Bounce music isn’t well known in Richmond yet, but visitors to the Richmond Folk Festival will get a taste of it from Ricky B, one of the pioneers of the sound. The recognized “ambassador of bounce” will be performing three times throughout Folk Festival weekend; audiences will have plenty of opportunities to experience the Big Easy’s unique hip hop tradition.
“Bounce is a high-energy, up-tempo music sound,” said Ricky B. “It’s all about the beat. So any record from any genre can be turned into bounce.”
New Orleans streets
Bounce—and Ricky B—came of age in the projects of New Orleans.
“At first, I was a lyricist,” Ricky B said. “Bounce wasn’t even around when I started doing music. I just started rapping about things I was seeing in my neighborhood,” he recalled.
It was the end of the 1980s in the St. Bernard housing project in the city’s 7th Ward.
“In high school, the rappers had a circle and one day I just jumped into it and started freestyling.”
He was also inspired to hone his lyrical skills while watching Mardi Gras parades. As the city’s renowned brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians marched by with their signature sounds, Ricky B would watch from the streets and throw lyrics over the music.
He was one of the first, but he wasn’t the only one doing it. Bounce was being born.
Bounce grew out of other distinctive New Orleans traditions, such as jazz, brass bands, and Mardi Gras Indian chants. These forms were overlaid with call-and-response rap lyrics and dance call-outs; specific samples popular in New Orleans were added to complete the music’s texture. Ricky B broke ground by expanding the recordings sampled by bounce artists.
One day a producer called him into the studio. He had a record he wanted Ricky B to rap over.
“That was ‘Shake It Fo Ya Hood’ and it was the record that pretty much put me in the category of a bounce rapper,” Ricky B said.
For bounce fans, Ricky B is one of the major names. Big Freedia is another. They and other local New Orleans artists have been spreading the sound far beyond the city’s borders and are responsible for its growing popularity.
Ricky B isn’t just working on music though. He’s also in the process of launching his own 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Team Make Em Scream, to provide transportation, gas and vouchers to families so they can travel to the jails and prisons where their loved ones are being held.
For those behind bars, he said, visits from their families are everything. And for children with a parent in jail, the opportunity to see them keeps the familial bond strong.
Ricky B knows, because many of his friends have been incarcerated and he’s seen first-hand its impact on families.
“I was also incarcerated at a young age,” he explained. “It was only one time, but it was long enough.”
Kids from the New Orleans projects may have learned a lot about rapping and music, but they also learned a lot about crime and poverty, Ricky B said. As a rising star in the entertainment world, he wants to use his platform to help other families separated by bars.
He’s also visited youth facilities to talk to kids who are incarcerated.
“It’s important to reach out,” he observed. “Community work and work with incarcerated people is really one of my things.”
Much of the time though, Ricky B is just keeping his old neighborhood alive through his music. His signature sound is really a throwback to the days of 1980s and ’90s New Orleans.
Like the go-go music of Washington, D.C., bounce often features shout-outs to local schools, streets and neighborhoods. In the clubs, fans cheer at the mention of their old high school or favorite corner store.
Of course much of it is gone now. Ricky B’s neighborhood—the St. Bernard projects in the 7th Ward—was demolished after Hurricane Katrina. What stands there now is a much more upscale community called Columbia Parc. The displaced St. Bernard residents can apply to live there at reduced rates, but it’s not St. Bernard.
That’s still what they call it though, according to Ricky B.
“If I tell people to meet me in Columbia Parc, they won’t know what I mean,” he explained. “I’ve got to tell them to go to St. Bernard. We still call the hoods by the project name or the wards. We keep it alive.”
It’s like that for much of the city, he said. The older residents still remember, even though the kids now were born after Katrina and have no memories of the old neighborhoods.
The music, though, keeps the past fresh in the minds of those who lived there and it lets the younger fans of how it used to be.
And as the city evolves, so does bounce.
“I’m glad I get to bring it to Richmond,” Ricky B said. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase how our music has changed from jazz bands to brass bands to the dance genre and then to hip hop. I can’t wait to bring it to Richmond and then to bring Richmond back to New Orleans.”
Don’t miss it
At the Richmond Folk Festival, Ricky B will be joined on stage by sousaphone and tuba player Jonathan Gross, trumpeter Mario Abney, second line dancer Rene Reynolds and DJ JMK.
“With live instruments, I can be so much more free than in a track show,” Ricky B explained.
The Richmond Folk Festival runs from 6 to 10 p.m., October 12; from noon to 9:30 p.m., October 13; and from noon to 6 p.m., October 14.
Ricky B will perform from 4:00 to 4:45 p.m. on Saturday on the Community Foundation Stage, and again from 6:15 to 7:00 p.m. in the Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion. He’ll return to the Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion on Sunday to perform from 4:00 to 4:45 p.m.
See videos and hear a sample on Ricky B’s bio page.