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“Where They At”, a Look at Queer Rap in The Big Easy, Bounces to NYC’s Henry Street Settlement

It’s never been a secret that much of hip-hop lyrics, culture, and attitudes often come off as foursquare against homosexuals and homosexuality, enhancing already inflated masculine braggadocio with gestures of intolerance. Its a sad fact of life lightened with the knowledge that the scene, with its bold personalities, music, and fashions could so easily overlap with the bold personalities, music, and fashions of young, gay America. Well, in a new touring exhibition opening at Manhattan’s Abrons Art Center at the Henry Street Settlement tomorrow, “Where They At: A Multi-Media Archive of New Orleans Bounce”, not only do the two subcultures overlap, but they fully integrate, producing artists and images who are as loud and proud about their flow and skills as they are about being out of the closet.

Leave it to New Orleans, the Big Easy, to create a musical subgenre that could combine and distill the often opposing prejudices and complimentary energies of the gay and rap scenes into one united front. “Bounce music”, a gritty, beat-driven strain of hip-hop with a sharp, hooky sound is the older, odder brother of the southern hip-hop movement that swept through the charts in the late 1980s and through to the early 2000s. A child of dark, sweaty nights in hardscrabble New Orleans clubs and project block parties, the flavor of bounce is familiar to anyone who’s had their ear to the radio in the last decade. But the top practitioners in the somewhat cloistered local scene are relative unknowns. Acts like Showboys, Mia X, Cheeky Blakk, Vockah Redu, Katey Red, and others mixed the sounds of 1980s hip-hop with the beats, New Orleans call-and-response band tunes, and sexualized party showmanship of Mardi Gras. Many of them being lesbians, gay men, and drag queens also created an even more extreme creative environment, making the scene as much about creating and celebrating self identity on the edge of American culture as it was about having a nasty ass good time.
As much as the scene tries to promote itself and its artists, it still remains a small cluster of acts existing on the fringes of mainstream musical knowledge. Seeing a chance for some bumpin’ cultural anthropology, photographer Aubrey Edwards and journalist Alison Fensterstock have collected and curated a collection of images, videos, music, literature, and other ephemera to help document the scene in their new exhibition. Opening tomorrow, “Where They At” is not only gives attendees a good, long listen to some of the best party beats coming out of the South, but a unique look at the people who have created a musical form and a vision of social identity that colorfully combines contradiction in a way that is uniquely American.
For more views into musical subcultures and subgenres the world over, pick up a copy of our “Travel + Music” guidebook series.
“Where They At: A Multi-Media Archive of New Orleans Bounce”
February 11 – March 27, 2010
Henry Street Settlement
Abrons Art Center
466 Grand Street
New York, New York, U.S.A.
(212) 726-9200
March 7 – March 21, 2010
Birdhouse Gallery
1304 East Cesar Chavez Street
Austin, Texas
For more information go to www.wheretheyatnola.com
All images courtesy of Aubrey Edwards and Alison Fensterstock.

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