Heartbreak, Home & Hip Hop: Chapter 1
Written by: Allison Gaines
Growing up, my friends and frienemies referred to me as “popular” but I never felt that way back then. “Just because they know me doesn’t mean they like me,” I told my best friend as we reminisced about our teenage adventures.
Life in New Orleans was all I knew before Hurricane Katrina interrupted my senior year, forcing us to move. I missed nearly two months of school because of recovery efforts and had to finish my senior year in Baton Rouge. There, I experienced a cultural reset.
Attending high school in Baton Rouge gave me a break from everyone “knowing me” and gave me the space to get to know myself. There, I fried chicken at a small spot next to Louisiana State University after finishing high school classes in the mornings. I enjoyed being a stranger for a while.
Those days felt peaceful but also sad since we were still trying to mentally and physically recover from the impacts of a once-in-a-lifetime-storm.
After graduating with honors in the spring of 2006, I left Baton Rouge and drove back to New Orleans. While I enjoyed the social hiatus, I felt anxious to make it back home and gain a sense of normalcy, so I didn’t even wait for my family to return. There I was in an empty house. I could look up and see bits of the sky at night since the roof was missing. I saw all my old journals, books that were ruined, and the walls in my mom’s bedroom smelled moldy.
I soon learned that the home outside of this house that I went looking for had changed, also. Not cosmetically, but culturally.
Classmates who used to make up my social stratosphere were spread throughout the country. One of my friends moved as far as Alaska and never returned. My old bestie, Callie, lived nearby and for years acted like a third sister to me. Lucky for me she returned home.
Before the storm, we went out a lot. Since we were 13, we went to the movies, mall, concerts, and restaurants together. We had a very active teenage life, even venturing to some clubs. When we ventured out, we had one golden rule: “When we come together, we leave together,” meaning that no matter who we met, we agreed to never let that person separate us from our girlfriends. If someone liked one of us, they could wait to see us at another time—strength in numbers.
A year after Katrina, I started dating a Latino guy named Jody who had a great group of friends. My friends liked his friends and we hung out together, laughing late into the night watching anime and debating about love and life. It was through these conversations that I first heard about Currensy’s Jet Lounge. Every Wednesday at 11:00 PM, Currensy, a local rapper who used to rap in Young Money, held a recurring event welcoming weed smokers, Hip-Hop artists, and local cool kids. Ladies got in free until midnight.
It was the kind of party where no one really danced and the men outnumbered the women, but the vibe was chill; no yelling, shouting, or chaos. Jet Lounge gave off adultish vibes and a break from the traditional club scene. When we saw guys we knew, some of them kissed our hands, acting much more courteous than they did outside the club. It’s like we were playing a part where all the impoliteness and lack of civility were left outside the Foundation doors.
My friend Callie and I ate up that attention like a free dessert. If we had fresh outfits and time to glam up, we would go to Jet Lounge each week. This event was one of a kind. Most mainstream rappers never made themselves openly available to the public, but Currensy was different in that respect. Him showing up every week brought a level of excitement, bringing all the cool kids to the same spot. Every Wednesday, he was there like clockwork.
Over the next few years, Callie and I had a number of adventures at the Jet Lounge. By 2009, the city began to recover in bits, allowing us to connect with friends from high school, marrying our old social circle with the new. One winter night, Callie and I showed up early to Jet Lounge so that we could get the best sofa and see the stage, the bar, and the door. We wanted to avoid standing up all night and also needed a flat surface to roll up on and the coffee table provided a perfect space.
In the nearly empty Foundation room, I recognized a familiar face from my neighborhood—Turk. We met years ago in highschool when he helped my friends book Dem Franchize Boyz for a summer party. I waved him over where he gave us hugs and said, “Welcome to Jet Lounge.”
He shared his plan to throw parties where we would all wear headphones, switching back and forth between two live DJs, an event later called Silent Disco. Young Black New Orleans socialites absolutely loved those events. It was funny seeing people dancing to a different beat. I felt chill, like a chameleon, blending in but decisively.
Turk rolled two golden spliffs for Callie and I. Then, he introduced us to a few up-and-coming rappers who seemed thrilled to meet us. They shared their social media info and offered us free tickets to their upcoming live performances. It was during this time in my life that I actually felt popular. Not only did I know people, but they knew me, too.
Currensy’s Jet Lounge was ingenious. Not only did he get to share his music and perform any time he wanted, but he also brought the community together at a time when young people really needed a home base. When I started smoking marijuana after my first year in college, some friends said it was “unladylike.” I lost some friends and even butt heads with some family members behind my decision to smoke. Even though I made straight As as a freshman at Loyola, they thought I was lazy. Some shunned me as I grew my dreadlocks and rejected Eurocentric hairstyles. So, going to Jet Lounge was liberating in that respect. I could smoke in a safe place without being judged. There, my dreadlocks and love for marijuana weren’t a hindrance, it was perfectly normal.
Each week over the next few years, I made new connections, building a repertoire of promoters, rappers, singers, and fashion designers who I could contact for events or to support their endeavors. My boyfriend Jody never minded the connections I made because he was a socialite in his own right, known for dancing. Over time, I became a big fish in a small pond. I say that because even though I knew lots of people, New Orleans was a smedium city. Being in the right place at the right time was a big part of it.
In the Spring of 2012, Callie and I both worked in the French Quarter, making it even more convenient to go out with each other after work. One night, we showed up early and started playing on the stage, taking the mic and trying to rap over the beats. No one was there and in their absence, we reverted back to our silly selves. Then, we heard voices. Currensy came in. The old me would have dropped the mic and started running, but I held my ground and stayed on stage until the song ended. When we came down the steps, Currensy started clapping, and his friends joined along.
We thanked them and went to our tried and true sofa, feeling like they caught us red-handed. Callie rolled up as I grabbed us two rum punches from the bar. As the room began to fill, the DJ turned on some tracks off Currensy’s new mixtape, Life at 30,000 Feet, followed by some of his favorite tracks from other artists.
I noticed my promoter friend on the dance floor heading towards me. He grabbed my hand and whispered, “I have someone who wants to meet you.” I said, “who?” He laughed at me and asked my friend Callie to come along.
He brought us to the VIP lounge in the corner of the Foundation room, then Currensy walked right up to me. I could feel my heart racing, not really knowing what to expect. He leaned in for a hug and asked me to sit in a chair next to him. “It’s too loud to hear you if you’re far away.” My friend sat next to Turk and they started mingling with the crew.
Next, he popped a bottle of Sparkling Rose, pouring a glass for me and then my friend. “Thanks for the wine,” I said.
“I saw you on the stage,” he said, “do you like coming here?” I felt excited sitting next to a local Hip Hop legend, but I had to play it cool—no sudden moves. “I love Jet Lounge. You made Wednesdays exciting. That’s pretty hard to do.” He smiled, and then cracked a laugh, passing me the blunt. We smoked for a few hours as he introduced us to his industry friends. Then I told him, “We’re going to head out. It’s getting pretty late.” He said, “It’s cool, baby. You’re welcome to come back anytime.”
Once Callie and I made it a block away, we locked eyes and screamed for joy, recalling all the events of the night. Currensy was down-to-earth and humble. He could have easily made fun of us for playing on stage, instead, he welcomed us in the VIP lounge and treated us to wine.
His respect for women left me pleasantly surprised. Nearly every time after that first introduction, Currensy would send me bottles of sparkling Rose when I showed up. One night, we toasted one another from across the room. Just like that, I felt seen.
Even though I felt attracted to Currensy and really enjoyed hanging out with him, I knew there were lines that you shouldn't cross. It was the nonsexual relationships with guys that I valued the most over time, as they were less fickle. My boyfriend Jody didn’t mind me going out with my friends because those types of outings predated our relationship. But he probably wouldn’t like how giddy I got after meeting Currensy for the first time, how he seemingly spoiled me with Rose, or how he made me feel “seen.”
When people look at you, they see what they want to see.
I’ve alway been the the type to drop things, trip, laugh at the wrong time, or display social awkwardness. But no one seemed to notice that about me. I think that night when Currensy saw me stumbling over lyrics on stage, he saw the real me.
After meeting Currensy, I felt empowered to chart my own path forward and define “coolness” and “popularity” in my own image. But I began to feel like a big fish in a small pond, known by all but also by none. It was time for a change.