Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Gulf Coast, survivor Kimberly Rivers, a.k.a. Black Kold Madina, is moving on with her life and her burgeoning rap career, which she hopes will be propelled by the success of a documentary, “Trouble the Water,” that follows her family’s journey after the storm touched down. (Photo courtesy of The Press House)
Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Gulf Coast, many who survived are still looking for ways to recuperate and move on with their lives. For Katrina survivor Kimberly Rivers, “moving on” meant revamping her music career.
Rivers is best known for her starring role in the film “Trouble the Water,” which followed her family in the immediate aftermath of the storm and recently received an Academy Award nomination in the “Best Documentary Feature” category. She is still in New Orleans today, rebuilding her life and jumpstarting her rap career.
“I love hip-hop,” said Rivers, a.k.a. Black Kold Madina, in an interview with the Banner. “I grew up around it. I lived and breathe it. Rapping was and still is my lifeline.”
Growing up in the Lower Ninth Ward, Rivers started as a schoolyard rapper during her teen years, rhyming with New Orleans rap artists like B.G. and Lil Wayne before the latter became a well-known chart-topper.
Not knowing at the time that the guys she was trading verses with were on their way to becoming stars, Rivers said, she did not take her music seriously at first. But after seeing them perform on Black Entertainment Television, she was inspired to get her own music career off the ground.
She performed in a number of talent shows and radio programs before releasing her first underground demos, called “Tryed and True.” But she had a hard time finding a record label to distribute the album.
“I didn’t want to give up on my music,” she said. “I got out in the streets and sold my CDs. I was determined to make this happen for me.”
Then came Katrina, which devastated Rivers’ community, forced her to evacuate her family to Memphis and briefly derailed her music career. She’d left behind all of her music, and thought it was gone forever.
Luckily for her, a family member she was staying with in Memphis had a copy of “Tryed and True.” Rivers said that getting her music back was a “second inspiration” for her, which she took as a sign that her life was spared by the storm and that she was meant to carry on her musical pursuits.
Upon returning to New Orleans a few months later, she began writing songs again, this time rhyming about the harsh realities of the city post-Katrina.
“Some of my songs make you laugh and cry at the same time,” she said. “I am trying to talk about what is happening here to start a movement and get New Orleans back up.”
Rivers has also started her own label, Born Hustler Records, to help other Gulf Coast rappers get their music careers going. Because of New Orleans’ rich musical heritage, Rivers said, the sounds of singing and instruments playing in the streets still bring the city to life.
Rivers said that she was “not pleased” with the way former President George W. Bush handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but is happy to hear that President Barack Obama plans to send more aid to the Gulf Coast.
As for her own music career, Rivers recently released her second album, the soundtrack to “Trouble the Water.” She said she hopes that the documentary’s recent Oscar nod will bring some notoriety to the project that will trickle down and help spread the word about her music.
But for now, she is willing to wait and keep working toward fame.
“My music is what is keeping me going, and that is what keeps me happy these days,” she said.
Many books and films have been made in the last three years about the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. But the new film “Trouble the Water” is the first documentary shot in part by Katrina survivors before, during and after the storm — giving new meaning to citizen journalism. More »
The Web site of Kim Rivers' self-run record label includes information on her work as Black Kold Madina, press pieces written about her music, links to free downloads and more. More »
Through a series of phone calls and Internet searches, the filmmakers located a number of evacuees, all telling different versions of the same tale of frustration with a country they felt failed them. More »