Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hip Hop Has Left The South

Nobody can take anything away from the South’s contribution to hip hop. The South has always been present in hip hop’s short history and through up and coming artists will continue to be there. From the Chop & Screw Movement in Houston Texas, to the Young Money crew in New Orleans, indeed the South has provided a lot of the gasoline that has fueled hip hop’s fire.

But let’s keep it real here folks. The South just isn’t doing it any more. For a while it could be argued that the South had the hip hop crown (in my opinion, they did). But if you look at the numerous changes that have happened on the Southern hip hop scene, things have changed drastically, and not for the better.

Take a look at Georgia. The Peach State gave hip hop the most popular and lyrical group in history. Outkast was and is still considered to be the best hip hop group to ever emerge from the South. Andre 3000 and Big Boi were not your average rappers. They spoke to social issues and pushed forth lyricism in ways that made New York dudes proud to have them under the tent. They’ve dropped arguably 3 classic hip hop albums with the crown jewel being Aquemini.
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But after Outkast took a hiatus there have only been a handful of MCs that delivered that level of high quality lyricism and respect for hip hop. T.I. stands out as one of the most gifted of that handful but he couldn’t properly sync his lyrical ability and his personal life and so he has fallen off quite a bit. Other artists in Georgia have had success but have not been able to carry the torch in the same manner as the kingly Outkast crew. Young Jeezy had the fame and the power but has been neutered by unnecessary beef with other artists and family problems. B.O.B. showed some promise but he seems too concerned with chart-surfing to really be able to make the social connection that Outkast made. Ludacris has never made a type of album even remotely close to what Outkast produced. He seems to be mostly about partying and getting his shine on. All other artists in Georgia can be summed up as “not worthy” or “cash seekers”. And so, when Outkast took a leave of absence from the game, they left a huge crater in the middle of Georgia that has yet to be filled today.   

Take a look at Louisiana. For years Master P had been plucking gold from that state and putting it in his personal coffers. But none of his artists were even close to being able to carry the title of “hip hop artist”. And so after many years of making paper, another hungry outfit came and snatched the cash machine from Master P’s hands. Enter Cash Money.

Cash Money had a stable of decent rappers but none of them could be called MCs. That is, none of them except for one: Lil Wayne. Most hip hop heads are reluctant to call Weezy an MC based off of his popularity and the unconventional flow he has. He sometimes sounds like a cross between a Martian and a Gremlin. But make no mistake about it, a few years back he was an absolute monster and could body any MC from any state. And in terms of talent Weezy stood alone in the state of Louisiana.
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But that was the problem. There was no other artist in that state that could carry the workload of Lil Wayne and what he contributed to hip hop. And Weezy was getting tired. Being in the game for as long as he has could make anyone want to take a breather. And so, Lil Wayne, sensing that his fatigue was catching up with him, created Young Money. Drake and Nicki Minaj have been killing the game in terms of lyricism. But wait, they’re not from Louisiana. Drake is from Canada. Nicki is from New York City via Trinidad. So in finding these artists, Lil Wayne did nothing to solve the ghost issue within his state. And with his retirement rapidly approaching, one doubts that he ever will. 

But hold on… There is one artist from Louisiana that absolutely crushes Lil Wayne in terms of lyricism. This dude gets a lot of love from New York hip hop heads as well. He could be the answer to Louisiana’s problems. His name is Jay Electronica. But he hasn’t done anything for the majors and Jay Z is holding him in such shrouded secrecy that he can’t even contribute anything to this conversation.
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Let’s go over to Texas.

The Ghetto Boys. Scarface. Bun B. The late Pimp C. These were some real dudes that did big things for hip hop. They were undeniably attacking the art form with charisma, lyricism, and respect just as much as anyone in the game. But things happened. The Chop & Screw movement came upon the scene. And although it was innovative, it brought forth no true lyricist to replace the aforementioned group of rappers. And so Texas, as it currently stands, is in its own zone. It hasn’t had a true lyricist since Scarface and The Ghetto Boys. And while Scarface is still somewhat active, an infusion of new blood is needed to carry forth the flag. But no one currently exists.

How about North Carolina?

Things look a lot brighter for Southern Hip Hop in this corner of America. J Cole has put Fayetteville NC on the map in ways that no one expected. His lyricism is impressive and with the major label support of Jigga, there’s no telling how high he could go. 9th Wonder, Phonte, and Rapper Big Pooh, while originally forming the group Little Brother and then disbanding due to growing pains, now are putting in a lot of work. 9th Wonder in particular has established a curiously successful alliance with Duck Down Records based in New York City and formed his own company, Jamla Records. In addition to the label 9th Wonder has produced his own answer to Nicki Minaj in a more traditional female hip hop artist by the name of Rapsody. Not to mention that he teaches hip hop classes at Duke University and at Harvard University. All of the work going on in North Carolina is an absolute torch to the rest of hip hop.

And lastly we take things to Florida.

Florida has a lot of artists. But the only artist seeming to do anything right now in terms of hip hop is Rick Ross. The boss definitely has lyrical skill. But his checkered past and constant beefing with certain people has placed him in the position of having to branch out beyond the state. He’s not really doing a lot of good in nurturing new talent in his backyard. All other artists in that state are rappers looking for paychecks. They’re not respected in the art form. So what does this mean for the South?

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It means that the South no longer holds the hip hop crown. While record spins and radio play do mean something in terms of relevancy, nothing means more to the art form than able MCs that can carry forth the message and bring forth attention to social issues affecting our communities. Outkast understood that but have taken a multi-year break. Bun B understands that but needs some help in doing so. Scarface is a lyrical beast but cannot carry the load alone. With the exception of North Carolina, hip hop has left the South in a big way and so has the crown. The question is who is going to bring it back?