One year ago today, the levees that protected New Orleans broke, devastating a city that has become one of hip-hop's major hubs. Given the racial overtones of the disaster and FEMA's much-criticized relief efforts for Louisiana's poorest residents, all eyes were on hip-hop to give a voice to the disenfranchised. Whether artists rose to the occasion has been a hot topic of debate throughout the last year, with various media outlets and blogs criticizing the lack of visible Katrina-related songs created by rappers.
"Katrina is something that happened and it seems like we've forgotten about it, unless you live in New Orleans or Houston," Chicago rapper Rhymefest told the Guardian last month. "Where are the big Katrina records? How has it politicized us? How have we learned?" While it's true that no big Katrina anthems have rocked coast to coast, everyone deals with tragedy in different ways. Some eulogize those they lost, some look to humor, and for others, Katrina will simply become a metaphor for their disastrous flow. XXLMAG.COM takes a look at the diverse ways that hip-hop has reflected on this tragedy.
The Public Face
"George Bush doesn't care about Black people." -Kanye West
When discussing rappers' response to the disaster, most people will only remember Kanye's infamous seven words, which were televised on the East Coast but cut from the West Coast airing of a national telethon. Oddly enough, the Katrina song given the most media attention was a freestyle by relatively unknown Houston duo The Legendary K.O., who capitalized on the Kanye hype with a humorous remake of West's "Gold Digger"
The Legendary K.O. (a.k.a. K-Otix) "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People"
The Hometown Heroes
Juvenile "Get Ya Hustle On"
Looking for ways to define this tragedy, much of the country turned towards New Orleans' two most prominent labels, Cash Money and No Limit, to release Katrina songs. But with both crews now splintered—rolling with different crews and living in different cities—it was not the unified effort that many anticipated. Still, Juvenile's video for "Get Ya Hustle On," filmed in the rubble of the city, was as jarring a take on disaster as any. "I'm already knowin' that it's a G thang/Ever since they tried to drown a nigga on the East bank/Everybody need a check from FEMA/So he can go and score him some coc-a-i-na (Get money!)," Juvie rapped. "And I ain't gotta ball in the beamer/Man, I'm trying to live I lost it all in Katrina." Free of corny "We Are the World" sentiment, the song's reference to spending relief money on drugs was too complex an issue for liberals and conservatives alike to swallow. The city's other superstars also gave their takes on Katrina, but none were packaged quite tamely enough to garner much attention from the mainstream media.
Lil Wayne "Georgia...Bush"
504 Boyz feat. Master P "Hurricane Katrina (Bounce Back)"
The Local Response
Mia X "My FEMA People"
From Mia X's angry take on those she lost in the disaster to 5th Ward Weebie's humorous take on living off FEMA, local New Orleans rappers have had no shortage of responses. One positive effect of the entire ordeal has been a resurgence of the local bounce music, which is now popping up in cities all over the country due to the dispersion of New Orleans refugees. Click here to download Bounce For Relief, a compilation of classic bounce music put together by XXLMAG.COM's own Noz.
5th Ward Weebie "Fuck Katrina"
Sqad Up "Katrina"
10th Ward Buck "What Is Your FEMA Number?"
Warren G feat. Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube & B-Real "Get U Down Part 2" (2005)
While Michael Jackson tried to put together a song called "I Have This Dream," an all-star benefit that was rumored to feature Jay-Z, Snoop, Missy Elliott and Kanye West, the track has still not been released, despite reports from Jackson's camp that it has been completed. Still, there have been plenty of rap artists willing to lend their empathy, including a bizarre song put together by actress Sharon Stone.
Sharon Stone feat. The Game, Wyclef, Chingy and others "Come Together Now"
(click here to see the video)
Mos Def "Dollar Day in New Orleans (Katrina Klap)"
Public Enemy "Hell No We Ain't All Right!"
At the one-year mark, some of the best reflections on the tragedy are just surfacing. Turning a largely apolitical group of artists into shrewd political critics is not something that will happen overnight (it may never happen) but one thing is for sure: Katrina has forever become part of hip-hop's ever-expanding worldview.
DJ Shadow feat. David Banner "Seein' Thangs" (2006)
Fat Joe "The Pandemic (Intro)" (Unreleased)
Joe: "Katrina, Katrina, all this Katrina/I'm lookin' for some aid, shorty have you seen her?"
OutKast feat. Lil Wayne & Snoop Dogg "Hollywood Divorce" (2006)
Wayne: "I really wish one day we'd take it back like Hammer's home/The hurricane come and took my Louisiana home/And all I got in return was a darn country song/This whole country wrong"