New Orleans may be the birthplace of jazz, but for the last couple of decades its most influential music has been the city's Dirty South rap scene. The woozy celebration of ghetto life that Lil' Wayne calls "gangsta gumbo" blurs the line between reflecting violence and glamorizing it. No small thing in a city with a murder rate ten times the national average.
But now New Renaissance, a group of five MCs barely out of their teens, wants to buck that trend. Their jazzy beats and positive messages are a throwback to “conscious” rap of the late 1980s. MidCity AB, a member of New Renaissance, says “I see it as real music ... I can’t say it’s conscious or it’s positive. It’s just real. It’s not romanticized.”
New Renaissance isn’t alone in going the conscious rap route, but to find a really well-known positive rap song from New Orleans you have to go back a couple of decades to Devious D's "Street Life" (1989).
The “P” word can get you in trouble in rap, especially in this town. “You know, it’s always been that way. New Orleans is a city that roots for the bad guy,” says Mannie Fresh, a producer who was behind the successful Cash Money label, which specialized in blinged out beats and tales from the street.
Devious D says many Dirty South rappers who praise that life only tell half the story. "They don’t tell you you could get 25 to L, you could get lethal injection, you can lose family members, you can make a contribution to genocide," he says. "They just speak about the grind and the hustle part of it."
But now Mannie Fresh, the former Cash Money kingmaker, is a fan of New Renaissance even producing some of their beats. His association with the group “gives us some credibility,” says B-Mike, the group’s unofficial mentor.
“You definitely need positive role models,” Mannie Fresh concedes. “I commend them on that, their bravery for doing what they do. Cause we from a crazy place.”
Video: New Renaissance
New RenaissanceArtist: New RenaissanceLabel: 2-Cent Listen Fest
Real BigArtist: Mannie FreshAlbum: Mind of Mannie FreshLabel: Cash Money
Street LifeArtist: Baby T and Devious D.Album: Down With The ProgramLabel: Brutal Records
Bling BlingArtist: BGAlbum: Cash Money: 10 Years of Bling 1Label: Cash Money