Don't go to Fort Macomb in the summertime. James Prudhomme knows a lot of things about New Orleans and Louisiana, but he doesn't know this. His knowledge of rap music—both regionally and nationally—is vast. He references TV shows and movies like they're old friends. But he doesn't know about the bugs that infest Fort Macomb in the summertime.
You probably recognize Fort Macomb. If you can see past the clouds of insects hovering throughout, you'll find the catacombs and tall grass that served as the Yellow King's hideout on the season one finale of True Detective. Beyoncé shot some of her Lemonade film there as well. The current iteration of the citadel was built back in 1822 as a response to the British invasion of New Orleans by sea towards the end of the War of 1812. The Confederate Army occupied the territory 49 years later before the Union troops took it back in 1862. It was decommissioned in 1871, and when I visit with Prudhomme, it looks like we're the first people to show up since.
The 22-year-old producer—who records and performs under the moniker Suicideyear—has spent his entire life in Louisiana, until he began touring Europe and the States in 2015 off the heels of his 2014 EP, Remembrance, put out on Oneohtrix Point Never's Software Recordings. With his recently released LuckyMe debut Hate Songs , the project is a distillation of Prudhomme's world, a lens through which he experiences Louisiana. "I really fuck with a lot of stuff in New Orleans," he says. "I keep my ear open to a lot of shit because there's a lot of crazy rap in New Orleans."
After hacking through tall grass and swatting away every single bug in existence, James, myself, our photographer, and James' friend Ryan arrive at the fort. The entrance is about three feet off the ground and protected by an old steel window and a bunch of bricks. Both are easily moveable. The inside is beautiful, haunting and cavernous, with enough sunlight flowing through to keep it from being absolutely terrifying.
Once in the tunnels, you can get a nice view of the Mississippi River without having to dropkick flies the entire time, but it's hard to spend more than 30 minutes there without feeling like the walls are about to cave in. Something about this quiet, though, appeals to the producer and seeps its way into every corner of his Suicideyear project. "A lot of my shit makes me think of isolation—a lot of the songs on the album remind me of being all alone," he reflects. "Not to get too emotional and shit, it's just definitely an album that was meant to have that kind of effect. I don't know, the only shit you can do out here is be by yourself."
This initial sense of isolation came when Prudhomme moved to New Orleans two-and-a-half years ago. He left everything he knew behind after his family home outside of Baton Rouge burned down. More than existential fear or the apocalyptic dread of a coastal city forced to react in live time to climate change, this personal tragedy was a major catalyst for Hate Songs. When we talk about this city on the precipice—after Hurricane Katrina, after the numerous isolated storms that come more frequently than they used to, storms that have a tendency to treat structures like punching bags—Prudhomme takes these disasters in stride. "I've actually never experienced it like they have [in New Orleans]," he says, pointing out that Katrina didn't hit Baton Rouge nearly as hard as it did NOLA, with many hurricane victims in New Orleans fleeing to Baton Rouge, making it Louisiana's most populous city for a brief time. "I get all moody and broody about my house." Much of Hate Songs' cavernous feel comes from this; it bumps with hollowed out cannons for drums, and shattered synths.
While Prudhomme has warm memories of Baton Rouge, the EP's title is a reflection of his time there. "There's a spot out there called State Street. I spent a lot of time out there. I stayed with my friend Blaize a lot and he lived in a shittier part of Baton Rouge," he recalls. "It was a big heroin neighborhood and people were getting robbed. Aspects of that I hate Baton Rouge for, I hate how the heroin epidemic is out there. When I press him on what he loves about his former home, the answer is simple: "I love my family and my friends."
From Fort Macomb, we stay on the city's outskirts heading towards the MRGO, a peaceful Mississippi River overlook hit hard by recent storms to the point that buildings that stood during the producer's last visit are now wrecked. Looking out over the water we talk about the only truly important thing in Louisiana, Boosie. Lil Boosie is Lousiana incarnate, his voice inextricably linked to this place thanks to his otherworldly voice and ability to mix tales from the street with penetrating analyses of the corruption and hatred that permeate throughout Baton Rouge. Prudhomme lived in this world, and his music is inseparable from the rap he grew up on. By blending drill and trap with European-style house music, Suicideyear has become a freshly original voice in hip-hop's underground.
"You know 'Trap Star' by Young Jeezy? I never knew it growing up," he says referring to the Atlanta rapper's 2005 regional hit. "I only knew "They Dykin'." When I heard the Young Jeezy version, I thought it was a freestyle over "They Dykin'."" Our conversation eventually moves towards the rapper's eight-year incarceration, at which point Ryan—who's a graduate student at LSU and makes ambient music on the side—happily interjects, "That video on Tumblr! Of you crying!" Prudhomme explains, "They live broadcasted his murder verdict—" before Ryan again blurts out, "He was crying in the video!" Somewhere on the deep recesses of personal blogs lies a video of the producer crying at the not-guilty verdict. It's hard to imagine he was the only one.
After po boy banh mi's on the way back to town, we stop at Prudhomme's house to take a look at his studio. He shares a place with two roommates—one he likes, one he despises—in a neighborhood that forms a triangle with the South 7th Ward and Marigny, just south of the French Quarter. An episode of The Sopranos is playing on the producer's computer, while he sits on the couch rolling a joint. It's in his bedroom, a cramped space with nothing more than an ironing board, a Justin Bieber photo, and a bed. This is where he does the most of his beat-making, using nothing more than a laptop and headphones. But when he's not home he's at his friend Chris Burrell's house, who records under the name Outthepound. The two put out an excellent EP together last year titled BROTHERS, a beautiful concoction of ambient undertones, rave synths, and grime spread all over.
Suicideyear first decided to make beats after watching a Lex Luger beat-making video over and over again.."At one point I was like, 'Why do I keep watching videos of Lex making beats?' Fuck this, I'm just gonna make one," he tells me. This was in 2012. Five years later and he's a bonafide, in-demand producer. He doesn't really seem to care or notice. He seems to have too busy hanging with his friends, smoking weed, making beats, and geeking out to Chief Keef to worry about album sales or another tour. After all, nothing really matters outside of Louisiana.
Before we leave the house, he puts his computer and production gear in the closet and ties the doors together with a shoelace. "You never know who can get in here."
Mid City Pizza is a New Orleans staple, known for its good food and as a haven for artists looking to pick up some work between gigs and sessions, including Prudhomme himself. When we arrive, Rand, the shop's owner, brings out today's special, a vegan pizza with red beans replacing the sauce.
Mid City Pizza is a unique spot because it's essentially a second hub for Community Recordings, with many artists on the label earning cash working at the shop. Community's aesthetic veers towards brash emo, rock, and post-harcore stuff, a lot of different sounds Prudhomme grew up on and still incorporates into his music. Hate Songs is a strangely delightful mix of highly emotive melodies, pummeling trap hi-hats, and synths that range from deliriously pretty to earth shattering.
This brings up the all-important question of what sort of pizza Suicideyear is. " Hate Songs is one with whole basil leaves, but not much cheese. More important on the sauce." He speaks with artful precision. "The basil leaves would be scattered, very far apart. You could have a little cheese, but it'd have to be pretty scattered. It'd be really strange looking. A nonlinear pie," he concludes. The beverage to accompany such a concoction is an "180 degree octane daiquiri from Jean's Curbside," because why not? Cheeseless pizzas and octane daiquiri's all around, please.
Our last stop of the day is at a bar called Big Daddy's, a dirty dive sitting firmly in the Marigny district, a few blocks from the north side of the Mississippi River. When Prudhomme describes the bar, he goes into a brief rant on the current state of grunge—a word he uses to describe the crustiest among us. "Some people make such an aware attempt at being grunge. My favorite grunge is people walking around in 2003 LSU championship t-shirts, not the kids that decide to patch up their shirts," he explains, completely unprompted by a question; this is the shit that matters. This is obviously a monologue he's practiced before. "Scratch-off tickets and a pack of Doral smokes, you can't create that grunge. That's the authentic grunge."
At 4 PM the place is dead and the plastic cover that keeps visitors from playing infinite games of pool is gone, so that's what we do. Prudhomme isn't particularly fond of the bar, although it somehow attracts him like a magnet. "There are six degrees in New Orleans—like there are six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Every night I go out I end up at Big Daddy's. It just ends up that way," he says. This is clearly the earliest he's ever been pulled in by its forces. "It doesn't have nearly the luster at 4 PM as it does at 4 AM," he notes.
After a few rounds of pool accompanied by a collection of Keef songs improbably stashed on the jukebox, it's time to depart. For me, to dinner and Bourbon Street where I'll find heaven in a Jimmy Buffet Bar serving Hand Grenades, and hell later while hovering over the bathroom toilet. Prudhomme will probably work on some beats, hit the town, end up right where we are, the pull of Big Daddy's once again oddly strong.
Earlier in the day, I had asked the producer what keeps him in New Orleans. After visiting a large part of the Western world thanks to his music, what is it about this city that matters? "New Orleans is its own city. There aren't a lot of cities that are their own city anymore. LA isn't, New York isn't, fucking San Francisco. That shit's unrecognizable." He answers this quickly and then pauses. Suicideyear is inextricably linked to Louisiana. "When I talk to people in the music world and they give me their pre-conceived notions of Louisiana, it's still very much the blind lady who knows voodoo and the Spanish moss." Prudhomme is worried that his music won't translate. "I feel like there are a lot of elements of Louisiana in my music that are hard to pick up on if you don't know how it is out here."
But there's an innate humanity to Suicideyear—from James as a person to his earlier releases, and now with Hate Songs. There's a beating heart in his music. The thread that runs through doesn't bleed Tiger purple and gold, it just bleeds. What becomes apparent after spending a day in his world is that nowhere else really matters to James Prudhomme, but people do—no matter where they reside. That's why he loves to travel the world but will always come back home. "Shit man, I want to die in New Orleans."
Will Schube is a writer based in Texas. Follow him on Twitter.