Bounce music is the heartbeat of New Orleans.
The musical genre emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s and has become synonymous with the city. Bounce artists like Gregory D, DJ Jimi and DJ Jubilee paved the way, but today the variety of music has infiltrated the mainstream. No doubt, you’ve heard some of your faves—Cardi B, Drake and Beyoncé—sample the ecstatic sound. But bounce music is more than a musical genre—it helped rebuild a sense of community in Black New Orleans after disaster struck 15 years ago.
Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst climate disasters of the century. It pounded New Orleans killing over 1,800 people and destroying or damaging 800,000 homes. Nearly the entire city was displaced. The hurricane disproportionately affected Black and low-income residents and that was not by accident. We call this environmental racism.
As NOLA natives were reeling after Katrina, they used bounce as not only as a way to entertain their communities, but also to advocate for them.
The late Fifth Ward Weebie made “Fuck Katrina” and Mia X dropped “My FEMA People.” Master P, who employed what he describes as a “bounce street sound” released an album called “Hurricane Katrina: We Gon’ Bounce Back” with the 504 Boyz. The New Orleans-born mogul, who recounts his rise to prominence in No Limit Chronicles, lost a home and loved ones in the disaster.
“I had to save my grandmother. Lot of my family members—they were sent to Louisville, Kentucky,” the executive said. “It’s just one of those times you just want to forget. Even though we know that it could happen again at any moment.”
The “Queen Diva,” Big Freedia is arguably the most prominent bounce artist today. She, like over 400,000 New Orleans residents, was displaced by Katrina—but as bounce artists spread, so did bounce music. About a year after the disaster, Freedia returned to the city and revived the bounce scene.
“When we came back [to New Orleans], everything was all messed up. But over time, and everybody coming together—community efforts—we rebuilt New Orleans. The people have to the keep the spirit and the culture alive.”
In this special episode of Unpack That The Root collaborates with our sister site Earther to explore the ways that bounce music, and its culture, resurrected the sprit of Black New Orleans. See the entire video above.