By Matt Miller

The tale of a particular kind of hip-hop that began in a single American urban and went foreign.

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Their music received wide exposure in the 1970s, when several individuals and groups involved with the Mardi Gras Indians released albums documenting the distinctive music of this subculture, and the appreciation and documentation of “Indian” culture in general has increased dramatically since that time. 54 Direct musical appropriation of lyrics, instrumentation, or rhythmic approaches is the most obvious testament to the Indians’ importance. They also wield a more general and diffused influence as one of the primary local models of spectacular expression, the integration of audience and performer though collective musical practices such as African American Life and Culture in New Orleans 31 call-and-response and the use of expressive culture as an arena for competition between social groups.

Enabled by new developments in recording and sound reproduction technologies, it found expression in another vibrant and innovative music scene in New Orleans in the period after World War II, based around the style known as rhythm and blues, or R&B. The new style bore many similarities to jazz, especially the dance-oriented “hot” variety that New Orleanians perfected in the ’teens and ’twenties. 73 The new genre was also strongly connected to wider, historically rooted black vernacular and oral culture.

Based on this model, we can infer that rap’s contributions will be multivalent, complex, incremental, and contradictory rather than unified, organized, and coherent. We should recognize the importance of everyday practices and experiences in restoring the sense of place in New Orleans’s black communities. To a greater extent than Lil Wayne or Juvenile, the teenagers and young adults who make up the audiences at nightclubs and community centers and dance at outdoor block parties hold the future of New Orleans rap—and by extension its future within the field of popular music—in their hands.

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