Among the millions in Louisiana and Mississippi who lost family members and homes to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are some prominent musicians who reside on the Gulf Coast, from Juvenile to 3 Doors Down.
Now, with relief efforts heavily underway, those artists are balancing their grief by using their platforms to raise money, awareness and even some hope for their hometowns.
"Many of our folks in New Orleans didn't have much to begin with, and now they have lost everything," said Juvenile, whose home on Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish was destroyed along with all of his possessions. "Everyone has to pull together."
Juvenile was not in the area when the hurricane hit, but only about half of his 200 relatives evacuated in time and many are still missing. The rapper is performing at BET's "S.O.S. (Saving OurSelves): The BET Relief Telethon" on Friday and has been urging fans to donate to the Red Cross.
Another one of New Orleans' top rappers, Master P, lost his home and has taken action, forming Team Rescue (TeamRescueOne.com) to bring supplies to those left in New Orleans. He's also donated millions and will perform at the BET benefit.
Chopper, the "Making the Band" star whose debut album is due later this year on Diddy's Bad Boy Records, lost his house as well as friends from his childhood neighborhood, which was destroyed by flooding.
"Two of my high school friends drowned and a couple of my homies got shot out by the police," he said. "I ain't gonna lie, it's a hurtin' feelin'. It's hard for me to cry, but I shed a tear with this one."
Chopper donated $150,000 ("Out of my personal account, forget the business account," he noted) and has traveled to Houston and surrounding areas to aid in relief efforts. He's also written a song about watching his city crumble; "Crescent City Crisis" will appear on his forthcoming album.
In Miami for the MTV Video Music Awards, Chopper watched in terror as the hurricane aftermath unfolded on TV. "Hurricanes always miss us," he said. "I didn't take it that seriously. My family, though, always leave the city two or three days prior to any hurricane. Luckily they thought like that. My grandma got caught in the storm, though, and I just got in touch with her yesterday."
Chopper understands how the looting broke out — "Desperate times call for desperate measures," he said — and believes there is a misconception that his New Orleans neighbors are lazy people who rely on the government for support.
"I came from the slums where we were on welfare because we had to be," he said. "It's hard for a black man to get a job. I'm 19, but I've never had a job in my life. I applied for them when I was 16, but no one wants to hire you. So you gotta do what you can 'cause bills won't wait. It's hard for black people there. Louisiana is ranked the #2 worst-educated state. Mississippi is #1. You come on the battlefield and see how it really is."
Although he believes the situation in New Orleans will get worse before it improves, Chopper is confident the city will be restored.
"I got to be strong for my family, because I'm the only strong one," he said. "It's a pretty empty feeling losing your house, but materials are sooo, so much less than your life. Your life means more than anything. We can bounce back from that. That's a no-brainer."
In Biloxi, Mississippi, where 3 Doors Down got their start, Katrina did severe damage to several of the bandmembers' homes.
"Chris [Henderson], our guitar player, has eight feet of water in his house," singer Brad Arnold said. "He built a studio for us to write in and it's not thoroughly destroyed, but just because it's not leveled, doesn't mean it's fixable. There's also a few people in Chris' family that they don't know about. And Todd [Harrell, bassist] just bought a plantation house in the country and the roof got ripped off of it."
Arnold's house on the Mississippi River miraculously survived — "The very thing that makes it vulnerable is what saved it, and it's that it's on stilts," he said — but the singer went several days before finding out his father was still alive.
Since the hurricane hit, 3 Doors Down have been hosting food drives at each of their concerts and will donate all of their proceeds from Saturday's show in Atlanta, a portion of which will air as part of MTV's "ReAct Now: Music & Relief" special (see "Kelly, Stones, Kanye Added To Massive Disaster-Relief Special").
"After the show in Virginia, they laid all the food out and it covered the entire floor," Arnold said. "That makes you proud right there."
Arnold, a Bush supporter during the election last fall, was disappointed in the pace of the government's relief efforts, but believes the nation's time is better spent focusing on supporting victims rather than complaining.
"I think we should focus on salvaging the city and worry about pointing fingers later," he said. "We just need to get them out of there. It's a really difficult situation. I don't think people realize how many bridges are in the South and how many bridges go into all those cities. Biloxi, New Orleans, all of the bridges [going in] are gone. It's hard to maneuver in New Orleans anyway. It's just an old-designed city."
Other artists whose homes were destroyed include members of Better Than Ezra, jam band Galactic, the ReBirth Brass Band, Supagroup and Cowboy Mouth. Big Star's Alex Chilton and Fats Domino also lost homes, and the latter artist needed to be rescued by helicopter (see "New Orleans Evacuates As Mayor Issues 'Desperate SOS' ").
The Cash Money crew were not available for interviews, but are taking part in both BET and MTV's benefit events.
On Saturday, be sure to watch "MTV News Special: After the Storm," which premieres at 7:30 p.m. ET. And immediately after, stay tuned for "ReAct Now: Music & Relief," MTV, VH1 and CMT's Hurricane Katrina benefit concert special. The show will run from 8-11 p.m. ET and will feature Usher, Green Day, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Ludacris, the Rolling Stones, David Banner and many more.