Young musicians expand New Orleans’ hip-hop sound at Buku

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Malik Ninety Five, New Orleans-based artist, raps on the Float Den stage at the 2019 Buku Festival. (Zach Brien,

The Buku Music + Art Project took over Mardi Gras World for a 7th year with big national names like Lana Del Ray, Dog Blood, and A$AP Rocky. The lineup, however, did not skimp on local talent across musical styles.

Performers like Tristan Dufrene from the Cut Off, Thou and Kevin Gates from Baton Rouge, and $uicideboys from New Orleans, showed how Louisiana creates quality music in many contrasting genres. Malik Ninety Five and James Seville—two 23-year-old rappers from Gentilly New Orleans who also performed at the festival—are striving to show the changing definitions of the city’s hip-hop sound.

Malik Ninety Five

Buku Festival 2019, Malik Ninety Five

Malik Ninety Five sheds his jacket during his 2019 Buku Fest performance, revealing an ode to one of New Orleans’ signature beverages, Big Shot. (Zach Brien,

Malik Ninety Five, who recently released his first album Tragedy Under the Sun, does not want to be limited by the traditional sound of New Orleans hip-hop.

“I want it to be known that I’m from here, but I never want to adapt a full New Orleans sound,” Malik said. “I want to be able to make something that gives New Orleans a new sound, just like how Pharrell gave a new sound to Virginia. I’m big on music based in emotion and feel. I’m big on chord progressions that inspire.”

Malik Ninety Five engages the crowd during his performance on the Float Den stage with DJ Shaad Smooth on Saturday, March 23 at the 2019 Buku Music + Art Project. (Zach Brien,

To Malik, being included in this year’s festival lineup solidifies his place as a representative of New Orleans hip-hop. When asked his top five favorite New Orleans musicians, he said:

“(Lil) Wayne number one, Curren$y number two, number three would have to be Master P, (number four) Soulja Slim and, let me give somebody off-kilter…I’m going to put me up there, too.”

James Seville

James Seville 2019 Buku Festival

New Orleans’ own James Seville performs on the Float Den stage at the 2019 Buku Music + Art Project. (Zach Brien,

Another New Orleans native, James Seville recently released his first album as well. Seville describes Jamesville as “an alternative to rap,” which he credits to a wide scope of inspirations, including fusion, indy-pop, James Taylor, and Flume.

One track on his album, “When I Grow Up,” has a balance of quality lyrics and instrumentation. Seville wrote the song so the lyrics would encourage listeners to reflect inward.

“It’s not in a sense of employment, what you did. You just want to be the person you are,” Seville said. “When the crowd sings it, I don’t want them to say they want to be like me. I want them to think of who they’re thinking about, who they want to be like.”

New Orleans’ own James Seville, left, DJ ToineBoy, right, perform on the Float Den stage. (Zach Brien,

Malik and Seville agreed that Buku is important because it targets a demographic that other festivals miss. They feel that Buku brings in memorable shows by artists people might not see again. Malik recalled specifically how he felt when he saw one particular artist in 2012, the festival’s first year.

“I remember when Kendrick (Lamar) was here. I was front row for that. It was when Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City came out.” Malik said. “This was the first festival I felt like was for me.”

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