The scales of justice may wobble but they won’t fall down, even when cosmic weirdness lands cases like 02-0425: Positive Black Talk Inc. v. Cash Money Records Inc. on the docket. At stake: intellectual property, naming rights, a quibble between S‘s and Z‘s. More precisely: Whose idea was it to “Back That A** Up” first? Earlier this May, the court of U.S. District Justice Jay Zainey heard the grievances of New Orleans’s Take Fo’ Records and 37-year-old Jerome Temple, a/k/a DJ Jubilee, the local legend who claims to have first commanded area dancers to “Back That Ass Up” at mid-1990s block parties and again on his 1998 Take It to the St. Thomas album. Without a prayer of blowing that track up beyond his neighborhood, Jubilee was content until Terius Gray, also known as local boy-gone-platinum Juvenile of Cash Money Records, dropped 1998’s “Back That Azz Up” and helped make the South a focal point of mainstream, commercial hip-hop.
Once again, the underdog—Temple teaches high school special education, no less—got spanked. Jurors: The songs barely resembled each other, and the crux of Temple’s argument—that Juvenile’s replacement of “Ass” with “Azz” still constituted infringement—didn’t jibe with the informal precedent set when Tag Team got away with rewriting 95 South’s “Whoot (There It Is)” with a “Whoomp.” Juvenile, saddened that his psychic props were ignored in what he read as a pathetic money-grab, sighed: “I didn’t want it to come to this.”
With all due respect, Jubilee’s case was a weak one from the start. While Juvenile and Cash Money producer Mannie Fresh please nerds with their future-primitive, rinky-dink plinks, Jubilee and his Take Fo’ superstars are all about torque-outs, stabs, and piped-in crowd noise. Jubilee’s original “Back That Ass Up” avoids universal-ish ambitions altogether, opting instead for scratched-open doubles of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and a series of site-specific, call-and-response directives: “Walk the dog! . . . Ride that bike! Motorbike boy, pop that wheelie!” There’s a relentless, free-for-all attitude to the beats rather than the rhymes; it’s the cute audacity of someone jacking something as obvious as the Jacksons or Betty Wright’s “Clean-Up Woman” rather than gassing on about “new shit.” The beats lead, pivot, and swerve; Juvenile could not have stolen it, because his songs aren’t nearly as fun.
Jubilee and Choppa expand on all this on their latest collection, P-Popper/Club Hopper. Unlike St. Thomas or Take Fo’s Party at the Luau compilation (wherein Jubilee finds bounce in the theme to Super Mario Brothers) there’s only one notable riff-off. For the title cut, Choppa interpolates the sass ‘n’ preen out of Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” and turns womanism into a wobbly-assed freak anthem. Jubilee’s “Looking for a Hot Girl” sounds like one long scratch windup, but what it lacks in beginning or end it makes up for with plenty of tail.
Blak Iyce and Take Fo’ stud Choppa salute their city over an awesome digi-bassline on “The N.O.” “You ever found a better city? That’s an N-to-the-O!” they beam, even finding the heart to include Juvenile in their list of civic landmarks. Tec 9, Big Al, and Lil Tee’s “Shake That Thang” is another odd great, all dusted horn blares and kiddy Casio tickles. Elsewhere, a common lust allows Willie Puckett’s mega-macho “She Don’t Want It in Her Booty” and Katey Red and Big Freda’s trannie-happy “Stupid” (sample lyric: “You are too stupid for calling us guys/You know you tried it, so stop tellin’ them lies”) to coexist.
Through it all, Jubilee seems to wear the same friendly smile he has in all his press photos: “Do the yaaaaarrrrgghh” he yawps on the directive-heavy “Get Ready, Ready!” He may have to fire up the jurisprudence once again if Juvenile catches sniff of the latest Take Fo’ dances on P-Popper—”Monkey on a stick!”—but until then, being the superhero for New Orleans’s third-ranking rap label ain’t a bad gig.