Ricky B

New Orleans bounce
New Orleans, Louisiana

2. rickyb.jpg

Want to find your way around the real New Orleans? Put down the guidebook and just follow the lyrics of Ricky B’s ’90s bounce classic “City Streets (Hey Pocky Way),” where he raps that “on Dorgenois, take a right on Louisa / headed on that I-10 chillin’, I'm out of the Nine, I'm on old Gentilly / and now I'm headed Uptown.” That kind of local flavor defines the music of Ricky B, one of the pioneers who created bounce, a distinctively New Orleans hip hop sound that samples the city’s famous brass bands and Mardi Gras Indian chants, and other Big Easy musical sounds.

Like most American cities, New Orleans has long had MCs and DJs who put their own spin on the hip hop sound that exploded out of the Bronx in the late ’70s. The vast majority of bounce records draw upon a just a few sources, chief among them the “Triggerman” beat heard on “Drag Rap,” a 1986 track by New York’s Showboys that sampled the theme to TV’s Dragnet. “Triggerman” and another sample called “Brown Beats” were embraced in late-night New Orleans clubs. Sliced and diced by the city’s DJs ever since, they’ve provided the music over which MCs have spit out lyrics about the joys and the struggles of life in New Orleans for nearly three decades.

The polyrhythms of bounce were right at home in a city where propulsive beats have long been a staple of homegrown music. Like the go-go of the Washington, D.C. area, bounce’s call-and-response lyrics often consist of shout-outs to local schools, streets, and neighborhoods. The massive Cash Money and No Limits labels have bounce roots, as does the booty-shaking twerk dance. The bounce star Big Freedia has been featured on her own reality TV show and heard on hits by Drake and Beyoncé.

Ricky B grew up in the St. Bernard projects in New Orleans’ 7th Ward. “In high school the rappers had a circle and one day I just jumped into it and started freestyling,” he recalls. When the Mardi Gras Indians and second line brass bands would parade through his neighborhood, Ricky B would join in with his own lyrical commentary. Those New Orleans cultural touchstones inform his mid-’90s jams “Ya’ll Holla” and “Shake It Fo Ya Hood” (which happens to also sample “I’ll Take You There,” recorded by fellow Richmond Folk Festival performer Mavis Staples with the Staples Singers). In recent years Ricky B has been collaborating with live musicians and dancers, creating an immersive New Orleans musical experience. His Richmond show will feature sousaphone/tuba player Jonathan Gross, trumpeter Mario Abney, second line dancer Rene Reynolds, and veteran bounce producer DJ JMK. “With live instruments I can be so much more free than I can be in a track show,” says Ricky B.

The St. Bernard projects were demolished after Hurricane Katrina, and many of Ricky B’s shout-outs to disappearing parts of the city have a particular poignancy in rapidly gentrifying New Orleans. Still, he promises that “bounce is the funnest music you’re ever gonna hear.”