Grant Delpit was born in 1998 in New Orleans East. The year before, a failed basketball player from New Orleans’ Calliope Projects named Percy Miller made his debut on the national stage as a rapper. He wore a way-too-big jersey with the name of his record label — No Limit — across the front and drove a gold-plated tank through a gym, where four other rappers spit their verses, hung on the rim, and basically turned the game of basketball into an afterthought by sheer force of their charisma. The symbolism was incredible given the context; Percy Miller couldn’t play ball, but Master P knew how to ball. “Make ’Em Say Ugh!” was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” without the apathy. Shaq approved.
Fifteen years prior, “Make ’Em Say Ugh!”’s producer, a hardworking local who went by the name KLC (real name: Craig Lawson, no relation to former LSU safety Craig Loston) teamed up with a local bounce rapper who called himself Lil’ Elt. Though No Limit and especially Cash Money Records would figure out how to translate bounce for the masses, it was at the time a hyper-local form of music that combined the sci-fi synths of Detroit techno and the pulse of Chicago house with drums that swagger and stomp like a marching band, brash sound effects, and rat-tat-tat call-and-response vocals. Like techno and house, it’s music whose celebratory nature is in defiance of the conditions in which it was invented. It’s made for pumping and grinding and twerking and, to put it simply, getting loose. It feels good. As the writer Nik Cohn puts it, bounce was (and is) “raw sex in dance.” It’s impossible to imagine it coming from anywhere but Louisiana.
As a white boy growing up in the ’90s in Lafayette, rap and bounce are how I learned about the big, violent, nasty city two hours to the east. Before I had a driver’s license, I knew how to find the Calliope. I knew anyone who had beef with Juvenile should stay away from the Magnolia Project, and I knew about the dangers of walking near the Iberville at night. These weren’t warnings directed at me, a pasty eighth grader peering in from the outside, but I took them at face value and understood that on some level being from a terrifying place can be a badge of honor and a source of pride, even if it terrifies you.
Whether we like it or not, this is a part of what it means to be from Louisiana, or to have a deep connection to it. We come from a place that was planted defiantly on the banks of a barely tamable river that’s spent three centuries trying to buck us. Many of us are descended from people who were brought here against their will, whether chained and forced onto a ship in Africa or separated from families on a dock in Nova Scotia and driven into exile — two incomparable journeys that share a physical, though certainly not social, destination. We are now, in 2020, only fifteen years removed from people of all political stripes wondering aloud whether we should be here at all.
I live in Los Angeles, and when I take the Metro to work, I pass right by the Memorial Coliseum, where, just a few years ago, a reformed Ed Orgeron coached the USC Trojans to a strong 6–2 finish following the firing of Lane Kiffin. Coach O did something that very few people around here do: He fell for USC football unconditionally. He became as much of an Angeleno as he conceivably could; years later, he still talks about how much he loved his time in this extremely difficult-to-love city. He took his players to In ‘N’ Out, which means he was even willing to embrace ungodly lines. He probably has a good perspective on being stuck in traffic. We all know what happened, though of course Pat Haden never admitted to it in so many words: Coach O was forced out because the then-Athletic Director was embarrassed by his accent, presumably the one part of his inner or outer personality that Coach O had never thought to change.
Lil’ Elt, bless him, wasn’t the most charismatic of bounce rappers. A good bounce rapper breaks the beat the way a cowboy breaks a bull; he commands it the way James Brown did The J.B.’s, knowing how to make the song stomp along with him for the benefit of the crowd. And a bounce rapper works that crowd, naming moves like a caller at a square dance and shouting out New Orleans’ various wards and projects while he does so. On his track with KLC, Elt gets the names and places right, but he’s not terribly convincing, which is the best thing about him. He rolls along with a kind of loose grace reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg. It’s as if he only has the sparest connection to the words coming out of his mouth. But he knows how to represent, and he salutes just about every part of the city with the same exhortation: Get the gat.
Anyone who actually wanted every person from every historically black neighborhood in New Orleans to pick up a gun would certainly be able to marshal more internal force than Lil’ Elt does on “Get the Gat.” But that’s not what he’s doing. When he shouts out the 3rd and the 10th and the 12th and the Magnolia, he’s letting the people there know that he sees them. When it was recorded in 1992, these were places either overlooked or avoided by most white New Orleanians, which was the whole point. Shouting out the neighborhood over a hot track — a move common to rappers everywhere but honed to perfection in New Orleans in the 1990s and early 2000s — meant celebrating its existence in front of the rest of the world, regardless of whether the rest of the world ever heard the track or not.
The best thing that happened in the 2019 college football season wasn’t supposed to be heard by more than a hundred or so people. The LSU Tigers had just beaten the Alabama Crimson Tide for the first time since November of 2011. For those eight years, everyone around the program — by which I mean not just the administration and coaches and players but also all of us fans — allowed ourselves to be defined by our relationship to Bama. This, to put it lightly, did not go well for us. That’s partly owing to the fact that Alabama dominated LSU for most of those eight years, but it’s also partly owing to the fact that Louisiana is a state whose entire culture and appeal is based on not really giving a fuck about anyone outside of the state of Louisiana. Speculating about the soul of a place is a weird thing to do, particularly given the number of people we’re talking about here, but allowing Alabama to loom so large in our collective imaginations, to tell us who we are, felt like we’d given up something deep and real about who LSU and Louisiana were supposed to be.
In the end, that’s what 2019 was about: rediscovering our joy, the one truly renewable resource Louisianans have in abundance. LSU, like the state it calls home, is a little bit of a mess, and more than willing to fuck shit up in the name of celebration; we’re a state that spends millions and trashes our prettiest avenues just to throw a six-week-long party every year, after all. Our joy is big, and it’s loud, and it comes flowing from our mouths and shimmering through our bodies. At our best, we are as visceral as the nastiest bounce song, a weird wave of people who often have very little in common beyond the conviction that happiness is meant to be expressed and shared and that we’re goddamn lucky to be able to share so much of it.
Which is why it’s impossible to imagine any other school printing up officially licensed merchandise referencing a song called “Get the Gat” — or using a song whose chorus is “set it off in this motherfucker” in a Heisman hype video, or turning the line “Bitch, I’m from Louisiana” into an integral part of the gameday experience, or allowing Boosie onto the virtual recruiting trail in a post-championship video. The fans in the stands did the “Neck” chant a half-dozen times during the National Championship Game. We got the most petty and overtly racist president in modern history to overlook the fact that the candidate he endorsed in our gubernatorial race lost, and we got him to post a bounce song on his Instagram.
I don’t know what Grant Delpit hears when he puts on “Get the Gat,” or why he picked up on Instagram personality Subtweet Shawn’s “Get the Gat” challenge as a way to celebrate the stripmining of Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. KLC’s beat is still hot nearly thirty years later, but there are plenty of songs out there with hot beats. Katrina forced the Delpit family west to Houston in 2005, making him one in a long line of New Orleans kids who have spent comparatively little of their life there. The music that made Houston famous — whether the smoothed-out soul-rap of DJ DMD or the horrified world of the Geto Boys and Scarface or the post-nasal-drip slowness of DJ Screw — is invested in real-life drama it aches to transcend. Even the cigar-smoke dreams of Lil Troy’s “Wanna Be a Baller,” which tore up the charts around the same time as “Make ’Em Say Ugh!,” is concerned with getting out and getting to somewhere better. “Get the Gat” isn’t looking ahead to anything. It’s right where it wants to be.