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141 5“Lights Out” Stagnation, Decline, and the Resurgence of the Local, 2001–2005 Thanks to the lucrative partnerships between major music corporations and local independent record labels, the exposure of New Orleans–based artists and labels within the national rap music industry reached its zenith in the years from 1996 to 1999. The achievements of No Limit and Cash Money were the stuff of legend, fueling the aspirations of artists and entrepreneurs in New Orleans and elsewhere. Between 2000 and 2005, however, the city’s standing with national rap audiences and companies suffered a precipitous decline. Both No Limit and Cash Money retreated further from the grassroots New Orleans scene on which they had built their early successes, but, as we will see, important differences marked their relationship to the local; these differences were produced by distinct longterm business strategies that influenced musical style and content. No Limit’s gangsta rap empire collapsed by 2002, a result of market saturation, a dwindling roster of talent, and the overweening ambitions of Master P, among other problems. Ultimately, family ties and a relentless entrepreneurial drive trumped any commitment to the “street” or to New Orleans’s distinctive cultural orientation, forces that Master P had fully and profitably exploited during No Limit’s commercial heyday in the late 1990s. Cash Money’s position also began to slip beginning in 2000, as the label scored fewer hits and lost many of its star rappers. Unlike No Limit, however, Cash Money managed to retain a presence in rap at the national level through the meteoric career of Lil Wayne. Not only were Cash Money and No Limit becoming increasingly detached and isolated from the grassroots rap scene that nourished them in the mid-1990s, but other New Orleans–based companies were also having more difficulty connecting to the national mainstream. Among them were Take Fo’ Records, an 142 CHAPTER FIVE important player in the local market since 1993, which tried to replicate the success that No Limit and Cash Money had enjoyed using artists and producers extracted from the local scene, but with disappointing results. Take Fo’ artists such as DJ Jubilee, Choppa, and Katey Red remained too idiosyncratically local to win over national audiences. The years 2000–2005 were marked by important shifts in the organization of the New Orleans rap scene and the ways in which its possible connections to national companies and audiences were imagined. With the important exception of Lil Wayne, New Orleans–based artists largely disappeared from the national rap consciousness and charts after 2000, providing a stark contrast with the preceding half-decade. The rap music scene in the city became reoriented toward local audiences in nightclubs and block parties, who shared many of the central concerns and preferences that had defined bounce. The diminished national profile of New Orleans rap on the eve of Hurricane Katrina is evidenced by the list of finalists in the 2005 Billboard/American Urban Radio Networks R&B/ Hip-Hop Awards, which “honor the genres’ most popular albums, songs, artists and contributors, as determined by actual sales and radio airplay data.” The increasingly dominant Atlanta scene contributed three artists (Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz, T.I., and Ying Yang Twins), who among them garnered nearly a third of the twenty-nine nominations for rap. In contrast, Juvenile was the sole representative from New Orleans, and he was nominated in only one category.1 Multiple factors contributed to the decline of New Orleans’s profile in the rap world between 2000 and 2005. Some of the most popular new arrivals on the local rap scene were “sissy rappers,” openly gay men who were more or less accepted in New Orleans but unable to extend their careers outside of the city. A deal fell through between the bounce label Take Fo’ Records and Tommy Boy Records (based in Washington, D.C.), which would have given national distribution for their premiere artist, Jerome “DJ Jubilee” Temple. James “Soulja Slim” Tapp, a legendary local gangsta rapper who seemed to be on the verge of breaking nationally, was shot to death in late 2003, an event that still haunted the city’s rap scene in the summer of 2005, when Hurrricane Katrina unleashed a wave of devastation and displacement in the low-lying areas of New Orleans, historically associated with impoverished black populations. No Limit Records: Decline It may have been inevitable that the No Limit juggernaut would start to...


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