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Rapper pays homage to Mid-City in new album

For rapper Arnold Burks, Mid-City New Orleans will always have special significance. After all, it’s where he was born, and it’s almost where he died. 

“I got rescued off the roof during Katrina there,” Burks recently recalled. “I almost died there. I’ll never forget — I had to leave my house with my father and brother and we swam to where the Whole Foods now is at Bienville. We had to go. There was four feet of water.”

During Hurricane Katrina, Burks was living on the corner of North White and Iberville streets, just a couple of blocks from Warren Easton Charter High School. It was the last time he lived in the neighborhood, and he remembers it like it was yesterday.

He was only 13 at the time, and he recalls playing video games, not wanting to evacuate with his mom and sister. And after the flood, he remembers being stranded for days, without food or water, with the other 100 to 200 people who had swam to safety up on the roof.

“It was a real different state of mind then,” Burks said.

But Burks doesn’t just like to remember Mid-City during the Katrina days. He also talks fondly of the architecture, the people the schools he remembers from the neighborhood where he grew up.

In fact, the area is such an integral part of his identity that he based his artist name on it. Mid-City AB, as he calls himself, has recently released a new album on Soundcloud called “Letter to New Orleans.” On it, songs like “Tulane and Broad (You Down Wit O.P.P.)” pay homage to the area he called home as a kid.

“Well, you know, I always felt like Mid-City was a different place from other places,” Burks said. “It’s so distinct. You get a little of everything. You get the poverty in places and then you can go a few blocks and see the mansions at City Park.”

After the storm, Burks relocated to Texas with his family. When he came back, he moved Uptown with his younger sister, mom and dad, in the Audubon area. He ended up graduating from McMain, and going on to study moving image arts at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he is now.

Burks, an aspiring visual and musical artist, concentrates mostly on art during the school year. Right now, he’s working on animation, drawing, painting and photography.

“I’m in school now, trying to graduate,” Burks said. “I try to do the rap stuff during the summer when I’m not in school. Hopefully I’ll get familiar with other categories of art, and I won’t have to work for anyone else — just myself. I’ll live the American Dream.”

When he does write music, however, he finds himself rapping about Mid-City over and over again.

For Burks, letting his fans and fellow artists know where he’s from is his way of opening up, and sharing who he really is. Aside from the songs on Soundcloud, other songs on YouTube talk about the streets where he used to hang out. “Asthma,” for example, mentions Mid-City, as does “Vomit.”

“The place you originate from is heavy a lot of times,” Burks said. “You can say a lot of things, but as you let people get familiar with where you’re from, then they start to warm up to you and they feel like they know you. It’s like you invite them into your home, and what not.”

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