The tragic consequences of hurricane Katrina’s rampage through New Orleans exposed the entire world to the fact that the Big Easy is actually a troubled city haunted by racism, corruption and dire poverty. A year later, we’re learning that troubled citizens weren’t the only thing covered up by the city’s erstwhile rep as a party town—it turns out that Crescent City hip-hop is much more than its flagship labels, No Limit and Cash Money.
The Restless Natives, a compilation released this summer, features over a dozen underground New Orleans artists, most of whom have a sound that’s more NYC than NOLA. The album, available from N.O. indie Dragon’s Breath Records, was in the works prior to Katrina, but the project coalesced in the storm’s aftermath. “I’m very close friends with almost everyone on the CD, so it was a way to help them,” says Dragon’s Breath CEO Jennifer Corbridge, the former hip-hop director at college-radio station WTUL in New Orleans. “When hurricane Katrina happened, a lot of them were displaced. At that point I decided to change it up, and dedicating it to the victims of the hurricane was just a small way I could contribute.” The proceeds from the compilation’s sale will go to the artists, all of whom suffered losses in the storm.
Corbridge says that five songs came post-Katrina, two of which address the storm directly—“Alday” by Dick Darby and “Mayhem in Metropolis” by J Infinite—but now the heartbreak is never far from the artists’ minds. “I wanted to write about Katrina right after it happened, but I couldn’t. I guess because I was too preoccupied with what had happened,” says Truth Universal, a longtime New Orleans MC who is featured on two of The Restless Natives’ tracks and is signed to Paris’ Guerrilla Funk Records. The collection also serves as a chance to showcase another side of N.O. rap. “Some people think everyone from the South has the same sound,” says Dragon’s Breath producer DJ Maxmillion, who serves as the comp’s host on the first track, “Introducing.” “But it’s not true. I don’t worry too much about the [differences]. To me, there are only two kinds of music, good and bad.”
The Restless Natives, known or unknown, fits nicely in the good camp.—BEN OSBORNE