As a party bus rolls through the French Quarter and down Canal Street, a main New Orleans artery, a familiar tune blasts from the speakers. “Them h**s bet not f**k with my juvie/’Cause he hot and he don’t want to lose me,” the late Magnolia Shorty raps, putting other ladies on notice that that’s her man and he is not to be played with. Brash, blunt, and boisterous, the ladies of bounce music will speak their minds and battle any dude while maintaining respect from the men of the industry and inspiring other ladies to do the same.
“You know how most people would say they have to sleep with people to get on,” New Orleans bounce artist Cheeky Blakk says over the phone of her rise to fame. “[Dude] ain’t play with me like that.” Like most women in rap, Cheeky Blakk was the only woman on the label, but she insists that didn’t stop anything. In fact, her break into the industry started with a diss record she released in response to her child’s father, Edgar “Pimp Daddy” Givens, who at the time was signed to Cash Money Records. When Pimp Daddy released the song “Boo-Koo B***hes” featuring the line “Here’s another ho by the name of Cheeky Blakk,” and Blakk clapped back on her own diss record with “Well, Pimp Daddy it’s about that time/Cheeky Blakk tell you bout your funny, fake ass rhymes,” everyone wanted to know who she was.
“Was I afraid to go against the guys because I was the only girl on my label?” she asks rhetorically. “No. I didn’t care. We can battle. We can do whatever. I don’t feel like I had to deal with [any] sexism. Nobody was playing with me like that.”
Unfortunately, Ms. Tee, also known as “The First Lady of Cash Money,” can’t say the same. While she didn’t have to “put out” to get on either, she does admit she was shortchanged by her manager and Cash Money Records co-owner, Bryan “Birdman” Williams (otherwise known as Baby). Ms. Tee was 14 at the time and didn’t understand the ins and outs of contracts. Therefore, like many other artists her age in the ’90s, she missed out on a lot of revenue.
“They would tell me shows are for promotion, but they was getting paid,” Ms. Tee says. She can remember a discussion she had with one of the promoters, who eventually told her the real amount people were booking her for. “They would book me for $1,500 but only gave me $500,” she says with a laugh, seemingly no longer fazed by the theft and betrayal. “Of that $500, I have to give 20 percent to Baby for being my manager. Then I had to pay for my security. They were making money off of me.”
Tee didn’t confront them about the money at the time, because she was high schooler with her own place and a car. She didn’t have much to complain about. But after a fallout with the label, she realized all the conflicts of interest within her contracts and how many records she sold that she didn’t see a dime of. “I used to be mad at Baby and [Cash Money] because of how he treated me every time he saw me,” Tee says of all the times she tried to reconcile with the man she referred to as her brother. “He would stunt whenever I came around. I’m not mad anymore, because now I see it as a lesson learned. I don’t regret any of it.”
The Thickalicious Boutique owner came up with the bounce era. She, along with Mia X and Magnolia Shorty, to name of few, entered the game in its infancy. It was the “Trigger Man” and “Brown” beat, and classics like “Where Dey At,” that started the New Orleans hip-hop subgenre of bounce. Most credit TT Tucker, DJ Irv, and DJ Jimi with the creation of a sound that’s unique to NOLA culture. Bounce boasts its own flavor, slang, and ward references that New Orleanians won’t find anywhere outside of the city. But the main draw to the songs that get everybody in the club off their feet is that B-E-A-T.
“Back then it was ‘Trigger Man’ and ‘Brown Beat,’ but when it came to that beat that everybody be [talking about], that is my Cheeky Blakk Beat on ‘Let Me Get That Outcha,’” Cheeky says matter-of-factly. “I switched it up from the ‘Trigger Man’ and ‘Brown Beat.’ It brought something different: the Cheeky Blakk claps.”
Those Cheeky Blakk claps can be heard in numerous songs by artists like Sissy Nobby and DJ Jubilee. The beat even gets acknowledgments from the Queen Diva of Bounce, Big Freedia, and Choppa, creator of the dance-floor classic “Choppa Style.” “Cheeky Blakk actually had her own beat,” Choppa says. “I think Mannie Fresh produced [it]. He didn’t even know what he was making in that studio that night, but it was a classic. It was like the ‘Trigger Man’ beat.”
While Ms. Tee brings storytelling and Cheeky Blakk brings lyricism and wordplay, Keedy Black got the streets “going hammer.” The rapper—whose big hit “Hammer” was produced by the infamous DJ Black N Mild—says she never wanted to be a rapper but got into it after her cousin Magnolia Shorty was murdered.
Keedy Black, who discovered her way with words in first grade, never had a problem with respect in the industry, because she says she put her foot down on day one. She respects and gives credit to the other ladies who rapped alongside the men and paved the way for her to be able to show off her talent in this male-dominated rap game—Mia X , especially.
“Mia X is a strong role model,” Black says. “I’ve seen her go through so many challenges, and she passed whatever test came her way. Right now she’s battling with cancer, and I see how strong she is fighting against it. She’s very motivational to me.”
Motivation among these women is the gift that keeps on giving. As queens within the genre celebrate each other, some of the males continue to celebrate them, too. “Mia X, Cheeky Blakk, Ms. Tee, Lady Red, Keedy Black, Magnolia Shorty — I look at them like my big sisters,” Choppa says. “Like Cheeky Blakk, I’ve done some shows with her. [It’s] a reality show being right there with Cheeky Blakk. That’s 9th Ward at its best right there.”
Continuing to uplift a city that’s been through so much and perpetuating a culture of music that is unique to the area, these ladies do so much more than rap about booty-shaking and putting other girls on notice about their man. They create a herstory that will live long after they’re gone and take center stage in a genre long thought to be a man’s world.