Nicky Da B
New Orleans’ history has been fettered with struggle: the Civil Rights movement, the disaster zone of Hurricane Katrina and the cause of Kanye’s outspoken strong-arming, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” But from misfortune the city’s salvaged an impressive musical posterity, an insular hip hop community which has spawned a dance bastard child: bounce-rap. Accompanied by rapidly gyrating rear ends, generous booties in all their rambunctious, jiggling and wobbling glory are used to emulate the specific rhythmic qualities of the music. It’s about the spectacle as much as the sound – a hypersexual call and response.
On the phone from New Orleans, bounce-rapper Nicky Da B’s in a noisy room but there’s no mistaking his Southern American lilt. There may not be a better accent, a sugary, considered drawl with pronunciation of ‘thangs’ instead of ‘things’. Having grown up surrounded by bounce culture and its various influences he’s been invested in the musical form since his early high school days – and has added a bunch of these pals to his ensemble of ass-wrigglers.
Bounce developed out of New Orleans styles popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s, referencing rap, bass and occasional throwbacks to jazz. He never expected his rapping ambitions would take this slightly sordid turn, but his inspiration was from “growing up and watching my surroundings and everything, ‘cause there’s so much to see down here in New Orleans.” What was difficult was achieving recognition, he says, including being featured on bills beside Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby.
“When I first came out with bounce-rap I don’t think people perceived me too well, my music,” he says. “When I first started you couldn’t get anyone to feature with me, no-one wanted to work with me. When I started being more serious about it and I had a hit song that everybody played everywhere it [changed]. It was hard, but as long as I started being more dedicated to it and putting more of my time into it I started getting the reaction that I wanted.”
He managed, in his struggle for musical identity, to capture the attention of hit making DJ Diplo, whom he worked with for Express Yourself – his latest bouncing, agitated and dance-worthy single. “Diplo was doing a tour and he came down here because he had free time and he [wanted] to see Big Freedia because she was on tour. He came to a bounce showcase, like a monthly showcase of bounce performers. After my set we chatted for a while and he liked my set, and we set up a date to go into the studio and the very next day we recorded Express Yourself.”
The clip, he explains, features signature dance moves that run alongside bounce. There’s shaking, twiggling and patterns of footwork incorporated into the cavorting, infectious mix. “We are very high-energy, I would say we’re like workout music but that would blow it out of proportion. Bounce is just dance music. You’re gunna have fun and dance and hop on and shake it and do all types of things.”
For an all-out visual and aural feast of flesh and hypnotic rhythm it’s certainly divisive, and could be distasteful if you’re a viewer adverse to oblique sexual imitation. But Nicky doesn’t see it that way. “The people that are shocked, I catch them and they’re shocked, by the end of the show they’ve either gotten into it, and really really love it, or are just out of breath and can’t speak.”
While the ‘shaking’ is an integral accompaniment to the style, his effeminate costuming is important to its delivery, and part of what’s earned bounce a comfortable seat within queer communities. Often donning colourful knits, skintight leggings and jewel-encrusted sunglasses onstage, Nicky’s gender bending adds a dose of confusion to the heady mix. “I mostly shop in the women’s section anyway,” he says. “You won’t see me walking around with heels and a dress on, that’s just not me. But I just like crazy things, and crazy loud colours.“
These expressions of sexuality put Nicky beneath the subcultural umbrella ‘sissy bounce’, specifically gay bounce music which often features performances from transgenders. But it’s not an issue of segregation – where rear-wobbling girls go, red-blooded heteros will often follow, thus ‘sissy’ is transforming into a mainstream and accessible dance style.
Referencing some of the styles and inspirations of the gay scene, though, his upcoming album will experiment with vogue and house styles, accompanied with aid from some New York producers.
“I’m bringing out a mixtape real soon,” he says, “and after my mixtape I’ll be putting together an album.” It seems that bounce is beginning to look outwards for inspiration, and though New Orleans has been the undisputed home of bounce since its advent, it’s going to be hard to contain.
“I think that we’re going in a good direction. I’m just finally happy that bounce is getting the exposure that it deserves. Instead of being locked in the city, for god knows how long it’s been down here. I think everybody – nobody takes it as a bad thing which is good.”
For his upcoming tour, Nicky will bring his swag of dancers and DJ Rusty Lazer along for the ride. Expect, if nothing else, to be stunned.
BY BELLA ARNOTT-HOARE
Nicky Da B [USA] plays at the Phoenix Public House with Light Asylum [USA] on Friday June 1.