On August 29, 1996, B.G. dropped an album that will forever remain a cornerstone in Southern Hip-Hop, Chopper City. Being just his second studio album, this body of work solidified the New Orleans-born rapper as a musical powerhouse and was surprisingly successful, selling over 100,000 copies. While this album has remained a staple of New Orleans culture ever since its release, many people overlook its importance as a cultural statement. Chopper City appears to be just an album on its surface, but with a closer look, it’s apparent that this album is an audio commentary of the harsh, unforgiving lifestyle New Orleans is infamous for. It is a musical microcosm of the pain, triumph, love, loss and struggles faced in New Orleans every single day.
One of the first things about Chopper City that catches your eye is its packaging and presentation, both visually and sound-wise. B.G is one of the forefathers of Southern and New Orleans Hip-Hop, as a founding member of the Hot Boyz and Cash Money Records roster. One of the true innovators of the Southern gangsta style, B.G.’s immaculate persona is impossible to ignore. Whether it's the irresistible New Orleans drawl syruped over every track, or the album art featuring him backed by rifle bullets raining down on the hood, there's no mistaking where B.G. is from. The humorous, ever-entertaining slang of New Orleans is just as much a part of the album’s message as its lyrics. With other hood stars like the Big Tymers, Baby, and Mannie Fresh all over the album’s tracklist, listeners get a true understanding of the gang mentality New Orleans exudes in every aspect of its culture.
Digging deeper into the music, you can hear in full detail exactly what the lifestyle of New Orleans hustlers consists of. Chopper City’s intro, “189.7 FM”, instantly throws listeners into the scene of the more successful street hustlers of New Orleans, who have reached at least the minimal level of monetary freedom. Here, cars with big rims, diamond chains, fast money and faster women are glorified as the end all be all. Many young men in New Orleans didn't know or strive for much outside of these things, and we're willing to do anything to obtain them. Later on in the album, He also acknowledges the lack of morality in many of his actions, but also realizes that the extreme lack of opportunity in his city forces him to feed off of his peers to get ahead. “Bat a B*itch” provides some insight on the misogyny and patriarchy that many women face in lower income communities. The narrative of B.G.’s story revolves around being stuck in an environment that doesn’t provide opportunities for upward movement, so many of its constituents are forced to create these opportunities through crime, drug dealing and violence. As a result of these pursuits, if one manages to survive or escape the penal system, the rewards are glorious in return.
New Orleans Struggle
The difficulties of life in New Orleans far outshine the triumphs on Chopper City, and that’s apparent from start to finish. Records Songs like “All On U” show a lifestyle that is savage, yet common for a scary majority of people that find themselves living in the city. The fear of death in the men walking the streets of New Orleans is non-existent, and B.G.’s cold, unforgiving lyrics confirm this: “If I live I live, if I die it’s cool … If you're gonna drill me, come on, drill me”. This mentality was, and still remains far too present many young men. An alarming realization that comes with the music is the fact that a number of the individuals participating in these activities don’t necessarily see the things they do as wrong, and even identify with the psychological construct of victim blaming; B.G. calls another young male “stingy” for failing to give up his chain and clothing, and thus finds justification for killing him. What’s more, the most notable line from the record may be “turning the block into a war zone”, which is a metaphorical representation of what people trapped in these communities go through every day. For them, this lyric is very literal, as the moment they step off of their doorstep it’s a fight for their life. But things don’t stop there. “Uptown Thang” and “Retaliation” are records completely devoted to murder in the name of a lifestyle. Murder and death is so commonplace that if it’s not occuring, people feel as if you’re not handling your business on the streets. “N*ggas Don’t Understand” highlights the dangers and risks of drug use and drug trafficking, while “N*ggas N Trouble” speaks on the struggles between the Black community and the police, specifically violent altercations with law enforcement. “Doing Bad” is focused entirely on the visions that a child of poverty faces each day. High risk, low reward activities and crab-in-a-barrel mentalities plague the city, so often times the kids living there have no hope or vision for anything greater. As the album closes, “So Much Death” is a softer, record, arguably the most introspective cut from the album. It highlights a little depth in BG’s character, beyond just hate and violence. Past the tough exterior and harsh demeanor, B.G. shows that many of the men in his position are merely doing what they feel is necessary to survive, and truly do have love in their hearts that must be hidden to appear strong.
Overall, Chopper City provides a bleak look into the lives of hustlers trapped in New Orleans. While New Orleans undoubtedly has a culture and energy that is loved nationwide, there is a darker, grittier side of New Orleans that doesn’t receive much attention or empathy. Artists like B.G. took it upon themselves to highlight these struggles through music. Even though the music is crass and unapologetic, it is still important because it provides insight on not only the circumstances people live in, but also the mentalities that people adopt to survive. Sadly, B.G. couldn’t remain free from the lifestyle his music details, and was convicted for weapons possession in 2012. Although he has lost his freedom, his music still speaks on for him to this day.