Galactic’s eighth album, Ya-Ka-May, pulses with track after track of dirty dancing, acid-jazz-tinged hip-hop and soul, slam full of the zip and pluck of their native New Orleans. To put it as clearly as possible, Ya-Ka-May will shake that filthy ass until all the stank has done gone and rolled on out of it. Full of New Orleans living legends Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, Corey Henry, John Boutté, Josh Cohen, Glen David Andrews, and Walter “Wolfman” Washington, what makes Ya-Ka-May not just another guestastic groove band effort is the inclusion of rappers Cheeky Blakk, Big Freedia, Katey Red, and Sissy Nobby. Big Freedia shines on “Double It,” his voice a deep bass tone bumping comfortably down with Stanton Moore’s gargantuan beat. The groove is reminscent of mid-‘90s Death Row, but it burns with the pain, anguish, resilience, and joy of New Orleans. Cheeky Black provides the most memorable hook, bellowing “Hey, motherfucker, hey.” Ned Sublette writes that she is a “part of an energetic local gender-bending music scene where sissy (their word) rappers write and perform bounce music—something new that’s also something old, in a town long known for what used to be called ‘female impersonators.’”
Unlike the Black Keys release Blakroc, Ya-Ka-May succeeds in combining a tight band with a group of rappers (perhaps due to prior familiarity as virtually everyone involved is from the Big Easy). Galactic, who sound better than they ever have, put the bone in the album’s backbone, finding new sounds, new ways to package dance music, new funk. And that new funk mixed with Irma Thomas’s ageless voice on “Heart of Steel” create a sound that defies petty human categories like old and new. The salmagundic nature of Ya-Ka-May is indicated in its name, which refers to an Oriental soup popular in New Orleans that is “made with whatever meat you have on hand, plus noodles, green onions and a hard-boiled-egg, it can feed a lot of people cheaply. It’s said to be a hangover cure.” And Ya-Ka-May works as a hangover cure. It works as a shot of energy to get a slow Tuesday movin’. It works as end-of-the-night album, and as a morning commute album, but mostly it works as a celebration of New Orleans and a display of the deepening of funk of Galactic.