New Orleans has always been a city of rebirth. Regardless of the litany of forces keeping the Crescent City down — whether it’s the ever-present effects of Hurricane Katrina from the past, a steady flow of failing politicians in the present, or the impending devastation of hurricanes and global warming in the future — the people of New Orleans will rebuild with music and passion fueling their effort.
The New Orleans rap scene is trying to rebuild, also. After a legendary stretch in the ’90s and early aughts, the city’s rap scene has been in a recession. A dearth of local support and proper infrastructure has limited growth from young talent, and anyone who manages to reach a modicum of success quickly becomes a likely target of violence or incarceration. Young Greatness and BTY YoungN were the latest New Orleans rappers to break through the concrete ceiling and find national prominence, only to be gunned down in their hometown before reaching their full potential. It’s an unfortunate trend that’s been a long chapter in New Orleans’ rap history.
Injections of fame from outside sources don’t help, either. Drake sampling a bounce beat and mimicking (albeit poorly) a New Orleans accent — or rappers from outside the area appropriating the sound for personal gain — hasn’t benefited the local scene one bit.
But don’t let the despaired realities of the scene fool you; New Orleans is brimming with talent. glbl wrmng vol 1. — a conceptual album, headed by rapper Pell, meant to empower the scene and its participants — showcased an array of skilled rappers hidden away in New Orleans. Still, it’s been too long since the city that gave the world No Limit and Cash Money produced a homegrown star; it’s time that changes.
The burgeoning scene along the Mighty Mississippi needs your ears now more than ever. Here are 10 New Orleans rappers you need to hear.
Lil Wayne twice said, “Repetition is the father of learning.” Stone Cold Jzzle must have taken that advice to heart, making overly repetitive choruses his trademark. The 7th Ward rapper uses only one word or phrase and repeats it in rapid succession until it’s lodged in your brain. After a listen or two, he already has you hooked.
That distinctive quirk is how “YUP” became a pre-pandemic hit with enough juice to give Jzzle his first taste of national spotlight. Since that spark, he’s continued to show off his fun-natured spirit, letting his silver-grilled smile shine as he Griddys across his videos.
With unmistakable charisma, a specific ear for hard-hitting beats with flickering synths, and the backing of local creative collective FreeWater, it’s easy to see how he earned G Herbo’s co-sign and an impromptu freestyling session with A$AP Rocky. (You might even catch him trolling a local news segment, too.)
Maybe it’s the water in New Orleans’ 3rd Ward. Jay Electronica, Soulja Slim, and Juvenile are just some of the decorated stars to come from the neighborhood. And now, Tatyanna XL is the most recent product making noise.
It doesn’t matter that Tatyanna XL is relatively new to rapping — her first project, Proper Preparation, was released last December — she still attacks the mic with the swagger and confidence of a lifelong spitter.
Much like her legendary predecessors, Tatyanna demands attention as soon as she breathes on the track. Her bars don’t just growl — they bite with fierce intention. “No motherfuckin’ cappin’ in my rapping, Im’a stepper/ nigga wanna beef, then Im’a stuff ‘em like a pepper,” she viciously raps on “Wateva TF Freestyle,” a cut from her latest tape.
Tatyanna takes it a little easier on “Love Song,” an emotional breakup ballad behind a Slum Village instrumental, but her in-your-face delivery is still evident.
In the effort to rebuild the local rap scene to mainstream hype, staying true to New Orleans is essential. While various sounds coming from the area are beneficial, a rapper who can bring the classic 504 sound to 2021 is vital to the culture. Enter Lil Iceberg — aka B Money, aka Ice Biggity — a NOLA purist preserving the legendary sound Mannie Fresh and others birthed in the city’s golden age of rap.
His influences couldn’t be more evident on “Big Ballin’ Freestyle,” where he updates the classic Big Tymers instrumental with some current-day New Orleans flare. You can still catch a glimpse of the rags-to-riches lyrical content the Hot Boyz used in Iceberg’s rhymes: “Remember I ain’t have no cable/ Now I want to cop a plantation, beaucoup acres, big farm, and horse stable.”
But Iceberg isn’t just tethered to the past. Tracks like “Big Shot” and “Say When” prove he can flow over contemporary rap production while still letting his homegrown sound shine through.
New Orleans’ city streets have always been riddled with potholes deep enough to swallow a bumper or two. Then a young 19-year-old with a thunderous voice and natural skill from the 4th Ward stumbled into the booth. Someone made the mistake of giving him ground-shaking bass and stabbing snares to work with, and now New Orleans looks like the surface of the moon.
That young 19-year old beating up historic city streets is Rob49, a phenom who has only been rapping professionally for a year but is still taking the city by storm. His lyrics about the trials, tribulations, and riches of street life have catapulted him to the top of the New Orleans rap scene. The exciting buzz surrounding him has even made its way to Cash Money CEO Birdman.
It’s hard to ignore Rob49, who dropped three projects in a five-month span last year. He looks and feels like a star in the making, and he’s already garnered massive support inside New Orleans’ borders.
Curren$y took some time on Noreaga’s Drink Champs podcast to shout out some New Orleans rappers that he admires. As soon as he mentioned WeedJunky, Spitta added, “I wish he’d change his name.” One thing WeedJunky doesn’t have to change is his approach .
Junky — who also happens to be the son of Grammy-award-winning trumpeter Nicholas Payton — is heavily influenced by Lil Wayne’s work ethic and affinity for remixing popular songs. WeedJunky applied that borrowed mentality and earned himself a massive 2019. A year of high output and quality remixes over instrumentals of various highbrow street artists, like Young Thug’s “The London” and Lil Durk’s “Neighborhood Hero,” solidified Junky as one of the hottest rappers in New Orleans. Junky is a submachine gun on the mic, spraying any beat he sees with quick-witted punchlines until it’s left perforated and smoking.
With those lyrical and mental capabilities, WeedJunky has everything it takes to explode out of the city; even his name can’t stop that. And if he’ll take Spitta’s advice on the name change? Junky raps his answer on “Game From Weezy:” “Spitta said change my name? I’m thinking not ever.”
After winning $500 at a contest at the House of Blues in the French Quarter, $leazy Ez built herself a home recording studio at 17-years old. The Westbank rapper has leveraged that initial win to create a unique sound emanating from New Orleans.
There’s a dash of California sunshine with $leazy’s alternative NOLA sound, which explains why some of her biggest influences are Snoop Dogg and Suga Free. Sonically, your vibe is in her hands. She can rap you onto a sofa and mellow you out with tracks like “Siamese.” Or, she can turn up whatever function you may have planned for the night with “ADHD.”
$leazy prides herself on being versatile and is quick to cut herself out of any box meant to define her.
“Same nigga came up to the Hermes from Dada,” Chad Conquering Lion raps on his newest cut, “New Money.” His come-up really is remarkable. The longtime rapper has been putting out quality music in the New Orleans underground circuit since 2009, and that long resume of work has made him one of the city’s most respected lyricists.
It’s not just seniority that gives Chad so much weight in New Orleans; his technical skill is noteworthy. A true style bender behind the beat, the Hollygrove spitter delivers an effortless flow of crafty similes and clever wordplay filled with cultural references. “Eyes low, sleepwalking, Donnie Darko/ My name is my name like The Wire, and it’s Marlo,” he raps on “Venting,” a three-minute banana clip full of quotables that’ll make you pause and ponder.
Jameel Na’im X
Jameel Na’im X is an eye-opener. Not from a brash musical style meant to slap you in the face, but with smooth soul samples and an innate ability to paint vivid pictures with his slick rhymes, and unmitigating cool.
JNX also happens to be one of the most consistent rappers in New Orleans. The Eastside artist doesn’t miss, whether it’s a quick-paced flow on “Ratchet AF,” or slower stoic delivery on “No More Idols.” His latest project, 2 Birds 1 Stone, is filled with more bullseyes than a dart board at an Irish bar.
His composed and intelligent street raps could be a familiar voice on J. Cole’s Dreamville, or alongside Benny the Butcher and the Griselda team. But JNX is likely happy where he is, being a consistent force for O.T.B Ent. and putting New Orleans on his back.
504IcyGirl is a rare concoction of sugary trap flavors bubbling over a tall New Orleans gumbo pot. Although the self-described “Trap Princess” recently relocated to Los Angeles, she’s still heavily repping her hometown with “504” tatted on her neck and attached to her name.
Light-hearted synths and heavy bass is all 504IcyGirl needs to get started. “Totin’” shows the Westbank rapper in her sweet spot, filling the hard-knocking beat with mounds of traditional trap fare. “Can’t show my toolie out in public cause it’s stolen,” she admits while also showing her toolie in public. But on “Rockin Out,” 504IcyGirl flips the menacingly bleak Hot Boyz “Ridin’” instrumental with her technicolored hardcore steez.
It’s hard not to hear a touch of Tales of Taco Bella-era Rico Nasty in IcyGirl’s style, but a heavy dose of New Orleans vernacular. Maybe her move to Los Angeles will facilitate a quicker rise. It’ll be fun seeing what the 504IcyGirl can do with a plethora of resources at her disposal.
Kenneth Brother’s name was inspired by tragedy. His best friend, Kenneth, passed only hours after the Westbank rapper played his final high school football game — a loss in the state championship. A devastating injury in college derailed his NFL dreams, which led him to pick up music and the moniker Kenneth Brother. Now, it’s hard not to know Kenneth’s name in New Orleans.
KB has established himself as the city’s resident inspirational speaker. The Algiers rapper’s encouraging lyrics can fuel you to put in extra hours on that project you’ve been working on or to only kick down one more door before quitting the game for good. But what matters most to Kenneth Brother is loyalty and positive energy. “And them 4Ls aint for life, before you bro’ ‘em, gotta read ’em,” he advises on “4L” behind pitched-down bells. But don’t get it confused, KB has an aggressive side to him also, one quick to throw a middle finger towards any opponents of his hustle or his close-knit crew. He doesn’t need to make murder threats in his raps to make that point.
KB’s fan base has only grown as he continues to carry Kenneth’s legacy through music. An unfortunate series of events has now led him to great heights in the New Orleans rap scene, and his hard work has secured the attention of the mayor of New Orleans.
Nigel Washington is a freelance music, culture, and sports writer from New Orleans, Louisiana. He scrolls and tweets endlessly as @Tribecalledni on all platforms
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