As long as rap has existed in New Orleans, rappers have both borne witness to and been victimized by violence and institutional injustice. Artists who came of age in the ’80s and ’90s saw New Orleans rap evolve from New York-imitant to something wholly its own, a synthesis of the city’s muddled, colonial roots. They also saw their city surrender to cyclical violence that throttled the overworked, underfunded, sometimes malfeasant and frequently inert authorities. As residents of some of the Crescent City’s most precarious, crumbling neighborhoods, they had almost no choice but to internalize and document the chaos.
The first New Orleans rap group, New York International (featuring a young Mannie Fresh and future No Limit Soldier Mia X), debuted in 1984. In the following decade, with a startlingly corrupt police force patrolling the city’s humid, cracked streets, the murder rate spiraled out of control. It cratered in 1994, when 421 citizens (almost 86 out of 100,000) would be killed and nine NOPD officers were charged with accepting over $100,000 in bribes from undercover FBI operatives.
It’s small wonder that rap, which communicates the anxieties and bravado of put-upon communities, would thrive in these conditions. While the rap business and music media focused on Los Angeles and New York, a cottage industry of seminal labels – Cash Money, Mobo, Big Boy (and later, No Limit) – emerged from the blight. “Mobo Joe” Paynes, Charles “Big Boy” Temple and the Williams brothers, Bryan (“Baby”) and Ronald (“Slim”), hustled garish cassettes and CDs by artists whose monikers were never spelled the same way twice. Bounce, gangster rap, R&B and G-funk commingled, and rap from New Orleans can be as immediately identifiable as the call-and-response of Mardi Gras Indians or the brassy dirge of funerary jazz.
Most of the city’s rappers, producers and DJs have survived the ongoing neglect. Many have become stars. But some weren’t given the chance – New Orleans rappers have been murdered with astonishing frequency. For some of the dead, a combination of appalling policing, limited local press and a lack of internet served to obscure the facts of their demise. For others, their most reported-upon moments were their final ones, an indignity that ultimately prizes their gross, premature death over their infinitely complex humanity.
This is not an all-encompassing list of the murdered – apologies to Soulja Slim (who’s rightfully received numerous tributes and encomiums), VL Mike, Lil Derrick and Twelve A’Klok – but a primer on some artists whose music and lives are illustrative of New Orleans rap history. They deserve better than to be relegated to back-of-the-cabinet cold cases and back-of-the-internet curios.
In 1986, the teenaged Ninja Crew (DJ Baby T and emcees Gregory D and Sporty T) released “We Destroy” on Miami’s 4-Sight Records. It was the first New Orleans rap single. When the Crew split, Gregory D joined forces with an upcoming DJ-producer, Mannie Fresh, but Sporty T went solo and signed with Big Boy Records. His first effort, Jackin’ For Bounce ’94, was a heavier and harder brand of bounce than was being produced in the Crescent City; the genre-standard samples “Triggaman” and “Brown Beat” begat lighter fare, and Sporty T largely eschewed them in favor of 808s and funk and soul jazz samples.
In the late ’90s, with bounce passé, Sporty T continued to rap under his own moniker and with quasi-side projects the Wet Boys and Da Wild Boyz. During this period, he recorded numerous disses aimed at Cash Money Records, including the particularly biting “Drop That Soulja Rag,” a reference to Juvenile’s accessory of choice/debut album Solja Rags. Internet scuttlebutt has it that the diss, recorded with Da Wild Boyz, was secretly funded by Master P and that the group was comprised of No Limit artists rapping under different aliases.
Sporty T was asleep on July 15, 2008 when gunmen fired AK-47 rounds into his FEMA trailer, killing the rapper-turned-drywall contractor. Police were said to be unsure whether Sporty T was 39 or 41 years old at the time of his death. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that, as family gathered at the trailer to grieve Sporty’s passing, Gregory D arrived in tears. Sheila Vine, Sporty’s sister, clarified to Times-Picayune reporter Ramon Vargas that the man they’d later describe as “sobbing” was the final surviving member of his childhood rap trio.
Ace Nitty, sometimes “Notorious A,” was one of Mobo’s first signings, teaming up with label head Ivory “Mobo Joe” Paynes to form Lower Level Organization. It’s clear that, for Mobo Joe, rapping was a hobby – he’s stilted and offbeat to the point that he’s often closer to spoken word. Nitty, though, was more adept and capable of some inspired moments lyrically and sartorially.
It appears Nitty, for reasons unknown, chose to wear an eye patch, a la Slick Rick (who wears it to cover the effects of a childhood injury). It’s barely visible on the art for the group’s releases, the EP Wanted By Five-O Feared By Most (1992) and full-length Straight From Tha’ Woods (1994), but Nitty’s eyewear is on full display in the promotional-only, charmingly low-budget video for “Portrait of a Villain.” The cycloptic Nitty – who’s pictured in a fake mugshot without the accessory – plays an unrepentant, cold-blooded version of himself, killing a cop, a witness and a potential competitor for a mate before a suitably ludicrous trial sees him walk free. Former labelmate Lil Ruthless of Ruthless Juveniles commented on the video “Throwback Mobo Records...My nigga Ace Nitty.”
Sadly, the above appears to the sole firsthand quote that even remotely testifies to Ace Nitty’s existence. The internet contains virtually no information on him aside from his music, and Nitty was murdered in 1997.
MC Thick, like Ace Nitty, was from the West Bank. And though he wasn’t a Mobo signee, the Marrero rapper, like the area’s representative label, was mostly immune from the bounce sound that was gathering momentum across the muddy bend of the Mississippi River.
Thick – suitably named, considering his rondure figure – burst onto the New Orleans rap scene in 1991 with “Marrero (What The Fuck They Be Yellin),” released by the tiny, short-lived Alliv Records. “Marrero” is akin to much of the area’s rap at the time, which derived its regional specificity more from lyrics – in this case, local drug fiends and law enforcement officers mentioned by name – than it did its production. According to an August 1989 Times-Picayune article cited in Matt Miller’s Bounce: Rap Music and Local Identity in New Orleans, the record sold three thousand copies locally; its success garnered the attention of Atlantic Records, who’d reissue the single and, two years later, Thick’s debut The Show Ain’t Over Till The Fat Man Swings on their Big Beat subsidiary.
Perhaps more unusual than a Marrero rapper releasing an album on a major label was a Marrero rapper with two George Clinton features and a Bun B guest verse, all for his second album, 1996’s Now Whatcha Think. (This was part of Clinton’s unusual run of guest appearances, which included Atlanta rapper Kilo Ali and the Last Poets). It’d be his final effort: Thick was murdered the same year.
In 1991, with New Orleans in the midst of the bounce craze, brothers Ronald (“Slim”) and Bryan (“Baby”) Williams decided to start a rap label named for a fictional gang: New Jack City’s Cash Money Brothers. Instead of catering to the nascent sub-genre, they sold from their respective car trunks a cassette by 15-year-old Kilo G that hardly recalled the buoyancy of TT Tucker and DJ Irv’s local sensation “Where Dey At?”
It seems New Orleans wasn’t ready for the near-horrorcore of 1992’s The Sleepwalker – the cassette only sold a few thousand copies despite the teenaged Kilo G’s mature performance. The following year, Mannie Fresh was recruited to be Cash Money’s in-house producer and, in 1995, he produced the entirety of Kilo G’s first full-length, The Bloody City. While The Sleepwalker is raw and a bit unvarnished lyrically, The Bloody City is a more accomplished and polished record: Kilo G is less frantic, Fresh’s production is lush and guests Pimp C and Bun B shine on separate songs. It’s possible that, were Kilo G allowed to fully mature, he would’ve been the city’s correlative to UGK, spitting outsized tales of criminality and grounded street knowledge.
He never got the chance. In January 1997, Kilo G was sitting in his 7th Ward home when an unknown assailant shot him to death. He was 20 years old, and was survived by his girlfriend, Lakeisha, and their infant son, Robert Johnson III.
Before his murder, G-Slimm’s star was on the rise. His sole album, Fours Deuces & Trays, released by Big Boy Records, had piqued the interest of Relativity Records, who planned on reissuing it with three additional tracks. (Relativity was serious about rap music: the label inked distribution deals with regional powers Suave House and Ruthless Records in the mid-’90s.) The appeal of G-Slimm’s debut to a major label was clear: It had more in common with the in-vogue G-funk than it did bounce – the title and its eponymous lead single are paeans to lowrider culture – and he was both young and dexterous enough to be marketable.
According to Bob Ussery of the Times-Picayune, on October 13, 1996, the Algiers rapper and three friends were walking to the store when someone opened fire on the group. One man was shot in the ankle, the other his calf, but G-Slimm was shot a single time in the back and died at New Orleans’ Charity Hospital. His mother told Ussery that he’d expressed worry about jealousy over his newfound success. He was 22.
Tec-9 and Lil Ya were established as U.N.L.V. (Uptown Niggas Living Violent) before Yella Boy joined the group. Cassettes for their first single, “Another Bitch,” issued by Cash Money, had reached Houston and Atlanta, but a major problem arose: “Me and my mom was having problems during that time, and she kicked me out the house. So I went and lived with Yella and his mom,” Tec-9 told journalist Michael Patrick Welch. “When I was staying with [Yella], he kinda said, ‘Put me in the group, or you gotta go.’”
U.N.L.V.’s latecomer shone brightest on their infamous “Drag ’Em ‘N’ Tha’ River,” an entirely unambiguous diss aimed at Mystikal. Though it was included on the group’s Uptown 4 Life, Yella Boy is the sole member to rap on the incendiary song, in which he threatens to dump Mystikal’s corpse in the yard of Big Boy Records owner Charles Temple. (There seems to be disagreement between Tec-9 and Lil Ya about the severity of the group’s beef with Mystikal – the former told Welch it was serious, the latter claims it was pre-arranged.)
Because Yella Boy’s 1997 murder remains unsolved, rumors of Bryan Williams’ involvement are persistent. The heroin-addicted Yella Boy is said to have pistol-whipped Williams – Tec-9 says he shot up his house –and as retribution the 23-year-old was killed while sitting in his car. Tec-9 told Welch, “Overall it’s some street shit, and I try to leave it at that. The streets took him. He was very different from us in that he really did live what he talked about in his music.”
There’s little public information on Everlasting Hitman. In a since-deleted (and now cached) interview with Down-South.com, Sporty T said of Hitman, “T. T. Tucker used to always come around these gong shows doing bounce and I’d be like, man, I can’t stand his music...Then the Everlasting Hitman did a song that night. He was like my lil’ potna – when he came I started appreciating it.” Lil Ya told Welch that Hitman “was one of the first people I knew who started doing gangsta rap in the bars.” And, when discussing his life with Tulane University doctoral student Holly Hobbs, the aforementioned Tucker said, “I don’t really like to focus on the bad situations because I get in my feelings, talking about Soulja [Slim], Everlasting Hitman...that’s the original crew.”
“Work That Back,” “Holla If You Hear Me” and “Bounce! Baby, Bounce!” – that’s the entirety of Everlasting Hitman’s discography. As Sporty T more bluntly noted, “Bounce! Baby, Bounce!” was a more lyrical version of then-recently established tropes. Bounce, particularly in the early years, had an extremely limited sonic and lyrical palette, and Hitman is one of the markers of its departure from sing-songy chants.
Hitman was murdered in the since-demolished West Bank’s Fischer Housing Development on February 3, 1996. He was 21. For a paragraph-long obituary, Mobo Records co-owner Kenneth Taylor told OffBeat magazine that “he was real inspirational when it came down to music. He was a leader, and he helped other young aspiring artists.”
In an interview with Shawn Setaro of The Cipher podcast, former Cash Money artist Lil Slim (not to be confused for Magnolia Slim, Soulja Slim’s early alias) said that he and Pimp Daddy would see their names graffitied in other neighborhoods, and that friends would joke they were the original Hot Boys.
Although Pimp Daddy made his Cash Money debut on Slim’s The Game is Cold, his 1993 hit “Got To Be Real” was actually issued on Pack Records. This version, later remixed for Pimp’s first full-length, has a unique moment: There’s a one-minute interlude in which the beat changes to a bounce sample of Undisputed Truth’s “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” made popular the year prior by Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre’s “Deep Cover.” Still Pimpin’, Pimp’s debut released the following year, also had a view to music outside of New Orleans, splitting roughly 50/50 between bounce and straight gangster rap.
On April 18, 1994, Pimp Daddy was shot in the now-demolished Florida Projects by a relative of a supposed girlfriend. Rumors abound about his demise, most of which point at Pimp’s supposed infidelities and fellow bounce star Cheeky Blakk claiming to have birthed his child. Lil Slim said of Pimp Daddy’s murder that “He got killed in the streets, [Cash Money] paid for the funeral. What I’m saying is Pimp Daddy has kids, he has a son, Lil Pimp, over there in New Orleans...Cash Money Records needs to compensate Lil Pimp for what his dad’s done for [them]...When Pimp Daddy died, Pimp Daddy died homeless. He used to stay from house to house by his girlfriends.” He was 18 years old.
Warren Mayes (sometimes spelled “Mays”) and his eight siblings were raised in the 4th Ward’s Iberville Projects. Like Sporty T, Mayes began rapping before New Orleans had its own flavor. Had his self-produced debut, Doin Them Right, not borne a Baton Rouge address and New Orleans area code on the label, it could have easily been confused for the work of a New Yorker. Mayes’ hustles were myriad; he not only rapped but produced for others, promoted shows (his brother Travis Lyons told journalist Alison Fensterstock that he was the first to bring Run-D.M.C., Doug E. Fresh and LL Cool J to the city) and, according to his daughter G Baby, stripped.
Mayes’ work paid off. DJ Captain Charles told Hobbs that he and Mayes had discussed the local popularity of songs that involved the crowd (particularly Too $hort’s “I Ain’t Trippin’”), and, about six months later, his friend brought him a cassette. Charles played the cassette, “Get It Girl,” at a family day at A.L. Davis Park, and after judging the reaction, told his friend he’d made a hit. Charles was right. With “Get It Girl,” Mayes’ popularity increased to the point that his dancers’ curled ponytails became highly fashionable and Atlantic Records took notice. There’s some proto-N.O. flavor in the song: Mayes’ chants of astrological signs are a throughline to bounce rappers shouting out specific neighborhoods and housing projects. Although it’d be the only Mayes single Atlantic would issue, it made him the first New Orleans rapper to release a record on a major label.
On July 31, 1999, Mayes was shot and killed in his car when leaving a club. Though the Times-Picayune’s obituary listed the noted lothario as having sired 13 children, that number is incorrect. G Baby, who’s continued his rap legacy, told Hobbs that Mayes fathered a truly remarkable brood of 21 children.
In 1996, Cash Money had begun moving away from bounce; the B’G’z (B.G., then “Lil Doogie,” and Lil Wayne, or “Baby D”) released gangster rap standard Chopper City, U.N.L.V. the aforementioned Uptown 4 Life, and resident singer (and girlfriend to Pimp Daddy) Ms. Tee recorded the bounce-R&B synthesis Female Baller. But, just behind the shifting paradigm was the foul-mouthed Magnolia Shorty, whose Monkey on tha D$ck kept the label’s bounce heritage alive, if only briefly.
The eponymous “Monkey on tha Dick” was, like practically every Cash Money song from that era, produced by Mannie Fresh. Fresh told Complex that the 14-year-old Shorty brought a “cheerleading squad” to the studio with her, and, surrounded by rowdy friends, the precocious, licentious rapper recorded the song in a single take. There’s magic in Shorty’s callowness – it was her first recording session, and the song probably benefitted from her inexperience and edge. (Interestingly, Fresh recycled a major portion of the instrumental for Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up,” released in 1998.)
Magnolia Shorty was driving, with noted ne’er-do-well James Hampton in the passenger seat, when the two were shot to death in the small hours of December 20th, 2010. Speaking to Fensterstock, then of the Times-Picayune, Juvenile remembered his slain friend. “When I think about her, I think about how small she was, with a big voice. And how brave she was, as a woman, going to some of the areas she went to and getting on the mike and making her songs.” Fresh added that “she was a person who didn’t have an enemy in the world, who always greeted you with a smile. So to have this happen to her was shocking.”