Authenticity is the subject of endless debate in New Orleans. There are real concerns, such as the decline of the jazz scene on Frenchmen Street and the Tourism Board’s disneyfication of a French Quarter that runs on the sweat of service industry workers. There are sillier complaints too: second-wave gentrifiers calling out third-wavers for arriving too late, college professors bickering over which spots meet their academic standard of “cool.” Local rapper Delish Da Goddess cuts through the bullshit, transcending the endless spats over cultural consistency.
Hailing from half-an-hour outside city limits, the artist born Gabriel Major isn’t even technically a New Orleans native, but she embodies the city’s spirit in every other way. She’s the consummate crowd pleaser. Fighting through nerves and self-doubt every night, she puts her body and soul on full display and holds audiences in awe of her raw energy, putting on one of the best shows in a town saturated with live music. She gets her crowds moving and then hits them with jarringly upfront bars, infusing lo-fi trap beats with the energy of the queer bounce movement that put New Orleans hip-hop back on the map post-Wayne. The immediacy of Delish’s physical presence and her in-your-face, Gulf South hustle and flow demand attention and respect.
Delish released her seventh EP in June, titled Violet after the rural New Orleans suburb where she was raised. It’s both her most cohesive and most varied project yet, featuring five tracks that showcase entirely different flows and aesthetics, tied together by spoken interludes from her parents, and an intro and outro sung by her five-year-old niece. For the first time, Delish has managed to channel the energy that drives her live performance into a polished product. Since dropping the EP, she’s been waiting out the deadly Louisiana slow season in California, getting some much needed R&R in Big Sur and playing a few Bay Area shows before she makes her way back down south and returns to the studio.
People talk a lot about “real New Orleans music,” and everyone’s got their opinion about what meets that standard and what doesn’t. Do you think living outside the city helps you think outside that box?
I think it makes me appreciate. Even with bounce music, it took a straight guy like Drake to get on the beat for people to get introduced to it. But bounce music comes from soul. The [Mardi Gras] Indian chiefs use bounce music. New Orleans has a lot of soul in its music. If you talk about growing up in New Orleans, that’s a story within itself. People enjoy hearing something that’s relatable to them. I know my struggle isn’t different from anyone else’s struggle in any other state. Out here [in California], I talk to a lot of black women, and they’ll be like Yeah, I hear you.And my queer family, they hear me even louder. But New Orleans is a place with its own culture. It’s got its own box of music, its own creative mixture. I try to carry that with me everywhere I go.
Coming from Violet, though--growing up on the outskirts of New Orleans--do you think that’s given you some context, being just a little removed from the city?
Violet is a small town. Everybody who comes from a small town knows how hard it is to get out of that small town. The things you feel like you can do…Your friends growing up, they wanna be a firefighter, a hairstylist, a nurse. That’s the mindset of being in a small town. You don’t see anything bigger than what’s in front of you when you walk out your door. So just going into the city, it changes my whole perspective because I get to actually perform. It feels good. I feel like I have a voice. I feel like I can do what I want and say what I want, which is different from Violet, where I can still be me, but it’s not fully accepted.
Why do you still rep Violet so hard when you don’t feel like you can fully be yourself there, when you can’t even play shows there?
Because I look at my parents and I understand how they came up and how their life was. And they’re not telling me to stop. They’re kinda looking at me like What are you doing? But they’re not telling me to stop. So I feel like I have nothing to stop me. I have nothing telling me I can’t do this. And I love Violet; it’s where I came from. Everyone knows New Orleans, but Violet is one of those places no one really knows about. And a lot of people come from Violet. They do that transfer from Violet to Ninth Ward, so now they from Ninth Ward. But they really from Violet, though, so why can’t we just put on for Violet real quick?
You once told me the story of the first show you every played. Can you tell it again? I think it would help people understand where you’re coming from better than anything I could write.
My first show, I came out and I had this vision of how it was gonna go. You know how everyone goes out thinking It’s gon’ be this, it’s gon’ be that. So I came out in a choir robe and a baby mask and I was like It’s gon’ be tight. And then, when I was tryna start my first song, the beat dropped and my mic cord fell right out of my mic. So I was like How we gon’ handle this?I had my friends up there in the front, but it was a packed crowd and I didn’t know none of these people. So I just picked it up, put it back in and pretended nothing happened like Y’all ain’t see nothing.
How did you decide to wear a choir robe and a baby mask to your first show?
I have friends who just go to Goodwill and find robes. And I wore a baby mask one Halloween and wrote Delish on top of it. So I was like Yo, this might be a good look. I was just having fun. It was kind of Halloween, like late November.
[Laughs] It’s always Halloween. I got a pumpkin tattooed on my arm to let everyone know that every day is Halloween.
I think that speaks to the uncut confidence that gives you so much stage presence. Where does that come from?
I don’t even wanna call it confidence. Sometimes, I don’t think I’m confident enough to do a lot of things. It’s just energy. I pick up on people’s energy. You’ve got a crowd of people. In that moment, what do you do? The first show I performed in Oakland, I threw up. I was performing, I went and threw up behind the table and then I came back and finished performing. I didn’t want the show to end like that.
Was it nerves that made you throw up?
It was a lot of things. It was nervousness; it was emotionally connecting to the show. I connect to every show I do. I’m nervous right now, getting ready for my show tonight. I’m always scared and I’m always nervous, but I know that nobody came to see me scared or nervous. They came to see me perform; they came to see me at my best. I wanna give everybody the show they want and make them feel uplifted, like they can do exactly what I’m doing. I’m not doing nothing that nobody else can’t do. I put a lot of my heart and my time and my emotion into it. That’s what makes an artist. I have to plan. Once I hear I have a show, my mind is starting to digest what I have to do the last three days to make sure my voice doesn’t go out, to make sure I’m getting enough rest and I’m eating so I can get to where I need to be at. The show is just the fun part.
Speaking of plans, your latest project, Violet, feels much more planned out and structured than anything you’ve put out in the past. What was your vision for it?
Being from Violet and sitting out and talking to my momma and my daddy, they had a lot to say about this place. They wanted to tell me so much about Violet and how they grew up. It was perfect timing. I was like Tell me more. Everyone needs to hear about this because y’all have a story too. Just because y’all stuck here, you felt like you couldn’t tell it. I look at these two individuals who lost everything [to Hurricane Katrina]. They lost their homes and everything in them. And their kids lost everything too, so now it’s doubled up on losing everything they ever had. How can you rebuild from that? How can you become a stronger person? How can you not look weak in front of your kids? That’s how I take every show. It could be messed up, but you gotta do what you gotta do to make sure it’s good for everybody, whatever that might be. [Violet] is different from every other project because I can play it back when I’m traveling and be like These are the voices I need to hear. It’s a re-humbling. Violet is just a humbling pie. This is where my mind is at right now and I’m tryna find a better place than this. New Orleans is beautiful, but once you hit them farms, you in the middle of nowhere. Can’t leave outta there.
The interludes with your parents’ voices split the album up nicely. It feels like each section features a different Delish. Was that intentional or did it just shake out that way?
All the songs just happened that way. It took me a whole year to make this project, and every song happened in a different period. I did “Nals (Not Another Love Song)” a year ago. A few months later, I did “Queen,” and I was like Alright, I got two songs down but I still don’t have a project. I was just writing emotionally, which is how I love to create, coming right off the head. When I really feel creatively inspired to write something is when I wanna do it. I don’t wanna feel forced. I want it all to come in the moment, right when it happens. It ain’t even no re-recording of tracks. It’s just what it is in the moment. That’s what it’s gon’ be.
You only do one take?
Yeah, it’s crazy as fuck. I actually tried to redo one of the songs, but then hearing it in a whole different element, I was like No. It wasn’t meant to be like this. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea. I love the fact that these songs all came in the moment and then it was done. At the end, listening to what I’ve got, I’m like Alright, I wanna start with this one. I want people to hear rough, rough, rough. I want them to know that this is where I’m at. You hear all this roughness and it’s like This is how I’m coming. This is how I will forever come. But then I wanna show that there’s more to this. I wanna open up they mind and show them I’m not just that kind of rapper. I wanna explore different avenues and make songs with different beats and see how far I can make my voice go. That’s creativity right there. That’s some fun shit! Sorry, excuse my French.
“Queen” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. There’s that line in the chorus…
Guess they callin’ me a dyke now, but I’m dykin’ with they mommy. Yeah, that was the one right there. I think that line got across to whoever it was supposed to get across to and probably a few more. It probably opened up a can. Like Woah, I didn’t even know you was feeling that way.And I’m like Calm down. I ain’t talking about nobody’s mommy in particular. [Laughs]
I think that sums up your general attitude, though--that fearlessness. Getting “Goddess” tatted on your chest, too. You said you don’t call it confidence, just “energy,” but there are a lot of people who don’t have the confidence to do or say those things, and it’s inspiring to know there’s someone out there who does.
I got [the Goddess tattoo] at a time when I didn’t feel that powerful. It was one of those things where you just kinda be cloudy doing a thing. It was just like Yeah, I wanna get ‘Goddess’ tattooed across my chest. Why not? And over time, it started telling its own story. Now it’s like Goddess is that stamp of respect. Even in rooms with the most masculine men, they have a sense of respect for me because I have Goddess written across my chest. It almost puts me in a place where a man can’t call me a bitch. You can’t call me nothing but what I have written on my body. That’s the level of respect that every man should have for every female and also the level of respect I have for myself. I want to always carry myself in a way where it can be felt that this person demands respect and will also give that same amount of respect back. Nobody’s better than anybody in the same room.