The distinctive sound of New Orleans bounce was born on a tiny stage in a club called Ghost Town in the 17th Ward. In 1991 the rapper TT Tucker ventured here from the St. Thomas public housing development in the 10th Ward to perform with DJ Irv Phillips. Marked as an outsider by his neighborhood affiliation, Tucker met a cool reception in his first set. He adjusted in his second set, appealing to the crowd’s Uptown pride by calling out the names of areas around the bar — Gert Town, Pigeon Town, Hollygrove — and asking the audience “Where they at?”
Tucker and Phillips went on to record a single called “Wha Dey At” with Aaron Charlot on his Charlot label, with a second version (called “Where Dey At?”) coming later under the management of Phillips’ sister Loren Phillips. The track was built on a looped beat called the Triggerman, which came from a record by New York rappers The Showboys. Combined with Tucker’s call-and-response vocals, the song established a blueprint for New Orleans’ own hip-hop subgenre.
In an interview recorded for Tulane University’s NOLA Hip Hop and Bounce Archive, the rapper Fiend recounts:
Ghost Town was, like, crazy. Music blaring and you got this DJ and this rapper running off of two records on the turntables, just running these bitches back. And a mixer off of the Showboys’ “Drag Rap” song. And just looping this shit, just looping it, ya heard me? Found instrumental, looping it, and this dude grabbing the mic and he hadn’t much to say, but what he did have to say was going to have you on the edge of your toes.
The sound was infectious, and rappers across the city — including DJ Jimi in the area near the Magnolia public housing development — began cutting their own takes on it. Bounce music, as it was known, would be the formative style for generations of local hip-hop artists, including Big Freedia and rap icon Lil Wayne, who grew up near Ghost Town. In the 2010s bounce itself entered the mainstream, with megastars Beyoncé and Drake recording hits with the Triggerman beat.
Over the years, the original red cassette tape of “Wha Dey At” by TT Tucker and DJ Irv became known as “the red tape,” a prize coveted by collectors. Sadly, while the inventors of bounce are still revered by hip hop aficionados, their success was short lived. Phillips was killed by gunfire in 1993, and Tucker has been in and out of jail for over two decades.
Trailer for the bounce documentary "Ya Heard Me."
Short documentary on bounce and LGBTQ rappers.