The rise of Southern hip-hop took us all by surprise. It’s signature sound reflects very little of what i value about our culture. When i pictured the South i saw rims, strip clubs and money. Bar a few notable exceptions, I’ve always found it’s lyrical content to be lacking in creativity. It is for precisely this reason i failed to explore it’s rich history. Today I am a changed man, i would like to dedicate this post to my conversion. I am ready to concede my ignorance and proclaim i knew very little of the underground scene and the valuable contributions it’s made to our hip-hop fraternity. Instead of treating the South as the black sheep of the family, it’s time we all embraced her as the true partner of the East and West Coast.

“Continue Reading After The Jump…”

The story of Southern success begins with the Geto Boys. In 1989 Rick Rubin came on board to revamp their second album “Grip It! On Another Level”. His work brought publicity to the gangsta rap pioneers. Finding distribution was tough, but Rick’s faith was rewarded when “The Geto Boys” finally saw it’s release. For the first time the South had it’s own N.W.A. backed by the charismatic Scarface. Touching on social commentary and street ethics, the music was ahead of it’s time. Just as Ice T was revolutionising hip-hop, the Geto Boys thrilled audiences with their violent imagery and shocking lyrics. Yet, far from being limited in their subject matter, the group were more versatile than their competition. By 1991 “We Can’t Stop” was on the minds of all hip-hop fans.

Geto Boys – Mind Playing Tricks On Me


If the Geto Boys provided an important building block, the artistry of the South was ready to make an even bigger impact with it’s soulful brand of conscious hip-hop. In 1992, Arrested Development released “3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days In The Life Of…” an album which still holds up today. The songs were cheerful and uplifting, a valid partner to the Native Tongues Posse. Their music was best known by their catchy single “Everyday People”. It’s cross over appeal showcased a new sound to an ever growing audience. The South was finding it’s feet with a funky and vibrant form of hip-hop, laying the ground work for an artistic hotstreak which was set to come.

1994 saw the introduction of Outkast. Taking the styles of Arrested Development and A Tribe Called Quest yet reinventing them in their own image. Big Boi and Andre 3000 don’t know the meaning of the word “can’t”, mocking the limitations placed on them, they went against the conventions of how hip-hop should sound. “Git Up Get Out” even features a young Cee-Lo who was part of the Dungeon Family collective. Cee-Lo arrived alongside Outkast and other promising hip-hop acts. Who could have imagined that nearly 20 years on, a group with its roots firmly based in the underground, would go on to conquer the mainstream with hits like “Hey Ya” and “Roses”. But it was their emergence from the South in an era of creativity that best captured the talented duo.

Outkast – Git Up Git Out


Scarface of the Geto Boys continued to remain active during this period and in the same year he released “The Diary” a classic gangster rap album. As a distinct sound began to emerge, an altogether more boom-bap orientated style was popular in New York. Not all fans of hip-hop were embracing the likes of the Geto Boys, preferring the ‘East Coast Sound’. The irony was that DJ Premier was actually born in Texas. Premier was New York’s hottest producer and remains an all time legend.

Goodie Mob who released their first album “Soul Food” in 1995, would go on to make a similar impact. Big Gipp, Khujo & T-Mo made their first big break on the debut Outkast album. Their emcee and occasional singer Cee-Lo, delivered one of the biggest hits of the 00’s as part of Gnarls Barkley. If “Crazy” was infectious then the album “Soul Food” was it’s baby incarnation. The group was influential with its commentaries on race relations and poverty, fusing elements of gospel with hardcore hip-hop.

Goodie Mob – Soul Food


In 2000, Dead Prez released “Let’s Get Free”, the album was deemed a counter-culture to mainstream rap. The South had created stars like Master P and Nelly, yet those artists were being blamed for the downfall of hip-hop. People identifed the region with a low standard. Even today, many people over look the fact that Dead Prez boast a Florida native in Stic Man. Krs-One went on to battle Nelly and accused him of being a pop rapper. It led to a divide between the Coasts, with many hip-hop heads choosing to ignore the region.

Nelly was a commerical success and sparked numerous rip off’s like Chingy and J-Kwon. Club culture sprung up and the South became famous for grills and wack rappers. Behind the scenes, classics were being dropped by the likes of K-Otix who put out “Universal”. Fans saw Texas as a hip-hop embarassment, yet albums such as “Universal” were recieving too little promotion to tackle this issue. Esau’s “Debut Album: The Farewell Tour” is another shining example. Esau is an artist who could have reperesented Carolina on a global scale but faded into obscurity due to industry politics. His one album is a masterpiece of spoken word and hip-hop yet very few people know about it. Nappy Roots also provided some relief from the bling culture and intoduced Anthony Hamilton in 2002 with the single “Po’ Folks”.

The early 00’s was an important time for Southern hip-hop. Whilst Lil’ John was getting crunk, Little Brother gave us one of hip-hop’s finest producers in 9th Wonder. In 2003, it was “The Listening” that prompted Pete Rock and Questlove to pass the torch to the North Carlonia trio. At that time, Jazzy Jeff called them the most refreshing group in hip-hop. The Justus League collective further enhanced an underground movement which focused on lyriscm. Artists like Edgar Allen Floe, L.E.G.A.C.Y. and Cesar Comanche steadily restored credibility.

Little Brother – Speed


Groups like Nappy Roots and Little Brother were not alone in staying true to their art. The Cunninlynguists began to gain underground respect around the same time. “Will Rap For Food” and “Southern Underground” drew inspiration from the great releases of the past. Whilst Cyne released the classic “Evolution Fight” in 2005. All these groups looked to Outkast and Goodie Mob to find there sound but left there own imprint in the game by expanding on certain aspects and delivering their own unique raps. Strange Fruit continued the renaissance with their 2006 album “The Healing” which drew favourable comparions to golden age hip-hop.

Aside from all these great groups the South also produced an underground legend from Texas by the name of K-Rino. K is a veteran in the game who’s been producing music since the late 80’s, he stays true to his regional slang, but as an emcee he can battle with the best of them. With over fifteen albums to his name and nearly all of them consistent, he is the true heavey weight king of the South. It’s a crying shame to see the likes of Paul Wall and Mike Jones recieve air space when K-Rino never got his props. He will however, continue to appeal to real hip-hop fans who value his lyriscm.

The problem is unlike the 90’s, talent no longer means success and the true sound of hip-hop has being replaced with commercial films like “You Got Served”. It wasnt all bad as some genuine stars such as T.I. and Chamillionaire scored hits with legends like Common and Krazie Bone. I defy anyone to tell me that T.I.’s “King” isnt a good album. But this brief return to lyriscm in the mainstream was short lived. Chamillionaire chose to release an album with no swearing to prove he wasnt limited in his abilities. It was a brave risk but his star soon fell because of it.

T.I. Feat. Jamie Foxx – Live In The Sky


Lil’ Wayne became a new reason to level hate at the South as the steady output of real hip-hop seemed to decline. Soulja Boy had “beef” with Nas and GZA based on who killed hip-hop. Flo Rida and others reinforced the stereotypes. XXL encouraged the wackness by promoting these artists in their freshmen list, despite the ever growing list of groups they could have supported. A generational gap began to emerge as youtube followers either loved or hated the mainstream, with age often being the deciding factor.

So why is it hip-hop overlooked it’s brightest talents? the truth is the game fell into the wrong hands. It’s the driving force behind hip-hop, the business elements, that shape the minds of the youth to favour Soulja Boy to an artist like Devin The Dude. Underground groups like Mojoe are the South’s answer to Slum Village, if only they could be heard. I am however, given renewed hope as new artists continue to spring up like the crazy talented Willie Evans Jr.

Even today, Arrested Development continue to enhance a legacy few could hope to match. Last year they dropped “Strong” which stays true to their previous efforts. And how many of us can say that about of a lot our West Coast favourites. Whilst Snoop Dogg is dropping “Wet”, Arrested Development stay under the radar with “Let Your Voice Be Heard”. Outkast and Goodie Mob are set to return. Cunninlynguists have just released one of their best albums yet in “Oneirology” and Nappy Roots are going strong. If you look hard enough you might still find that next underground classic and it may just be coming from the South.


Coming Soon….  The Food 4 Thought Podcast #1: My Tribute To The South

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