Getting Schooled on Hip-Hop History

I remember like it was yesterday, that period in junior high when my friends and I lived, ate and breathed Cash Money Records.

We not only worshiped the New Orleans-based record label’s sound, but we tried to emulate its hip-hop artists’ style. We’d head to the mall on Saturdays to purchase fresh Reebok sneakers and plain, colored t-shirts — five for $20 at Champs Sports. It was our best attempt to dress like the Hot Boys members, B.G., Juvenile, Lil Wayne and Turk.

Cash Money’s influence was infectious. B.G.’s hit song “Bling Bling” and Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” echoed through the hallways of our school and the rest of the South, for that matter.

Despite our love affair with the powerhouse label, we never really scratched below the surface of the lyrics.

Why did the artists rap like they rapped, with such a distinctly Southern and melodic drawl? How were the beats so bass-heavy, yet still consistently up-tempo and dance-centric? Who influenced this hip-hop movement, paving the way for Cash Money’s global dominance?

This past week I traversed the Crescent City for answers while reporting a story on the area’s hip-hop scene post-Katrina.

I met up with acclaimed local artist Nesby Phips outside of HeadQuarters, a barber shop in the Sixth Ward owned by some of his friends. The location was fitting given that Phips — who started cutting hair when he was 13 — was once the go-to barber for Cash Money’s artists while they were on tour.

“If hip-hop music burned down to the ground tomorrow, Cortez still gon’ call me for a haircut,” said Phips, referring to Lil Wayne’s manager, Cortez Bryant. Phips went to high school in the late 1990s with Bryant and the artists Curren$y, Mack Maine and Lil Wayne.

In addition to his music career, Phips has a number of side projects and endeavors.

“Music checks don’t come every day,” he said.

It’s on the barbershop’s wooden patio deck where Phips, an entrepreneur of sorts, spends three days a week serving up jerk chicken wraps and ice cold cups of his homemade lemonade.

He will soon have a food truck and a different location for the new business, named Ty Co Lemonade after his two kids, Ty and Courtney.

Phips and I shared our love for the rappers B.G. and Ghostface Killah. We spoke about the gentrification of the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn that I once covered, and where Phips lived from 2010 to 2012.

The next day, I went to Phips’s studio in the warehouse district, where he took me on a YouTube listening tour of New Orleans bounce music and hip-hop history.

I learned about local legend DJ Jubilee and his dance-a-thon bounce tracks, which he named after each of his girlfriends. We listened to songs with lyrics about the Reaux Shambo, an infamous motel that charged by the hour for sex and was located across the street from the equally infamous Magnolia Projects.

It was a trip down memory lane for Phips and a much-needed history lesson for me.

Afterward, we headed downtown to Frenchman Street to take in some fresh, live tunes at the Blue Nile and Vaso.

We ended the night with a 3 a.m. food run to Gene’s Po-Boy restaurant before Phips dropped me at the Dillard University campus.

The roast beef po’boy was on point, to say the least.

My hip-hop history lesson had been, too.