take bounce outside of N.O. While not strictly a bounce group per se, they were definitely in the gangsta bounce tradition, and signed to the same label as style progenitors UNLV and PxMxWx. As it turned out, though, the Hot Boys had the fortune to start rapping at the same time that Mannie Fresh was expanding his musical palette

Fresh, as determined as his label boss and soon-to-be rhyme partner to start buying platinum football fields, began trying consciously to take bounce ideas and make them more melodic and commercial. This style would see its fruition in Juvenile’s classic solo album 400 Degreez, and it helped the Hot Boys break through to the masses. You can hear Fresh recount this transition in this fascinating interview

You know the rest — CMR’s multi-million dollar deal with Universal in 1998, the meteoric rise of Weezy to pop stardom, etc., etc. But no one involved has forgotten their roots. Wayne still throws the occasional bounce chant into his music, even if it’s no longer over a Mannie Fresh beat. Fresh himself, riding a crest of popularity caused by Kanye West’s proclaiming him “the best producer”, is plotting a G.O.O.D. Music-inspired comeback. Birdman will likely never stop the bounce-inspired trope of shouting out his ward

As for bounce in New Orleans, it still exists, of course. But a surprising sub-genre has arisen in recent years. “Sissy bounce” is bounce made by openly queer performers, and artists such as Katey Red, Big Freedia, Vockah Redu, and Sissy Nobby have made great strides in popularity in recent years, even making it into The New York Times Magazine. It should be noted that the performers themselves dislike the “sissy bounce” tag, and see themselves as bounce artists, pure and simple

So there you have it. We have, of course, barely scratched the surface when it comes to bounce. The best place on the web to go is Where They At, an oral history project by photographer Aubrey Edwards and journalist Alison Fensterstock. Fensterstock also co-authored the book The Definition of Bounce: Between Ups and Downs in New Orleans with 10th Ward Buck and Lucky Johnson

And none of this would mean anything if we didn’t have some music, so we’ll close with a link to many of the great bounce songs we have on the site, so you can hear the style for yourself

Bounce on RG:

Gregory D and DJ Mannie Fresh: Buck Jump Time

MC TT Tucker and DJ Irv: Where Dey At

DJ Jimi: Where They At

DJ Jimi f/Juvenile: Bounce (for the Juvenile)

Mia X: Da Payback

Partners-N-Crime: Pump Tha Party

UNLV: Get Into it With a Nigger

Li'l Goldie: Act a Donkey on a…

Birdman: Shake That Ass Like a Saltshaker

Hot Boys: We On Fire