A Brief History of Drake's Relationship with New Orleans Bounce
"Nice for What" is the latest in Aubrey Graham borrowing from the long-running Louisiana sound of Big Freedia and others.
The 34th edition of WrestleMania was held at New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night, but the city's culture would have gained a lot of newfound exposure regardless over the weekend thanks to Drake's "Nice for What." A vaguely feminist bottle-popper with the second Lauryn Hill sample of Drake's career following the oddly-forgotten "Draft Day," the single is also the latest chapter in his love for the sound of New Orleans bounce.
Originating either in the late 80s or early 90s, bounce is characterized by its rigid, uptempo rhythms (claps on all eighth notes, kick drums playing around that same grid) and rowdy, chopped-up vocal samples. It's probably most synonymous with Big Freedia, who has served as something of an ambassador for bounce in recent years. Her trademark hoarse bellow graced the New Orleans-shot video for Beyoncé's "Formation," for example. Freedia's voice is also on "Nice for What," and the song's willingness to have an uncharacteristically genial Drake as a part of the warm, high-energy arrangement is welcome. Playing bounce relatively straight is a contrast from his previous passes at the sound: "Practice" and "Childs Play."
2011's "Practice" is probably the total opposite of "Nice for What" in approach and sentiment. It slows down the instrumental of Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up" (arguably bounce's largest mainstream hit) to a crawl, inverting the original's amped-up carnality to menacing seduction. Drake further recontextualizes that classic hook to these new settings, sounding predatory as he insists that all the other men his current partner was with were merely rehearsal for having sex with him. "Practice" is fascinating in concept and deeply questionable in execution. His next try would be a bit more successful.
"Childs Play," like the rest of Views, is likable but undercooked. That being said, it's neat how the song suggests the energy of bounce without actually going full-tilt. The sample of DJ Ray Ray's "She Rode That Dick Like a Soldier" in the song's despondent, zero-gravity second half (us Torontonians might as well call our sound "Scarborough sludge") is an example of the kind of regional mix-and-match that's had rap listeners joking about Drake representing every 'hood in America since his rise to prominence.
That "Nice for What" is a full-on pastiche of bounce rather than a song that incorporates some of its signifiers is significant. No doubt there are already listeners griping that Drake will be rewarded for borrowing a sound that's largely gone unnoticed by the mainstream. There's enough evidence to suggest, though, that "Nice for What" is a well-meaning homage, especially given that Big Freedia gave the song her blessing. If Drake's upcoming album will follow in this candy-colored mold—bright dance tracks minus the petty gripes—he might really have something here.
Phil is on Twitter.