by Lyndsey Beaulieu
First, you pat your legs, then you wave your hands. Hit them elbows two times, now you doing my dance.
"Twerk Something," Cheeky Blakk, 1994
For native New Orleanians, when we hear those words we know exactly what tune to sing along to, and more importantly we know exactly what to do – we twerk something. In this week's season premiere episode, "A Change is Gonna Come," Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) and his band Educated Fools play to a mostly empty house as he tries to hype what little crowd there is by giving it up for the "legendary Cheeky Blakk" performing on vocals. Her legendary status as the First Lady of Bounce is lost on the crowd of four or five sitting in the audience but Davis has never uttered a truer word.
Since the Miley Cyrus controversy at the MTV Video Music Awards this year, "twerking" has become part of the national lexicon, with everyone from news anchors to grandmas getting in on the rump shaking action. Like it or not, it's become part of the vernacular. But for those of us from New Orleans who've been bouncing to songs like "Twerk Something" since the early 90's we failed to see the controversy when Miley brought it to the national stage, especially because we know who brought it first. Cheeky Blakk is one of the originators, not to mention dominators of the New Orleans bounce music scene, with other bounce artists like Big Freedia, who was featured in Season 2 of "Treme," often giving credit where credit is due. As bounce music gains popularity nationwide and twerking contests are held in the streets of New York City, all roads lead back to Cheeky Blakk and her notorious hit "Twerk Something," rightfully making her the original Queen of Bounce.
I recently sat down with Cheeky Blakk and chatted about the origins of "Twerk Something," her work on "Treme," and how the excitement of her upcoming projects keeps her hungry.
Cheeky Blakk (born Angela Woods) first got her start in the New Orleans bounce scene as a backup dancer, where she met another local rap legend in the bounce world, Pimp Daddy. From there the two became an item, bounce royalty if you will, eventually putting their relationship issues on vinyl and writing diss songs about each other, leading to high energy battle performances and fans flocking to New Orleans clubs to see what the hype was about. With as much bravado on stage as any of her male counterparts, Cheeky became known for not only holding it down for female MC's, but for kicking the door in and demanding to be heard.
She released "Twerk Something" in 1994 and quickly followed it up with two more local monster hits – the Mannie Fresh produced "Let Me Get That Outcha," and "Bitch Get Off Me" released in 1995. During that time I couldn't go to a school dance, talent show, or house party without at least one, but probably all three of her monster hits tearing down the house. Those songs are from a time when bounce exploded onto the music scene in New Orleans and was dominated by male artists like DJ Jimi and DJ Jubilee, two other originators of the genre when you look up the timeline and history of bounce of music.
The influence of Cheeky's music has reached far beyond bounce and she's collaborated with artists such as Trombone Shorty, Galactic, and Grammy Award winners Rebirth Brass Band. The one collaboration that led her to "Treme" was with The Real Davis, Davis Rogan, and their innuendo laden song "Camry XXX." It was that partnership with Rogan that led him to suggest her for the collaboration with the fictional Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn).
I asked Cheeky about her experience working on "Treme" and if she could elaborate on some of her favorite moments on set.
"Working on 'Treme' was a natural thing for me. I'm an entertainer. But as far as me saying the things they wanted me to say, I just didn't want to mess up. Playing a version of myself, that felt strange…I was a little nervous, but I was like, 'fuck it.' But when it came time to perform on the show, I was ready to get it in. I was like, 'this is my life right here!' I'm naturally New Orleans when it come down to the get down."
Her two favorite moments on the show are probably ours as well. She loved the moment in last season's finale, "You Got to Be Crazy to Live in This Town," when she got to go "full ghetto" on McAlary (Steve Zahn) in the studio while recording his song "I Quit." The other fun memorable moment is in this week's episode when she plays to a practically empty club alongside McAlary.
"I'm up there, blood, sweat, and f*cking tears. We rocking it, and ain't nobody in this motherfucking club. That was fun." Fun probably because it's only fiction for her since she still manages to draw healthy crowds to every one of her shows.
Cheeky is appreciative not only for the opportunity "Treme" gave her, but also for what it did for New Orleans music in general, bringing it to the masses. "I'm glad they did something to shed a light on New Orleans. I wish they could do more, but it was a real beautiful thing they did for New Orleans culture, and to invite all the different aspects of New Orleans music and people… it's just like a gumbo. They did a damn good job."
In addition to appearing on "Treme," new opportunities continue to crop up for Cheeky Blakk. She's putting the finishing touches on her new album Life of a Veteran, which I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of, and I'm happy to confirm it's amazing new music with the familiar dance beats and growling voice guaranteed to get folks on the floor. There's a reality series on the horizon still in the early stages of development, and she's collaborating with performance artists Japanther, taking her once again outside the world of bounce music. But never one to forget where she came from, the collaboration she's probably most excited about these days is her project with Bustdown, a New Orleans rap legend in his own right with hits like "Putcha Bally's On." I think I can speak for all twerkers of a certain age when I say I can't wait for that collaboration either.
We wrapped up the conversation by talking about what these amazing opportunities mean for Cheeky and how she's taking it all in stride, but going stronger than ever.
"I'm still me. I'm still that same cheeky person. I don't change because I'm on 'Treme.' I don't change because I'm in a reality show. And I don't change because I have new music out. I'm still me. That's where I'm at with it… I'm still keeping up with the era. It doesn't matter which way they go or what they do, I'm still keeping up. I'm still doing it."
Indeed she is. And for those of us who know, it's definitely still, Cheeky Blakk in this mutha…