Crossfader’s Southern Hip Hop Primer
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I have always shown a bit of an aversion towards associating music with the region it came from. Through the vast swathes of music the world has to offer, I figure that talent does not necessarily vary by area. But my views changed dramatically when I began first venturing into the genre of hip hop and listened to music on websites like tellingbeatzz.com. Early on, I discovered that my preferences almost always were with rappers coming out of the African American diaspora in the South. Individuals there have a lot on their minds, not just from their slave heritage, but also from the stark contrast between themselves and the conservative white decadence the region is infamous for, in addition to the religious stronghold that is the Bible Belt. It’s no surprise that throughout the past few decades, many hip hop artists emerging from the South chose to express themselves by establishing an idiosyncratic hip hop culture. This list will explore said culture, with special attention paid to the music meccas that were the cities of Memphis and Houston in the 90s. Things get pretty intense, most notably when edging towards the horrorcore movement, but Southern hip hop is most definitely worth the ride.
Three-6 Mafia – MYSTIC STYLEZ
Right off the bat, you can’t really talk about Memphis rap without bringing up Three-6 Mafia. One of the first groups to really take hip hop to the edge with occult references (just look at their name), a love for firearms, and HEAVY drug use, the group came out of the gate strong with 1995’s MYSTIC STYLEZ. Almost every facet of hip hop is explored here, making it a perfect launching point for most beginners. Tracks like “Da Summa” are filled with extremely chill vibes catered towards the group’s blunt sessions, but “Live By Yo Rep” (a diss track targeted at Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, whom Three-6 labeled as belligerent copycats at the time) showcases the group’s more violent tendencies with lines such as “Well, I shall take 1000 razor blades and press them in the flesh//Take my pitchfork out the fire, soak it in their chest//Through the ribs, spines, charcoal the muscle tissue//And send what’s left back to yo mammy//Cause that bitch might miss you” spoken by the late, great Lord Infamous. Absolutely everyone is on their game for MYSTIC STYLEZ, but we need not dwell on this masterpiece for long, because various members of Three-6 will definitely appear later in this list.
Al Kapone – SINISTA FUNK
Memphis rapper Alphonzo “Al Kapone” Bailey’s late 1994 album isn’t called SINISTA FUNK for nothing. This project is held together by a myriad of soul and funk-inspired rhythms that still manage to have an unnervingly dark side. If the name wasn’t enough of a clue, Kapone’s lyrical content focuses on a debauched and violent lifestyle, giving traction to the horrorcore scene and aesthetic. “Fa Da Love of Money” will have your head bobbing as Al Kapeezy tells of a bloody excursion to Chicago that he once took. After an impromptu interview with fellow M-town native Money Butt Naked serves as a transition, we are greeted with a repeated “MAN WATCHU GON DO NOW?”, introducing the killer track “Lyrical Drive By” as Kapone utters “Yo when I load the nine, it’s time to put some niggaz in line”. This combination of maniacal poetry and eerie funkiness makes for catchy songs and an unforgettably superb album.
Scarface – THE DIARY
Geto Boys member Bradley Terrance “Scarface” Jordan enjoys a successful solo career to this day, starting with the album MR. SCARFACE IS BACK, but really peaking with 1994’s THE DIARY. Retaining some Geto Boys gruesomeness, Scarface will tell you the stories of his more savage encounters with heavy homages to the Al Pacino film that acts as his name sake. Beats, however, kick up the funk a few notches, contributing to several smooth tracks that occasionally border on the relaxing. But don’t dare go thinking that Scarface went soft. For instance, “Hand of the Dead Body” serves as a wonderful middle finger to the censorship culture of the time, saying “So why you tryin’ to kick some dust up?//America has always been known for blamin’ its niggaz for they fuck ups”. THE DIARY demonstrates a genius in his prime.
DJ Screw – 3 ‘N THE MORNIN’: PART TWO
Now there’s no doubt that the current generation’s intoxicant of choice is codeine (colloquially known as lean, sizzurp, purple, etc.), and that may very well be the work of the beloved and deceased (by way of codeine overdose of course) Texas hip hop producer DJ Screw. Birthing what became known as the “chopped and screwed” style of DJ remixing in the mid 90s, Screw often literally slowed tracks down to a crawling pace, splicing portions of songs together in order to create slithering Frankenstein remixes. In the same way that codeine affected the senses, DJ Screw made sure that if you heard a track he messed with, you would swear that everything was melting like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in slow-mo. On 3 ‘N THE MORNIN’: PART TWO, Screw takes mostly local Texas hip hop talent from his massive group South Park Coalition (S.P.C.), turning it into a night-swim in molasses. Highlights are definitely the tracks originally done by Houston-based MC Everyday Street Gangsta (E.S.G.).
Point Blank – PRONE TO BAD DREAMS
Though originally born in Chicago, S.P.C. member Point Blank made his main base Houston at a very young age, working intimately in the early 90s with DJ Screw on some awesome tracks, including “My Mind Went Blank” and the aforementioned “High with the Blanksta”. Blank also did pretty well on his own. His 1992 debut album, entitled PRONE TO BAD DREAMS, interestingly enough, is split in half (with a “Chi-Town Side” and “H-Town Side” respectively) and sprinkled with a bit of crazy horrorcore imagery. Without confirming allegiances, I’ll say that the package as a whole is a delight. Southern legends UGK (Underground Kingz) make the track “Cut U N ½” an instant classic. S.P.C. founding member K-Rino also helps Blank a great deal on a handful of songs but will still go solo and say “Fool, you can’t get with me//I’m one of the roughest muthafuckas in the S.P.C.//The last bitch that tried, I circumcised his pride and filled him with formaldehyde” on the track “Life Rep or Death”. Damn.
Fat Pat – GHETTO DREAMS
Though Houston rapper Patrick Lamont Hawkins (brother of Big Hawk, who later died by gunshot, and friend of DJ Screw) was not in this mortal realm for long, he was already fed up with what his rap career was lacking in 1998. Most likely aware that these were his last moments to shine, Fat Pat’s GHETTO DREAMS offers up a fun mix of groovy beats and ridiculous lyrics. Just two weeks after being shot dead, Pat’s album release party turned into a funeral. With “Am I a playa? Playin’ these hoes like they was Sega” still stuck in their heads, Pat’s loved ones knew that he did not leave us without making a mark. Though Pat could not fulfill his ghetto dreams, we are sure he has “diamond rings, money, clothes, and hoes, and all those fancy things” in Heaven.
Geto Boys – THE GETO BOYS
Moving away from Memphis in lieu of the darker side of horrorcore, Houston rap collective Geto Boys (sometimes spelled correctly as “Ghetto Boys”) took the depravity of rap lyrics to an extreme. In an episode of Amoeba Music’s “What’s In My Bag?”, Detroit rapper and Insane Clown Posse member Violent J claims this release as “the most ruthless, hardcore, controversial, insane…scariest, most censorship free, not-giving-a-fuck album”. Geto Boys members Willie D, Bushwick Bill, and Scarface go into grotesque and sadistic detail when speaking about their criminal acts. That isn’t to say that this shouldn’t be enjoyed. All of the Geto Boys come close to rapping flawlessly, each with their own unique flow and a propensity for taking on more aggression than most any other MCs that came before. If you can stomach it, Geto Boys are worth getting into, but not at all for the faint of heart.
Indo G – ANGEL DUST
Though Indo G also isn’t officially Three-6 material, his 1998 album ANGEL DUST has features from every member at the time. Indo’s debut bumps hard and flaunts some of the most interesting production imaginable. Did you ever hear the James Bond theme on a xylophone and think someone should rap to it? Indo G did on “Throw Them Thangs” and it’s incredible. The track “Remember Me Ballin’” has a hypnotically exotic beat and graceful pianos. I am, without a doubt, having it played at my funeral. ANGEL DUST may feel cartoon-like at times, but Indo’s delivery and insane lyrics keep it refreshing and sharp.
Kingpin Skinny Pimp – KING OF DA PLAYAZ BALL
This time most definitely a Three-6 Mafia member, Kingpin Skinny Pimp shares the same affinity for 1983 American crime cinema as Bradley Terrance Jordan, with Al Pacino audio samples scattered all over his magnificent debut album KING OF DA PLAYAZ BALL. As what was tradition with a typical Three-6 release, DJ Paul and Juicy J lead the production of this surprisingly soothing masterpiece,recalling the earliest Three-6 Mafia albums. Within the first few minutes you’ll be singing “I’ve been wasting all my time fooling ’round with midnight hoes//I’ve been wasting all this time jumping in and out my clothes…MIDNIGHT HOOOOEEESSSS”.
Koopsta Knicca – DA DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND: UNDERGROUND SOLO
Koop easily dove deepest into the occult cesspool than any other Three-6 member. Proving to be a master purveyor of the horrorcore genre, Koop rapped about ritual sacrifice and the end times over disturbingly eerie beats. For instance, on the track “Stash Pot”, Koop speaks about channeling the devil to execute street justice to spooky chimes. The bells and manipulated voices on “Now I’m Hi”, featuring female Three-6 member Gangsta Boo, may keep some up at night. With some tracks his flow is hard and hungry; with others he turns ghostly, upping the creep factor. The methods employed in the creation of this album is what kept Memphis Rap alive and, some believe, provided the building blocks for the future of the trap, crunk, and horrorcore movements. The Koopsta Knicca himself seems to agree with this, as he and DJ Paul put some finishing touches on the long-awaited DA DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND 2, due later this year. Listen to the first one a couple of times and it’s sure to seem like a long wait.