By Ambata Kazi-Nance
So I gotta do it for my city. 400 Degreez is my personal “what a time to be alive” album. If you were Black and young in the late 90’s in New Orleans, Cash Money was a big deal. Their songs were everywhere. I was a senior in high school when it dropped. “Solja Rag” was our unofficial class song. Everybody wore white Reeboks and white t-shirts and had camouflage rags tucked in the back pockets of their Girbaud jeans (if they could afford them, at least).
We loved the music because it was ours, the sound, the words, our slang. Like Juvenile said, it put us, our culture, as hood as it is, on the map. It gave us something to be proud of, something that was uniquely and unapologetically us, our generation.
I can’t say I listen to it now; it’s by no stretch of the imagination ‘Islamic,’ and there’s a plethora of problematic lyrics, but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t still speak to a part of me. When Juvenile says on “Ha,” “you know what it is, to make nothing out of something, you handle your biz, and don’t be crying and suffering,” I stand a little taller, thinking about what my ancestors accomplished, what they made out of the little they had, how they worked to go beyond surviving to thriving.
New Orleans wasn’t an easy city to grow up in. You gotta be a little crazy to survive there. You gotta be a little tough, even if it’s posturing. But we are also kind people, hardworking and creative, community oriented. The concept of ‘it takes a village’ is still there, though struggling. I don’t live in New Orleans now, but these songs are part of the soundtrack of my life, reminding me of where I’m from and what I’m made from.
Ambata Kazi-Nance is a writer and teacher born and raised in New Orleans, LA and now residing in the California Bay Area. She is the senior editor at Sapelo Square. You can read more of her writing here.