Southern hip hop

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Southern hip hop, also known as Southern rap, South Coast hip hop, or dirty south, is a blanket term for a regional genre of American hip hop music that emerged in the Southern United States and the Southeastern United States, especially in Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, Memphis, and Miami—five cities which constitute the "Southern Network" in rap music.[2][3][4]

The music was a reaction to the 1980s flow of hip hop culture from New York City and the Los Angeles area and can be considered a third major American hip hop genre, after East Coast hip hop and West Coast hip hop.[5] Many early Southern rap artists released their music independently or on mixtapes after encountering difficulty securing record-label contracts in the 1990s.[6] By the early 2000s, many Southern artists had attained national success, and as the decade went on, both mainstream and underground varieties of Southern hip-hop became among the most popular and influential of the entire genre.


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the American hip hop music market was primarily dominated by artists from the East Coast and West Coast. Los Angeles and New York City were the two main cities where hip hop was receiving widespread attention. The West Coast was mainly represented by groups like N.W.A., Death Row Records, and the East Coast had people like The Notorious B.I.G. and groups like the Wu-Tang Clan.[7] In the late 1980s, cities throughout the Southern United States began to catch on to the hip hop music movement.[7] The Geto Boys, a hip hop group from Houston, were among the first hip hop artists from the Southern United States to gain widespread popularity. Southern hip hop's roots can be traced to the success of Geto Boys' Grip It! On That Other Level in 1989, the Rick Rubin produced The Geto Boys in 1990, and We Can't Be Stopped in 1991.[8] After the Geto Boys rose to stardom, Houston became the center for Southern hip hop. Miami also played a major role in the rise of Southern hip hop during this time frame with successful acts like 2 Live Crew (originally formed in California but fully relocated to Miami around 1987) and other artists who relied heavily on the Miami bass sound. In the early 1990s, other rising rap groups such as PKO from San Antonio, Texas, UGK from Port Arthur, Texas, and 8Ball & MJG from Memphis, moved to Houston to further their musical careers.

By the mid-1990s, Atlanta had become a controlling city in southern hip hop music. LaFace Records had given Atlanta a reputation as "the Motown of the South" with acts like TLC, Usher, and Kriss Kross. Local production crews such as Organized Noize that represented hip hop groups such as OutKast and Goodie Mob played a huge part in helping the South become a center for hip hop music.[9][10][11] OutKast became the first Southern artists to generate album sales like the powerhouse rappers on the East and West coasts.

A defining moment for Southern rap was at the 1995 Source Awards. The duo Outkast had just been awarded Best New Artist, and within the tension that was the East Coast–West Coast feud, member André came up on stage followed by boos and said, "But it's like this though, I'm tired of them closed minded folks, it's like we gotta demo tape but don't nobody want to hear it. But it's like this: the South got something to say, that's all I got to say." As stated by rapper T.I., "Outkast, period. Outkast. That's when it changed. That was the first time when people began to take Southern rap seriously."[12]

The most successful Southern independent labels during the mid-to-late 90s came out of the cities of Memphis and New Orleans. Both scenes borrowed heavily from a production style first introduced by way of the obscure late-1980s New York rap group The Showboys, heavily sampling the beats from their song "Drag Rap (Trigger Man)."[13] By the turn of the century these scenes found mainstream success through Cash Money Records and No Limit Records out of New Orleans and Hypnotize Minds out of Memphis, revolutionizing financial structures and strategies for independent Southern rap labels. According to hiphopdx, "Not only is the South on the radar, but now the region that was an underdog is the barometer for rap music and HipHop culture.” By the early to mid-2000s, artists from all over the South had begun to develop mainstream popularity with artists like T.I., Ludacris, Lil Jon, Young Jeezy from Atlanta, Trick Daddy and Rick Ross from Miami, Lil Wayne and Juvenile from New Orleans, and Three 6 Mafia from Memphis all becoming major label stars during this time.[14][15] In 2004, OutKast won six Grammy awards for their album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, including Best Album, while in 2006 the members of Three 6 Mafia won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" from Hustle and Flow, a Hollywood film about a fictional Southern rap artist. In 2005, the Houston rap scene saw a revival in mainstream popularity, and many Houston rappers started to get nationwide and worldwide audiences such as Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Chamillionaire, Lil' Flip, Slim Thug, Z-Ro, Trae, and many members of the Screwed Up Click.

The height of Southern hip-hop was reached from 2002 through 2004. In 2002, Southern hip-hop artists accounted for 50 to 60 percent of the singles on hip-hop music charts. On the week of December 13, 2003, Southern urban artists, labels and producers accounted for six of the top 10 slots on the Billboard Hot 100: OutKast had two singles, Ludacris, Kelis (produced by The Neptunes), Beyoncé and Chingy (on Ludacris' Disturbing Tha Peace label). In addition to this, from October 2003 through December 2004, the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart was held by a Southern urban artist for 58 out of 62 weeks. This was capped by the week of December 11, 2004 when seven out of the top ten songs on the chart were held by or featured Southern urban artists. In 2004, Vibe magazine reported that Southern artists accounted for 43.6% of the airplay on urban radio stations (compared to 29.7% for the Midwest, 24.1% for the East Coast and 2.5% for the West coast).[16] Rich Boy from Mobile, Alabama was successful in 2007 with his debut album. Since the early 2010s, many contemporary hip hop artists have become mainstream.


In 2009, the New York Times called Atlanta "hip-hop's center of gravity",[1] and the city is home to many famous hip-hop, R&B and neo soul musicians.[17]

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Atlanta's hip hop scene was characterized by a local variant of Miami's electro-driven bass music, with stars like Kilo Ali, MC Shy-D, Raheem the Dream and DJ Smurf (later Mr. Collipark).[1] MC Shy-D is credited with bringing authentic Bronx-style hip-hop to Atlanta (and Miami), such as 1988's Shake it[18] produced by DJ Toomp; Jones was signed to controversial southern rap label Luke Records, run by Luther Campbell aka "Uncle Luke". Arrested Development won the Grammy in 1992 with "Tennessee", while "Mr. Wendal" and "People Everyday" and Kris Kross won with their hit song "Jump".

By the mid-1990s, the rise of OutKast, Goodie Mob and the production collective Organized Noize, let to the development of the Dirty South style of hip-hop and of Atlanta gaining a reputation for "soul-minded hip-hop eccentrics", contrasting with other regional styles. August 3, 1995 Outkast received the award for best new artist in New York City at the Source Awards. At the time the primary hip hop heard nationally was from artists on the East and West Coasts, due at least in part to high profile disputes between rappers from each coast. It was groups such as Outkast who were determined to let the world know that the South had something to say.[1]

From the late 1990s to early 2000s, producer Lil Jon was a driving force behind the party-oriented style known as crunk. Record producers L.A. Reid and Babyface founded LaFace Records in Atlanta in the late-1980s; the label eventually became the home to multi-platinum selling artists such as Toni Braxton, TLC, Ciara. It is also the home of So So Def Records, a label founded by Jermaine Dupri in the mid-1990s, that signed acts such as Da Brat, Jagged Edge, Xscape and Dem Franchise Boyz. The success of LaFace and SoSo Def led to Atlanta as an established scene for record labels such as LaFace parent company Arista Records to set up satellite offices.

In 2009, the New York Times noted that after 2000, Atlanta moved "from the margins to becoming hip-hop's center of gravity, part of a larger shift in hip-hop innovation to the South." This had a lot to due with the massive popularity of Waka Flocka Flame's 2009 debut mixtape. Producer Drumma Boy called Atlanta "the melting pot of the South". Producer Fatboi called the Roland TR-808 ("808") synthesizer "central" to Atlanta music's versatility, used for snap, crunk, trap, and pop rap styles.[1] The same article named Drumma Boy, Fatboi, Shawty Redd, Lex Luger and Zaytoven the five "hottest producers driving the city".[1]


Houston's Hip Hop artist Z-ro.
Hip Hop artist Z-Ro from Houston Texas

In the late 1980s, the Geto Boys were Houston's first rap group to gain mainstream popularity. In the early 1990s, Texas rap groups such as PKO and UGK also gained popularity. Before the early 1990s, most Southern hip hop was upbeat and fast, like Miami bass and crunk. In Texas the music was generally slower. In the early 1990s DJ Screw created "chopped and screwed" music. Although people associated with Screw have indicated any time between 1987 and 1991, Screw said he started slowing music down in 1990. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Dj Dinero And Dj Z-Nasty helped popularize Chopped And Screwed music in the Mid South.[19] There is no debate, however, that DJ Screw invented the music style.[20] He discovered that dramatically reducing the pitch of a record gave a mellow, heavy sound that emphasized lyrics to the point of almost storytelling. After experimenting with the sound for a while Screw started making full length "Screw Tapes".

Between 1991 and 1992, there was increased abuse of purple drank in East Texas. Purple drank has been considered to be a major influence in the making of and listening to chopped and screwed music due to its effect of slowing down perception. DJ Screw said that purple drank is not required to enjoy screwed and chopped music. Screw, a known user of purple drank, said he came up with chopped and screwed music when high on marijuana.[19]

As the spread of Southern hip hop continued, its mainstream breakthrough occurred in 2000. Rap duo UGK made a high-profile guest appearance on Jay-Z's smash hit "Big Pimpin'" and also appeared on Three 6 Mafia's hit "Sippin' on Some Syrup." Both of these collaborations greatly increased their reputation and helped fuel anticipation for their next project.The Hip Hop world was ready for the next adventure but unfortunately the UGK rapper Pimp C died from a sudden heart attack after overdosing on purple drank on December 4, 2007 at the age of 33. A song that originally appeared on the compilation album The Day Hell Broke Loose 2, Mike Jones' "Still Tippin'", which achieved mainstream success in 2004 leading to local Houston rap label Swishahouse signing a national distribution deal with Asylum Records. Jones released his major label debut, Who Is Mike Jones?, on Swishahouse/Warner Bros. in April 2005; the album Who is Mike Jones? went certified platinum that June.[21] Paul Wall's major label debut, The Peoples Champ, on Swishahouse/Atlantic, was released in September 2005, eventually topping the Billboard 200.[22] Before embarking on his rap career and while still at school, Wall was also working in the Swishahouse office.[23]


In the late 1990s "bounce" music was born in New Orleans. In 1992, Cash Money Records was founded, releasing bounce and gangster rap music.


The term crunk is used as a blanket term to denote any style of southern hip hop,[24] it is mainly used to denote a musical style that was originated by Three Six Mafia in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-to-late 1990s. It was popularized by Atlanta rapper Lil Jon,[25] and gained mainstream popularity in the period 2003–04.[26] A typical crunk track uses a drum machine rhythm, heavy bassline, and shouting vocals, often in call and response manner.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d e f John Caramanica (December 13, 2009). "Gucci Mane, No Holds Barred". New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
  2. ^ "index magazine interview". Retrieved August 9, 2012.
  3. ^ Burks, Maggie (September 3, 2008). "Southern Hip-Hop". Jackson Free Press. Retrieved September 11, 2008.
  4. ^ Wilson, Jocelyn (2007). "Outkast'd and Claimin' True: The Language of Schooling and Education in the Southern Hip-Hop Community of Practice" (PDF).
  5. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (April 17, 2005). "The Strangest Sound in Hip-Hop Goes National". The New York Times. Retrieved September 11, 2008.
  6. ^ allmusic
  7. ^ a b "Rap & Hiphop History". Archived from the original on March 1, 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  8. ^ Westhoff, Ben (March 18, 2011). "Dirty South". Village Voice. Archived from the original on April 23, 2011. Retrieved March 18, 2011.
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  10. ^ Lamont Hill, Marc (2013). Schooling Hip-Hop: Expanding Hip-Hop Based Education Across the Curriculum. Teacher's College Press. ISBN 978-0807754313.
  11. ^ "OutKast". The Guardian. July 21, 2008.
  12. ^ TheMaxTrailers (October 12, 2014), Outkast winning Best New Rap Group at the Source Awards 1995, retrieved May 6, 2018
  13. ^ Hebblewaith, Phil. "808 State Of Mind: Proto-Crunk Originator DJ Spanish Fly". The Quietus. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  14. ^ Grem, Darren E. "The South Got Something to Say": Atlanta's Dirty South and the Southernization of Hip-Hop America." Southern Cultures 12.4 (2006): 55–73. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. Sep 14, 2011.
  15. ^ Westhoff, Ben. "Finger-Lickin' Rap." Utne Reader 166 (2011): 80–83. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. Sep 14, 2011
  16. ^ Roni Sarig "Third Coast: OutKast, Timbaland, & How Hip-Hop Became A Southern Thing." pg xiv–xv
  17. ^ Rose, Joel (July 4, 2008). "Atlanta soul scene reborn". NPR. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
  18. ^ Mickey Hess (2009). Hip Hop in America: A Regional Guide: Volume 1: East Coast and West Coast. ABC-CLIO. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
  19. ^ a b "Givin It To Ya Slow: DJ Screw interview from RapPages (1995)", Press Rewind If I Haven't.
  20. ^ "Music Archived March 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine", Frieze magazine, Archive, Issue 135 November–December 2010.
  21. ^ RIAA certification database (search "mike jones")
  22. ^ The People's Champ (Billboard 200 chart), Billboard, June 24, 2006.
  23. ^ "Interview With T Farris". HitQuarters. December 5, 2005. Retrieved June 21, 2010.
  24. ^ Art, Charlie. "The History Of Southern USA Hip Hop (1998-2007)". Retrieved July 9, 2015.
  25. ^ "Lil Jon crunks up the volume", New York Times, November 28, 2004
  26. ^ a b "Southern Lights", Vibe Dec 2003

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