This mural on the Big Man Lounge memorializes James Tapp, better known as Soulja Slim, the rapper who became a legendary figure after his death in 2003. It’s located just across Louisiana Avenue from the site of the Magnolia public housing development, where Slim grew up, on the wall of a club that helped popularize bounce music in the early 1990s.
Slim rapped for the first time at 13, at a block party in the Magnolia where he lived with his mother and sister. The performance impressed the DJ and producer KLC, who started making beats for him in his basement studio on nearby Louisiana Avenue Parkway. In 1994 Slim released his debut EP as Magnolia Slim on KLC’s Parkway Pumpin label.
The following year he landed a track on a compilation by No Limit Records, an operation founded by Master P, who came up in the nearby Calliope public housing development. By 1998 No Limit had taken over the Billboard charts, and Master P made a handshake deal with Slim to record a full album.
Now known as Soulja Slim, he recorded Give It 2 ‘Em Raw, and used the proceeds to buy a house for himself and his family. Two days before its release he was arrested on a weapons charge, and although he couldn’t promote it, the record sold well, eventually going gold.
When Slim got out of prison in 2001, he cut The Streets Made Me on No Limit but this time Master P failed to promote the project. Feeling shortchanged, Slim started a label of his own: Cut Throat Comitty Records. His inaugural album on it in 2002 sold so well independently that it attracted a national distribution deal.
In 2003, with his legal and business trouble behind him, Slim recorded a video to finally launch himself properly on the national stage (he chose “Lov Me Lov Me Not” as his first single on the recommendation of his mother, Linda Tapp Porter). A couple of hours after they screened it together, as Slim was walking up to their house, he was shot and killed.
Slim’s death stunned the city, and his unsolved murder remains an open wound in New Orleans and the larger hip hop community. It also made him a kind of mythic figure, the next big artist poised to break out of the city taken before his time. In the years since, Slim has been name-checked in lyrics by everyone from Lil Wayne to Jay-Z.
Slim’s mother, longtime president of the Lady Buckumpers Social Aid & Pleasure Club, honors her son in the group’s annual second line, which traces the footprint of the Magnolia. Slim’s sister, the rapper G.I. Peachez, promotes his legacy in the media and carries his mantle by releasing her music on Cut Throat Comitty Records.
Decades after his death, Slim’s face is ubiquitous–on t-shirts worn by celebrities, in countless online videos, and in murals including this one on the Big Man Lounge, painted in 2017 by the artist Courtney Buckley, better known as Ceaux.
Ceaux’s mural includes a blooming magnolia, a reference to the apartment complex that Slim returned to on a regular basis even after moving away. While the Magnolia produced an astounding number of artists over the years, none made it more central to their identity than Slim.
Ceaux rendered the flower’s outer petals in camouflage, part of Slim’s signature style—he was buried in the camouflage suit he wore on the cover of Give It 2 ‘Em Raw.
Before the Big Man Lounge hosted the shrine to Soulja Slim, it was best known for its role in an earlier era of New Orleans hip hop history.
It was here in 1990 that the photographer Selwhyn Sthaddeus Terrell, better known as Polo Silk, resolved to document the city’s club scene, which he has done for decades since. The resulting body of work led to museum exhibitions and a book.
He described the scene at Big Man Lounge in 1992 to SVGE Magazine:
During that time, we didn’t know that hip-hop was going to make it to the next level. Everyone said that it was a fad and that it was going to be in and out. At my cousin’s club, Big Man’s Lounge, he wouldn’t play rap music until 12AM. You had your early crowd—my mom and dad and all the old people—and then around 11PM, you got a line of people waiting for DJ Jimi to start playing rap music. Once that 12AM hit, the whole night changed. It’s “Where They At?” and p-popping and twerking until the sun came up. Sometimes, people would just come and hang out on their cars, getting their stunt and shine on.
“Where They At?” was DJ Jimi’s local smash that built on the foundation laid by DJ Irv and MC T. Tucker’s “Wha Dey At” the year before. DJ Jimi’s appearances here and a mile away at Newton’s helped spread the emerging sound of bounce music, catalyzing the growth of hip hop across New Orleans.
Soulja Slim's official video for "From What I Was Told" from 1998.
Soulja Slim's official video for "Love Me or Love Me Not" from 2003.
A 2020 interview with Ceaux, the artist behind the mural of Soulja Slim.