Why Nicky Da B's Death Will Be Felt Past New Orleans Roots

The 24-year-old bounce artist created music that expanded its local roots

Nicky Da B
Lauren Silberman
Nicky Da B
By |

UPDATE: Nicky da B's manager Rusty Lazer posted a donation request to help with the musician's expenses. "Times are tough. If you have a little bit to spare, Nicky da B's mom is accepting donations for funeral expenses on Paypal. Send it as a gift to toney293@aol.com. Thank you all for the massive amount of love and support. It’s really sustaining all of us right now."

Nicky da B, the vibrant New Orleans bounce artist who gained worldwide fame with the Diplo-produced "Express Yourself," passed away Tuesday from as-yet-unannounced causes, according to his publicist. He was just 24.

"Express Yourself" was released in 2012, with a viral video that evolved from a homegrown appreciation of New Orleans bounce music and handstand twerking to a smash hit that landed in a Doritos Super Bowl commercial two years post-facto.

But Nicky da B, born Nickesse Toney in New Orleans' Carrollton neighborhood, was much more than one song. He was a bright light who represented the next generation of NOLA bounce, the homegrown dance music in which twerking originated. His 2012 album, Please Don't Forget da B, showcased his kinetic style, which combined traditional bounce beats with a cheeky sense of humor. On "Go Loko," one of his more iconic jams, he rapped, "Spider-man, Spider-man, clap dem cakes as fast as you can," interpolating the theme song from the classic 1967 cartoon with a playful beseech to the booty.

Nicky da B was deferential to the long lineage of bounce, which he came to at the age of 14 under the tutelage of Big Freedia and his "gay mother" Katey Red, as a dancer before he was a rapper. But he was always clear-minded about being bounce's future. "I’m a part of this generation of bounce," he told me in 2012. "I’m more influenced by techno and pop and stuff like that, versus [the older generation], who are more influenced by rap and R&B. There’s still people that’s comin' out in my time and they still rap like [iconic New Orleans artists] Magnolia Shorty or Ms. Tee or Cheeky Blakk and stuff like that. I’m more different than they are; I’m more original in my sense. I make up words and stuff like that, but it all comes from me."

Earlier this summer, he released "Lights Off," a collaboration with the innovative German dance-music duo Schlachthofbronx which showed where he might be headed: bounce rapping chopped and pitch-shifted over a minimalist inversion of its beats. 

Just one month after the "Express Yourself" video dropped in 2012, when he was still riding high off the success of "Hot Potato Style" — one of his biggest tracks — he embarked on a mini-tour of New York City, playing four shows in two boroughs in as many days. At the time, he was crashing in a Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, artist space along with his three dancers and his DJ, Rusty Lazer, and was excited at the prospect that bounce music had become so popular beyond NOLA's bounds. "I don’t even have a fear or worry of anything when I’m onstage," he said. "My main fear is that I hope I won’t drop the mic if my hands are sweaty. If I switch hands and it still falls to the floor, then I just lay on the floor and rap."

On Tuesday, Rusty Lazer expressed his sorrow on Facebook. "There are no words to express the loss all of us who knew Nicky Da B are feeling right now. Thank you all for the kind messages and thoughts," he wrote. "Though his death is tragic he would love nothing more than to be remembered for having brought smiles and joy to people he worked with, performed for and called his friends. He was well loved and one of the brightest artists I've ever known. Keep his family in your thoughts as we make plans to honor his life and make sure his legacy is meaningful and fitting for a talent like his. Thank you all so much. I loved that kid, and the world is a little darker without him."

x