The distinctive sound of New Orleans bounce was born on a tiny stage in club Ghost Town in the 17th Ward. In 1991, TT Tucker ventured from the St. Thomas projects in the 10th Ward to perform with DJ Irv Phillips here in Hollygrove. Without a warm welcome due to neighborhood division, Tucker began rapping to a nonresponsive crowd. In the second set, Tucker called out the names of different areas — Gert Town, Pigeon Town, Hollygrove — asking the audience “where they at?” and activating everyone’s Uptown neighborhood pride. The new sound was infectious. (Dwayne Carter, Jr., who would vault from the bounce scene to international stardom as Lil Wayne, was a 9-year-old living in Hollygrove at the time.)
TT Tucker and DJ Irv’s seminal bounce song “Wha Dey At” (or “Where They At”) looped the triggerman beat from New York rappers The Showboys with block-party-style vocals overlaid as call-and-response. 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.
Tucker and Phillips put out a “Wha Dey At” cassette with Aaron Charlot on his Charlot label, and later Irv’s sister Loren Phillips took over management of the pair and released a second version. Both were colored red and became known as the iconic “red tape,” coveted acquisitions for hip-hop and bounce collectors.
Dj Irv was killed by gunfire in 1993, and Tucker has been in and out of jail for over two decades. Regardless, “Wha Dey At” and the triggerman beat have been sampled widely, and the duo will forever be known as the inventors of bounce. More than 20 years later, the sound has gone national, popping up in songs by T.I. and Beyoncé.