My first introduction to New Orleans Bounce was July 2010, the summer I graduated high school, via an article in the New York Times Magazine by Jonathan Dee about “Sissy Bounce” which profiled Big Freedia and Katey Red. The images appealed to me first: Freedia with her multicolored hair and Katey Red in a black pleather leopard print dress. On the next page, images of sweaty women bending at the waist in stretch pants. In one image, two women are facing the camera with a crowd behind them. No butts are pictured, yet if you follow the gaze of everyone in the picture, you can fill in the blanks.
The article described how at Freedia’s shows, the crowd “instantly segregated itself: the men were propelled as if by a centrifuge toward the room’s perimeters, and the dance floor… was taken over entirely by women surrounding Freedia.” I loved the idea of men being essentially pushed out of the way so that women could hold space. Space to throw their asses around in reckless abandon.
Clearly I tore that article out (and I still have it to this day.) It made that much of an impression on me, and I hadn’t even heard Bounce music yet. Thankfully, the convenience of YouTube changed all that, and I became obsessed with Bounce. Every region has its own club music that speaks directly to the culture of that area; of course in Detroit, there’s Ghettotech, characterized by sped-up, gritty beats and repetitive, often hypersexual lyrics. Similarly, Bounce also uses sped-up beats and is incredibly sample-heavy, generally only pulling from a handful of samples, particularly the “Drag Rap” beat from the New York rap duo the Showboys. This is part of the reason it has not reached mainstream appeal: it simply cannot be marketed because of sample clearances. Not to mention the incredibly obscene lyrics about sucking dick and taking it in the bootyhole.
Of course, not all Bounce music is gay. In fact, most Bounce artists are straight; but gay artists like Big Freedia, Katey Red, and Sissy Nobby are as unmistakably part of New Orleans culture as anything else about Bounce, due to the city’s tradition and celebration of cross-dressing performers. And the sensationalism and novelty of openly gay artists in hip-hop, with its historically homophobic subculture, has brought Bounce music to some mainstream attention, even as it has sidelined straight Bounce artists. Many people, like me, were put onto Bounce through “Sissy Bounce,” which is a weird subversion of the usual pattern of art forms only becoming acceptable to the mainstream when they are watered down to appeal to the white, straight masses.
Katey Red is the self-proclaimed first gay Bounce rapper and the first Trans rapper to gain nationwide exposure with “Melpomene Block Party,” her 1999 shoutout to her origins in the Melpomene projects of New Orleans. The song is basically an eight-minute exaltation of hoery, with such lyrical gems as “I’m a punk under pressure / When I’m finished put my money on the dresser” and “I’m a sissy under a lot of stress / When I suck a dick I do it best.” By the way, if you don’t think that shaking your ass and being proud of your dick-sucking skills are appropriate ways to feel empowered, don’t even talk to me.
Of course, Katey Red’s music is better seen while heard, so enjoy this live performance, especially at the 1:45 mark when a dude with a raccoon tail hanging out of his back pocket throws his ass in a circle.
More Women’s History Month tomorrow–and check the Spotify and YouTube playlists below in the meantime.