Lil Jodeci, who in 2018 was nominated for Best DJ at OffBeat’s Best of the Beat Awards, is protecting the sanctity of Black music one dancefloor at a time. Last weekend, he performed a set at the 2019 BUKU Music + Art Project, piercing the blue Spring sky with a mix of house, techno, bounce, disco and other various forms of dance music. If you’ve ever lost yourself in the music at Pink Room Project or Set De Flo, chances are Lil Jodeci took you there.
“I do house music because I want Black kids to understand that we can do more than one thing,” he tells me when I ask him why it’s so important to protect and promote the legacy of Black contributions to dance music. In New Orleans, bounce music is “equivalent to dance music,” says Lil Jodeci, who got his start in hip-hop music but became entranced by other genres. Like the Detroit techno developed by Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and others or the Chicago house made popular by the likes of Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles, New Orleans bounce was developed by (and largely for) Black youth.
“When I got educated on the music that I was playing,” Lil Jodeci says, “I started to realize that disco, house, all that shit is created from jazz, Congo Square. That’s the history of our music, and it’s Black music.” These days, some of the Black history as it pertains to dance music is overshadowed by the popularity of European DJs playing techno and house around the world. That’s part of what makes Lil Jodeci’s work invaluable and part of a longstanding tradition of defying monolithic images of Black America. As he puts it, “A lot of people, when they come to my parties or my sets, they think that I’m doing something that’s white. When in reality, it’s a Black thing. I just want them to understand and think of it differently. And it’s not just telling them it’s Black…they need to know the history of it. It’s very important to me. It’s important to our city of New Orleans and it’s important to for our community to continue to represent and push the envelope to show that we can do multiple jobs and it doesn’t give us a box to fill.”
When I ask him about what’s happening in the city’s young, Black underground scene (which, quite frankly, is completely “above ground,” if you’re paying attention), he calls it “a renaissance.” He mentions FREEWATER and others, faces he says “we weren’t seeing five or six years ago.” He gives social media credit where it’s due, but also says “I hate the Internet, but you need it…I have a slogan, ‘Don’t Die on the Internet.'” For him, there’s no replacement for authenticity, filters and captions be damned. “My homie told me this the other day, ‘truth is being told.’ We’re in the age of truth. You just can’t be a clout chaser and try to replicate what you see. You gotta be genuine and tapped into who you are.”
Ultimately, Lil Jodeci plays the music he plays because he fucking likes it. It’s hard to ignore that when he’s on stage, usually flanked by his robed homie, Lord Chilla. Even though his work is undeniably part of an intergenerational history, he’s in the moment. “If this is the end of the story, I’m happy. ‘Cause at the end of the day, it’s not about none of this shit. It’s just about us being who we are.”