New Orleans Bounce: A Circum-Atlantic Performance

New Orleans is traditionally considered the home of the genre of bounce music. The city is designated as both the genre’s origin point and its continuing center. To some degree, this is true. Artists considered at the foundation of bounce music all hail from New Orleans. Bounce music maintains its prominence in the region through concerts and festivals. However, treating the genre as an entirely autochthonous product overlooks the rich network of places and identities that have shaped the musical form as we know it today.

Through some research, I found out that, boiled down to its essential parts, bounce music is call-and-response vocals, a heavy and syncopated drum beat, and one particular sound. Listening to any selection of bounce tracks, one will notice a synthetic cowbell noise that loops in a short pattern. This pattern originates in a 1986 song by a hip-hop group called The Showboys. The song, entitled “Drag Rap” or alternatively “Triggerman,” has been sampled and used in countless songs from the New Orleans bounce genre. It has become a ubiquitous part of the New Orleans bounce sound, even though it was born over a thousand miles away in Queens, NY, where The Showboys lived out their musical career.

The syncopated drum beat that accompanies that sample is of cloudier origin. The rhythmic backing of most New Orleans bounce tracks is known colloquially as the “Brown Beat.” The drums come from either or both of two tracks (depending on who you ask): “Brown Beats” a 1987 track by bay area DJ Cameron Paul or UK DJ Derek B’s “Rock the Beat,” which was recorded in the same year. Again we see that New Orleans is not the genesis of this essential component. In both songs one hears the same offbeat snare hits and hi-hats that are echoed in virtually all bounce music. Though the beats produced by Derek B and Cameron Paul are not the only to be featured, most variations are meant to imitate the unique sound.

Just as New Orleans cannot be given sole credit for the creation of the genre, neither can it be considered the unequivocal center of bounce, at least not in modernity. As Jenna pointed out in her post, the newest single from Toronto-based rapper Drake, “Nice for What,” shows characteristics of bounce music, including the “Triggerman” sample I discussed earlier (listen carefully at about 2:58). Elsewhere the “Triggerman” sample has been seen in T.I.’s 2012 single “Ball” and Lil’ Wayne’s “Triggaman” from 2007. Various other samples of bounce music have been continuously cycled through the greater hip-hop scene as well. The diffusion of these samples points to a trend of of the genre’s decentralization from a product strictly consumed in New Orleans to one created and enjoyed by music fans of a wider geographical range.

Connections can be drawn to the chapter of Joseph Roach’s Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance that we have been reading in class. Roach notes that “diaspora tends to place pressure on autochthony, threatening its imputed purity, both antecedent and successive.” Pointing out the many non-New Orleanian aspects of bounce music and its surrounding culture can seem invalidating. If bounce music is not a pure symbol of New Orleans, then is it of lesser value? I submit that this is not the case. The diasporic origins and future of bounce music only enhance the cultural meaning of the genre. Remembering the place of samples in the creation of bounce music, and in turn the sampling of bounce music in other genres, leads to a greater recognition that this kind of melding of allochthonous components can be a good thing. In today’s world of boundaries and distinctions, it is important to remember the beneficial processes of mixing that have for propelled culture for so long.

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