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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, especially in Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, Memphis, and Miami--the five of which constitute the "Southern Network" in rap music.
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. Many early Southern rap artists released their music independently or on mixtapes after encountering difficulty securing record-label contracts in the 1990s. 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. In the 1980s, cities throughout the Southern United States began to catch on to the hip hop music movement. 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. 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 and other artists who relied heavily on the Miami bass sound. In the late 1980s, other rising rap groups such as UGK from Port Arthur, Texas, and 8Ball & MJG from Memphis, moved to Houston to further their musical careers.
By the 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 and Kriss Kross, and 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. 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 eloquently 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."
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)." 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.
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. 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).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. The prevailing genre in contemporary hip hop is trap, which originated from the South. Rappers from across the country have implemented trap into their music. Kendrick Lamar's 2017 album DAMN incorporated elements of trap.
Unlike hip hop in other regions of the United States, numerous mainstream Southern rap artists did not come from larger cities and instead came from either suburban areas or areas with smaller hip hop scenes. Artists can implement both their rural and urban lifestyles into their art. Notable examples include Field Mob, natives of Albany, Georgia, Bubba Sparxxx, from LaGrange, Georgia, Absolute Da General, from Little Africa, South Carolina and Nappy Roots, from Bowling Green, Kentucky and the artists of Trill Entertainment out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Popular Southern artists to emerge in since the mid 2010s include Young Thug, Future, Travi$ Scott, 2 Chainz, Rae Sremmurd, Waka Flocka Flame, Gucci Mane, Rich Homie Quan, Post Malone, Migos, 21 Savage and Lil Yachty. In addition, many younger non-Southern artists such as French Montana, ASAP Rocky, Desiigner and Lil Uzi Vert have established themselves within the hip hop scene through southern flavored beats and have acknowledged being heavily influenced by Southern styles of hip hop.
In 2009, the New York Times called Atlanta "hip-hop's center of gravity", and the city is home to many famous hip-hop, R&B and neo soul musicians. Local multi-platinum artists include OutKast, Ludacris, T.I., Usher, Ciara, B.o.B and Young Jeezy. Others include:
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). MC Shy-D is credited with bringing authentic Bronx-style hip-hop to Atlanta (and Miami), such as 1988's Shake it 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.
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. The same article named Drumma Boy, Fatboi, Shawty Redd, Lex Luger and Zaytoven the five "hottest producers driving the city".
Before the early 1990s, most Southern hip hop was upbeat and fast, like Miami bass and crunk. In Texas, a different approach of slowing music down, rather than speeding it up, developed. It is unknown when DJ Screw definitively created "screwed and chopped" music. Although people associated with Screw have indicated any time between 1984 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. There is no debate, however, that DJ Screw invented the music style. 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 a large increase in use of purple drank in 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 perceived effect of slowing the brain down, giving slow, mellow music its appeal. DJ Screw, however, repeatedly denounced the claim that one has to use purple drank 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.
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 . A song that originally appeared on the compilation album The Day Hell Broke Loose 2, Mike Jones' "Still Tippin'", 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 was certified platinum that June.Paul Wall's major label debut, The Peoples Champ, on Swishahouse/Atlantic, was released in September 2005, eventually topping the Billboard 200. Before embarking on his rap career and while still at school, Wall had worked in the Swishahouse office. Some notable Texas artists include:
The first major rap artists out of Alabama was southern rap duo Dirty from Montgomery, Alabama. They sold well regionally before signing with Universal Records. Their major label debut, Keep It Pimp & Gangsta, is their best-selling album. Rich Boy, from Mobile, Alabama released his self-titled debut album in 2007. The album topped the Billboard Rap Albums chart and rose to third on the Billboard 200. His debut single, "Throw Some D's" charted sixth on the Billboard Hot 100. Yelawolf, from Gadsden, Alabama was the next successful rap artist to gain mainstream and popularity in the media and his music from Alabama. His debut album, Radioactive, was released in 2011 and met with positive reviews, debuting fourth on the Billboard Rap Albums chart.
The term crunk is used as a blanket term to denote any style of southern hip hop, but 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, and gained mainstream popularity in the period 2003-04. A typical crunk track uses a drum machine rhythm, heavy bassline, and shouting vocals, often in call and response manner.