New Orleans, a city that has lost far too many of its musicians far too young, can add another tragedy to the list. Nicky Da B, one of the rising stars of a new generation of bounce musicians, has been confirmed dead at the age of 24. Although Nicky’s recorded output was fairly limited, with only a single album and a handful of singles to his name, he was already responsible for two significant hits–“Hot Potato Style” and “Express Yourself.” The second of these songs, recorded with the (in)famous Diplo and accompanied by a video showcasing New Orleans’ twerking at its best, is what rocketed Nicky to international acclaim.
Nicky was part of a bounce cohort who came of age after the golden days of the Cash Money and No Limits record labels, during a period when bounce had already begun to be transformed into the uptempo, hiccup-heavy style we know today. Almost a decade younger than the gender-destroying sissy rappers who first brought bounce to national attention in the wake of Katrina, Nicky was able to build his career on the manic innovations of his predecessors, raising the musical stakes with a combination of savvy professionalism and raw talent that had him poised him for real musical success.
Even to the initiate, bounce music can become repetitive, the genre’s 3-4 core samples rolling over and over to the point of tedium. Listen to Nicky’s sole album, 2012’s Please Don’t Forget Da B, and just try to get bored. You won’t. You can’t. And that’s because Nicky and his producers came to the party armed with a deep understanding of dance music structure–drops, beats, variety–along with an impeccable flow made for bounce’s lightening fast repetition. The result is one of the best bounce albums ever made, 45 minutes of nonstop frenzy and hilarious dance-floor action.
Nicky was also a model for where the music might be going. As bounce continues to move further from its roots in hip-hop, musicians and performers have adapted to their new circumstances, changing styles to better connect with the dance music crowds that they’re playing for and the DJs they’re touring with. At its best, the results are tracks like “Lights Out,” the beautiful track that Nicky released with the German production team Schlachthofbronx this summer. Stripped of the beats that define bounce, Nicky’s voice is warped around enormous organ chords, spelling out the rhythms with rapid-fire cadence as his vocals are pitch-shifted into ethereal melody. It’s a stunning example of what might have been, and a powerful capstone for a career that ended far too soon. While Nicky is gone, the scene that birthed him is still thriving–we can only hope that more groundbreaking musicians from New Orleans will be able to get the kind of exposure necessary to bring their music to the world.