The Last Mardi Gras


If you want people to cry bitter tears over your antagonistic soundscapes, you’ve got to be Radiohead; if you want men to drool over your highlighted weave and colossal snake, you’ve got to be Britney Spears. And if you want them to hump the air while doing a headstand, you’ve got to be DJ Jubilee. He’s a special-ed teacher and football coach for West Jefferson High in New Orleans, and he’s also the poster boy for Take Fo’ Records, a decade-old New Orleans-based bounce label.

He joined Take Fo’ in 1992, when the label’s founders, Earl Mackie and Henry Holden, went to a West Jefferson school dance. They were there promoting their first artists—girl group Dá Sha Rá—and the opening performer was DJ Jubilee. He’d been playing at house parties in the projects since ’81, and there he learned that to get asses tossing you’ve got to tell the audience what to do. He demonstrates dance moves such as the silly rabbit, ride the bike, and monkey on a stick (which has mutated into monkey on the dick), and then the crowd imitates him. Every time Jubilee performs he has hot boys and girls hunched over, palms down, knees bent, booties shaking in the air, and his call-and-response routine has everyone representin’ anything from hometowns to driveways.

The label started in ’90 as a cable-access television show called Positive Black Talk—founded, according to the Take Fo’ Web site, “due to a need for positive African American role models in the New Orleans community.” After holding a fundraising concert for the program, Mackie and Holden realized they’d make way more money promoting music than promoting upstanding black citizens, so they switched gears. Perhaps DJ Jubilee’s talk of twerkin’, penis poppin’, and tiddy boppin’ is a far cry from their original mission, but it’s happy stuff compared to Juvenile bragging about having a fearless finger on the trigger of an automatic weapon.

Bounce music hasn’t changed too much since it was born: It’s still a primitive mélange of hip-hop, r&b, and gospel; sparse melodically but heavy on the beats; and its main intent is to make people dance. Some of Take Fo’s hilariously blown-out keyboard demo samples are so old they originated when DJ Jimi made a song about bribing his woman with a Starter jacket. They get more lo-fi with each production, but part of the charm is the sheer gall of someone recycling that stupid-ass preset beat again. And the sampling doesn’t end with the classics Willie Puckett and Warren Mayes created 10 years ago. Jubilee’s got a song called “The Mario” set to the old-school Nintendo Mario Brothers video game. Gay transvestite Katey Red sings about taking it in the booty hole over an innocuous loop of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” (the same one that Lil’ Romeo wound up topping the pop chart with years later), and it’s such a naive transgression you can’t help but love her. Take Fo’ newbie Choppa bites Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women” and Monica’s “Just Another Girl” and he adds his own weird disco-gangsta flavor, so his tracks end up sounding like rejects off a Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam record. Maybe all this seems pretty awful, but it’s hard not to appreciate, because it’s uninhibited and free of pretensions—an almost unheard-of combination in music these days.

Take Fo’ started right around the same time as its fellow Louisiana-based labels No Limit and Cash Money, but it’s the only one that doesn’t sign rappers who talk big about leading a thug life. In fact, the Take Fo’ artists don’t even pretend to be bloodthirsty; they just sing about partying and getting busy. The closest their words come to violence is “Gettaway Driver,” in which the so-called Take Fo’ Superstars supposedly flee the scene of a crime—but they never say what they did that was so naughty. These guys aren’t bragging about getting lit; what they know is the ghetto, and they’re proud of it. Sure, the projects in New Orleans are just as dangerous and devastated as those anywhere else, but you get the idea that people there would rather celebrate life than commiserate. Their homes attest to this: The dilapidated shutters and doorways are decorated with bits of glitzy streamers and banners snatched from parade floats. The Take Fo’ artists are obviously products of their surroundings, and they realize that nothing much matters as long as there’s a party goin’ on down the block.

So what if DJ Jubilee was signed by Tommy Boy but then dropped before he could get a record out? He still needs to show the world all his crazy dance moves. Katey Red may occasionally have to give head for some dough, but hey, it’s easy work when you’re good at it. Big Al and Lil’ Tee frequently get pissed at all the bitches with rashy or smelly cha-chas, but at least they’re still gettin’ some. Take Fo’ may not get national recognition or distribution, but at least they make enough selling their records on and in local shops to keep signing new artists. And so on. Because there’s no big mystery in the music or the message, people can relate. The artists vocalize sin and pride without acknowledging immorality or egoism. It’s functional music, but it’s the truth as they see it, and the target audience doesn’t extend too far beyond their peers. That’s how folklore begins.