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50 Years/50 Collections: NOLA Hip Hop Archive Project

Rapper and producer Mannie Fresh.

One of the newest collections at Amistad is the NOLA Hip Hop Archive Project, a digital archive of oral history interviews with foundational musical members of the New Orleans rap scene. The initial project to document this aspect of New Orleans music culture was founded in 2012 by Holly Hobbs, then a Ph.D. student at Tulane University who sought to facilitate a space for community members to tell their own stories in their own words, thereby seeking to combat the long history of negative perceptions of those engaged with rap music within the dominant public imagination in New Orleans. Interviews with internationally known artists like Mannie Fresh, Mystikal and Juvenile join oral histories of lesser known artists like the West Bank producer, Death, and the words of Ceaux, a tattoo artist and musician who tattooed many of the 1990s New Orleans rap superstars. Hobbs’ goal was to create a cohesive collection that offered a glimpse into the vast expressive artistry of this musical form.

Rapper and producer Fiend.

As the first university-affiliated rap archive in the Deep South, the primary goal of the NOLA Hip Hop Archive has been to provide a space for the documentation of places, people, things and ideas not otherwise recorded in the dominant record. Rap music is Louisiana’s most lucrative cultural export, and yet the stories and histories of even the more well-known acts––Fiend, for example, who was a central artist for the internationally-known record label, No Limit Records––were often hard to find or little undocumented. Furthermore, the ability for many of these musicians to speak openly on issues of incarceration, prison reform, violence, and institutional racism has meant that the Archive continues to not only be a valuable repository for musical information and oral data lost to Hurricane Katrina, but has also served as an important arena in which to advocate for social change amid the rapidly changing social and cultural terrain in post-Katrina New Orleans.

In the years following Katrina, there has been a marked shift in the status of New Orleans rap and bounce within the public imagination. Nonetheless, ethnographic documentation, scholarly work and popular writing on New Orleans rap and bounce remains limited. The NOLA Hip Hop Archive seeks to address this need: over 60 videotaped oral history interviews conducted by Hobbs over the course of two years are joined by yet another block of extensive audio oral histories conducted by Alison Fensterstock and Aubrey Edwards as part of their 2010 project, Where They At?, which sought to reconstruct a timeline of bounce music prior to the renewed revival of bounce in the 2010s both inside and outside of New Orleans. Altogether, the two collections housed at Amistad comprise an unprecedented wealth of information about the last two decades of rap musical expression and performance in New Orleans.

Rapper and song writer Mia X.

In 2014, the Amistad Research Center and the Tulane University Digital Library partnered to create a permanent online home for Dr. Hobbs’ interviews entitled the NOLA Hip Hop and Bounce Archive, which can be accessed freely by anyone with an Internet connection at The collection can also be viewed in person at Amistad at a new viewing station, paid for by monies raised to support the Archive. We are thrilled to be able to offer this wonderful collection to all.

Images from the NOLA Hip Hop and Bounce Archive. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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