James Seville (L) and Malik Ninety Five at BUKU 2019. Photos by Laiken Joy

BUKU Locals: Malik Ninety Five & James Seville carry the rap torch

“BUKU’s got more local artists than any festival recently in New Orleans, especially when it comes to rap and EDM,” local hip-hop artist James Seville tells me. He’s right. The annual BUKU Music + Art Project once again showcased fledgling and seasoned New Orleans talent at the 2019 festival, which took place on March 22 and 23. In a world and era when hip-hop and electronic music are arguably the most influential global genres, BUKU is one of the few places in New Orleans where hometown heroes can share stages with international talent.

Seville is a rapper who this year performed on BUKU’s Float Den stage. There, he delivered material from the recently released Jamesville. He, along with rapper/producer )and fellow BUKU 2019 performer) Malik Ninety Five, is part of a generation of New Orleans hip-hop artists that was raised on music from record labels like Cash Money and No Limit but who (thanks to the Internet) are far more self-sufficient than the Juveniles and Lil Waynes of yesteryear. But despite the city’s fertile underground/indie rap scene, there are obstacles here.

Photo by Laiken Joy

Photo by Laiken Joy

“There just aren’t enough resources,” Seville says in reference to the infrastructure in New Orleans. It’s a sentiment echoed in OffBeat interviews with Pell, Partners-N-Crime, Nesby Phips and others. “There’s not enough studios for people to just be constantly working. It’s like no one’s doing it for the love out here, or they weren’t. But I feel like we’re finally starting to. ‘Cause it is a new age where you can make super quality music in your bedroom now. Now that we have that, we have people connecting and it’s just that sparking is happening a lot quicker.”

Today’s music industry morphs at breakneck speed, but Seville says the foundational plans are already laid out, and his generation is nothing if not resourceful. “I wanna be a guide and show how you kinda do what you gotta do, but I also follow my guides and mentors. We all keep building on the blueprint and, once the whole rap community has it, then all of us will succeed. I’m a part of an architectural team, building this blueprint for the artists younger than us.”

He says in cities like New York and Los Angeles, hip-hop acts start “popping” when they’re teenagers, which doesn’t really happen in New Orleans. “It takes a little more time. I’m 23 right now, but we’re providing something for the youth.” BUKU provided him with an opportunity to perform for young New Orleans. “They’ve really found a way to capture that youth and put the 10 or 15 local artists on it,” he tells me. “We have 15 artists at a sold out festival, it’s so crazy. It’s a first step.”

For Malik Ninety Five, who in 2018 released Tragedy’s Under the Sun (which he showcased on the Float Den Stage at BUKU), one cannot acknowledge today’s New Orleans hip-hop landscape without acknowledging The Storm. “It’s the idea of being a Katrina baby and really seeing how kids in other cities got their own home-based studio when they’re, like, 12 or 13,” he tells me. “That’s where Wiz Khalifa come from. That’s where Mac Miller come from. They come from that community of ‘we’re going to build you up as an artist’. We never had that.”

Photo by Laiken Joy

Photo by Laiken Joy

Now, the toolbox is open sourced and quite literally handheld. Malik mentions Frankie and Mardi of FREEWATER and others who don’t rely on others for much. “We all got photo, video, music, clothes…we all doing different things and being entrepreneurial,” he tells me. “It’s just like everybody do something and play they role and do it perfectly.”

As far as his role, Malik has sights on influencing the sound coming out of the city.” I have one or two songs that have a New Orleans bass but besides that, I want to develop a sound out here like how Pharrell developed for Virginia, or like [Dr.] Dre developed for L.A. It’s gonna take a minute because sometimes it’s like that shit just strike you and one day you just push a button and then, all of a sudden, you got that one thing that impacts a culture. I think that’s my place, because I’m on so many different sides of it: being a rapper, DJ, producer, engineer. I’m trying to do all of this stuff at one time but it inspires me because I’m able to get all of these different sounds and find what really works, what people really gravitate to.”

Performing at BUKU “put a battery in my back,” Malik says. Along with Seville and BUKU 2019 performer Lil Jodeci, he says it’s time to take it to the next level. “It’s a good start. It’s a community right now.”