There was a time when it wasn’t cool to be from the south. At one point, southern rap wasn’t considered a genre in Hip Hop. That fact was made apparent at the 1995 Source Awards in New York City when Atlanta duo, OutKast, accepted their award for Best New Group. Overshadowed by the ensuing East Coast-West Coast conflict that took center stage that night, OuKast was barely noticed, aside from the hail storm of boos they received when they accepted their award from an already divided audience between coastal lines. New York, the epicenter and gatekeepers of Hip Hop, weren’t ready to fully embrace southern artists. Sonically, OutKast’s debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was out of context with New York’s traditional Boom Bap, kick-snare-kicks-and-hi hat, drum pattern, that helped define the region’s sound in the early 90’s, so the deep fried southern delicacy that OutKast cooked up was an acquired taste for most Hip Hop elitists.
“The south got something to say.”
Atlanta is literally a city in a forest. It’s unique among most major cities because of its unusual grandeur of thick forest that canopy the city’s landscape. The only thing that is penetrable above the forest ceiling is the city’s skyscrapers that peak some resemblance of urban life. Atlanta, as an unlikely place for Hip Hop became a hub for the genre, thanks to music moguls like Jermaine Dupree, Babyface and LA Reid, who established their musical roots in Atlanta’s growing market. Pioneers, Big Boi and Dre’ (now Andre’ 3000), who formed OutKast in 1992, would help to change the city’s music landscape forever when LaFace Records released Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik on April 26, 1994.
Influenced by Miami Bass music, G-Funk, and groups like A Tribe Called Quest (as evidenced by their CD cover), OutKast formed their own sound. Distinctly southern, their music contained implications of funk, soul, gospel, Boom Bap, and Bass. Produced by Organized Noize, live instrumentation was readily used in place of heavy sampling that gave the album a smoke-filled-nightclub aura, while gospel-influenced background vocals and hooks accented the album’s rich southern textures.
More importantly, OutKast used themes in Southernplayalistic… that were indigenous to the south. Cadillacs, pimp narratives, soul food, strip clubs, and southern slang with phrases like, “Ain’t No Thang” but a chicken wang, and “Hootie Hoo” introduced a new lingo to mainstream Hip Hop.
Their lyrics had no pretense. They weren’t overly intellectualized raps that Hip Hop nerds decipher over a cup of joe at a coffee shop. Their roots in gospel and soul don’t allow for that. It’s the difference between understanding lyrics intellectually and feeling lyrics in your gut. Their lyrical content was reflective and heartfelt; something that was drawn from their experiences growing up in the south.
OutKast wasn’t the first southern group to make a name for themselves. Their predecessors, MC Shy D, The Geto Boys, 8 Ball & MJG, 2 Live Crew, and UGK to name a few, had all made successes, but mainly regionally. OutKast was the first southern artists to generate sales that rivaled East and West coasts mainstream rappers, reaching platinum status for Southernplayalistic… in a few months of it’s release. They also gave the south a universal sound. Though their music was undeniably southern, it wasn’t so regional that it detoured new listeners and it was sophisticated enough for the mainstream to catch on.
As breakout artists, OutKast’s success presented new obstacles. The album was platinum but the respect they deserved wasn’t there. While the duo stood before a disagreeable audience the night of the Source Awards, Andre apprehensively addressed the crowd when he muttered, “The south got something to say.” And he was right; the south did have something to say that would be understood years later.
Twenty Years Later
Twenty years later and five more studio albums, OutKast is one of the highest selling Hip Hop group of all time with over 25 million records sold. In the early 2000’s the flood gates were open for southern Hip Hop. The market quickly became saturated with new sub-genres like Crunk and Snap, sounds that seemed generations removed from Boom Bap and G-Funk. The magnitude of OutKast’s success helped to usher in southern artists.
As a teenager in the south I never could imagine a time when southern music would become the status quo in Hip Hop. My career in television brought me to New York City 11 years ago where I now happily reside with my wife. Walking down Fulton Street in Brooklyn on any given day you will see candy painted Impalas, Caprice’s on 28 inch rims, the likes of Rick Ross and Yo Gotti blasting from passing cars, and younger kids doing Bankhead Bounce-like dances. And I can’t help but think to myself and say, “The south is here.”
© Copyright Eddie Savoy Bailey III, 2014
Written by: Eddie Bailey of The Savoy Media Group
Inspired by: AFB