Rapper Juvenile speaks for many young New Orleanians. Among my transgressions as a local: I don't eat red beans and rice on Mondays (or ever), I was the only person not to buy something with a fleur de lis stamped on it post-Katrina and -- perhaps my most egregious sin of all -- I don't listen to jazz music. I suppose now would be an apt time to admit that I've also never attended Jazz Fest. Please don't hurt me.
It's not that I don't appreciate the wealth of jazz music emanating from our city, or the jazz greats that paved the way for today's musicians -- although I couldn't name anyone in particular. I'm simply aware they exist, and I'm appreciative. I also don't mind listening to jazz in a live setting. But of course, downing a few beers beforehand gives any band an added allure.
Jazz simply isn't my taste. I don't seek it out live, I don't buy recordings of it and I'm certainly not going to make a considerable dent in my finances to watch it in 100-degree weather for an entire weekend.
When it comes to music, I tend to invest my time in a different fare. The bands that pique my interest are usually touring acts that make their tracks on MacBooks and are known only by symbols or punctuation marks. I'm pretty much a stereotypical college student.
I don't, however, eschew local music altogether. In fact, my second favorite genre next to indecipherable indie rock is gangsta rap -- the more vulgar, the better. And I believe that the Big Easy has produced some of the best.
I guess the Dirty South creates equally dirty rap -- evident in lyrical content that should send a self-respecting female like myself into feminist rampage. But how can I resist when such blatant misogyny is packaged in danceable beats and clever wordplay? Plus, these profane tunes are laced with nostalgia.
The opening bars of "Back That Azz Up" transport my mind to seventh grade when the homegrown Cash Money Records had its heyday, and my social life consisted mainly of Saturday-night CYO dances at my Catholic grade school. We followed an unspoken rule: boys and girls were to stand at opposite sides of the room, arms folded, until asked to slow dance to a Boyz II Men song by the opposite sex (an advance we often averted by seeking sanctuary in the girls' restroom). But more so than the tentative dance invites, what really broke the awkward boy/girl tension was the aforementioned Juvenile hit, which had us suggestively gyrating on the dance floor in coed unity. I guess I never noticed the strange juxtaposition of simulated sex acts and youth socializing in the name of Catholicism.
Homegrown rap has always made me proud to be a local. When I claim my high school while listening to local "King of Bounce" DJ Jubilee's "Get it Ready," I feel more pride in having attended Dominican High School than I did at graduation. And after Katrina, when a fresh outlook on my embattled city was what I needed, sometimes I found hope in, among all places, rap lyrics. Now, when Lil Wayne proclaims "Where I come from I see a ... dead body every day," I know we didn't exactly grow up in the same circles. But when he says "I bring New Orleans out / I am a Saints fan / Oh yeah, we marchin' now," or Juvenile says "I'm going to get a fish and shrimp po-boy and sit on St. James," I realize that we're all in this together, even if it's just in our mutual love for our football team and seafood po-boys.
I'd like to see rap up there alongside jazz as a genre we can proudly claim as our own. It may be colorful and often dirty, but then again, so is New Orleans. Critics dismissed jazz in its early days as being lowbrow and vulgar -- The Times-Picayune called jazz "loud and meaningless" in 1918. Perhaps rap will follow a similar trajectory, shedding its bad connotation to become as New Orleans as red beans and rice or a post-Katrina fleur de lis tattoo. Maybe then, this genre will be something that the city can -- in rap speak -- represent.