'The South Got Something To Say' Is A Celebratory Canon Of Southern Rap


This week, NPR Music launched The South Got Something To Say: A Celebration Of Southern Rap. The project is centered around a canon of 130 greatest releases by Southern rappers; it was assembled by a team, led by critic Briana Younger, of Southern critics, scholars and writers representing the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Virginia.


Younger and NPR Music hip-hop critic Rodney Carmichael spoke to All Things Considered about the inspiration for the project, the sound of Southern hip-hop and the future of the genre.


Below, you can stream the songs and selected tracks from the albums and mixtapes that comprise our list via Spotify and Apple Music.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:


These days, the American South is an essential part of hip-hop. It's hard to imagine what rap would sound like without artists from Houston, like Megan Thee Stallion...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIMON SAYS")


MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Simon says put your hands on your hips. Simon says put your hands on your knees.


SHAPIRO: ...Or New Orleans artists, like Juvenile...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACK THAT THANG UP")

JUVENILE: (Rapping) Girl, you working with some back, yeah. You bad, yeah. Make a brother spend his cash, yeah, his last, yeah. Girls frown when you pass...

SHAPIRO: ...Or, of course, Atlanta artists like OutKast.


(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUTHERNPLAYALISTICADILLACMUZIK")

OUTKAST: (Singing) Southernplayalisticadillac funky music. Now, players, if you choose it...

SHAPIRO: This hasn't always been the case. Just 25 years ago, when a young Atlanta rap duo was named best new artist at the Source Awards, the reaction was less than enthusiastic.


(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)


SHAPIRO: That duo was OutKast, and Andre 3000 had a proclamation that day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)


ANDRE 3000: But it's like this - the South got something to say. That's all I got to say.

SHAPIRO: Southern rappers have often been dismissed and denigrated for their spin on the art form, which is why NPR Music has now published a canon of Southern hip-hop - 130 songs and albums. The project is called The South Got Something To Say. Editor Briana Younger and NPR Music's Rodney Carmichael are here to break it down for us.

Thanks for being here.


RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Thanks for having us.

BRIANA YOUNGER, BYLINE: Thanks for having us.

SHAPIRO: Briana, tell me about this huge, ambitious project. I mean, how did you go about creating this canon - figuring out who was out, who was in?

YOUNGER: Yeah. Well, I mean, I knew that the South - such a huge and diverse region and that I couldn't do it by myself and that a lot of the ways in which Southern rap had been characterized on mainstream platforms had been done by writers and critics who didn't necessarily come from or identify with the South. So I found around 25 critics from all across the South, and we just kind of voted and discussed and discussed some more what this thing would look like.


SHAPIRO: You know, when I was a kid, it was all about New York versus LA, like, East versus West. Why do you think it's taken so long for Southern rap to get its due?

CARMICHAEL: I mean, you know, old hatred dies hard, you know? And folks been hating on the South so long it's just in their blood now. But the really big thing, I think, is the fact that, you know, the music industry has always been based on the coasts. A lot of that respect and just that understanding of how to translate what's going on in the South to the rest of the world, it's been lacking.


SHAPIRO: Briana?

YOUNGER: You know, it's certainly true that people everywhere have enjoyed Southern rap and it is the dominant sound. But it's also true that it's not really respected, you know, as an art form. It's not necessarily always seen as sophisticated or skillful. Like, Big K.R.I.T. on "Mt. Olympus," which is one of the songs we included...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MT. OLYMPUS")


BIG KRIT: (Rapping) Now they want to hear a country - rap. Five albums in...

YOUNGER: ...It came out in 2014, and he calls out all of this. He talks about people claiming they can't understand Southern accents. He talks about artists in other places taking certain sonic and cultural markers of the South and then it suddenly being the cool thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MT. OLYMPUS")


BIG KRIT: (Rapping) Like, one of these days I'm going to be a rapper, but all my verses going to be borrowed. So I'm going to take from all these Southern artists that mainstream never heard of, recycle all of their lingo, and make sure I screw my words up. Bravo for you...

YOUNGER: He talks about even himself, people saying he could have been the king of hip-hop, but they wouldn't give it to Andre 3000, nodding back to those source words. And this song would have been out nearly 20 years later.


(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MT. OLYMPUS")

BIG KRIT: (Rapping) You telling me I can be king of hip-hop, and they wouldn't give it to Andre 3000? Please.


YOUNGER: You know, these are all old conversations that are still very relevant and that still drive a lot of the discourse around Southern rap.


SHAPIRO: So with 130 artists on this list, give us one example of a track that, like, really represents what the South brings to hip-hop.


CARMICHAEL: Well, I hope everybody recognizes "Knuck If You Buck."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KNUCK IF YOU BUCK")


CRIME MOB: (Rapping) Knuck if you buck, boy. Knuck if you buck, boy. Knuck if you buck, boy. Knuck if you buck, boy. Knuck if you buck...


CARMICHAEL: That's an anthem that has transcended the South in the many years since it's been out in the ether. Crime Mob is an Atlanta group - or was an Atlanta group - that, you know, put this song out on their debut album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KNUCK IF YOU BUCK")


CRIME MOB: (Rapping) Yeah, we knucking (ph) and bucking and ready to fight. I bet you I'm a throw them things, so haters best to think twice. See, me, I ain't nothing nice. And Crime Mob, it ain't no stopping. It be like Saddam Hussein, Hitler and Osama bin Laden...

CARMICHAEL: You know, it's one of those songs that you hear at sporting events. It's a song you hear at the club, but you know, you see a lot of memes and a lot of, you know, a lot of Internet stuff created around "Knuck If You Buck."


SHAPIRO: And as I was scrolling through this list, there are a lot of things on here that seem to have been very influential but did not get national attention. Briana, why don't you tell us about one of those?


YOUNGER: Yeah. Kind of staying in line with "Knuck If You Buck," we had Gangsta Boo's "Where Dem Dollas" (ph).


(SOUNDBITE OF GANGSTA BOO SONG, "WHERE DEM DOLLAS AT")

YOUNGER: Gangsta Boo was the first lady of Three 6 Mafia - an absolute rap, Southern, Memphis queen. That song in particular is so essential because in addition to being her biggest hit, you kind of get a lot of history and lineage there. Women in rap, and especially Southern women, are often kind of pigeonholed as only talking about or rapping about sex or their bodies. That's never really been the case then or now. And so here we have Gangsta Boo making gangsta rap, just, you know, kind of talking her stuff, getting her money. Her flow is tight. The lyrics are tight.


(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE DEM DOLLAS AT")

GANGSTA BOO: (Rapping) Get your mind twisted like some dreads on a Jamaican's head. Vicky lingerie, candles lit, rose petals on the bed. Blazing...


YOUNGER: And we also hear the chants on the hook. A lot of the things Memphis was doing early on are the roots of a lot of things Atlanta, in particular, would become known for, like crunk and trap music. As we just heard in "Knuck If You Buck," you'll hear kind of a through line.


(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE DEM DOLLAS AT")

GANGSTA BOO: (Rapping) Where the dollars at? Where the dollars at? Where the dollars at? Where the dollars at?


SHAPIRO: At this point, Southern rap music is so influential. I mean, you've got, like, trap beats all over the place, people rapping with a Southern twang. And so when you looked at present-day music, like, how did you choose who to include?


YOUNGER: To me, I didn't want us to be afraid of saying something fresh is also great and worthwhile and fits in this dialogue that we're building out. And so, like, Lil Baby was always someone I felt strongly about including because we've already begun to see how he's impacting the genre and the culture. And I didn't really need five years to make that assessment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE GOES ON")


LIL BABY: (Rapping) Trap house, Jeep goes too fast. I don't even wear no seatbelt. That little - got no breasts. Upgrade, now she got D-cups. Hop out the Range, I'm glowing. Who is Lil Baby? He going in. Man, these old rappers getting boring. They be taking shots, I ignore them. Send them...


SHAPIRO: Is there one example you can give us of somebody who you think indicates where Southern hip-hop might be going next?


YOUNGER: Yeah. I think Denzel Curry is an interesting case study. His album "Zuu" from last year, it's kind of in its own dialogue with, say, like, a Travis Scott "Astroworld," which is included, or a J. Cole "2014 Forest Hills Drive," where we see these rappers explicitly calling on their homes and identifying themselves at the places that made them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RICKY")'


DENZEL CURRY: (Rapping) That was back in Carol City, yeah, when I was just a jit with the all-black faded Dicky with the Raider fit. That was it. We was lit. Y'all wasn't even - yet. We was Three 6, Wu-Tang mixed with Dipset. Ricky used to take me...


CARMICHAEL: I think the one thing that's always been true about Southern rap in particular more so than what you get on each coast is that it is constantly evolving into something new. One year is snap. The next year is crunk. The next year is trap music, you know? And I think that the reason that the South is able to do that is because, you know, for one thing, as Briana pointed out, it covers many states, and it covers many styles. And so that's always churning and coming out and reproducing and replicating something new.

SHAPIRO: That's Briana Younger and Rodney Carmichael. You can see their work with the project The South Got Something To Say. It's up at npr.org/southernrap.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WANNA BE A BALLER")


LIL TROY: (Rapping) Want to be a baller, shot caller. Twenty-inch blades on the Impala. Call her, getting laid tonight. Swisher rolled tight, got sprayed by Ike. I hit the highway, making money the fly way. But there's got to be a better way. A better way, yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.