Dirty South Rap: The south got somethin’ to say
Dirty South Rap is a subgenre of hip hop music that emerged from the southern United States in the mid 1990s, that drew from hardcore rap, gangsta rap, bounce music, miami bass, chopped and screwed music, and incorporation of live instrumentation found in southern styles. It often blended the more aggressive hardcore rap with slower soulful beats or party-oriented music.
SOUND AND CONTENT
The beats are characterized with 12th and 24th note snare rolls, 808 drums, crispy claps, pounding sub bass kicks, brass and horn sounds, trance style synthesizers, and/or organ slides. Dirty South drums tend to be more electronic focused unlike the direct sampling of the East Coast music. It included instrumentation that replayed samples which was common in West Coast but also would include original instrumentation into the music. Scratching may be included but is not as much a focus as in Boom Bap. Also, the chopped and screwed technique which was developed in Houston is more prevalent in dirty south rap. This is when a sample is slowed down and made to have a very low tone and scratched in a way to make it sound like a stutter.
The tempo has a wide range with some music having beats around 70 BPM or slower and the more Miami Bass influenced tracks having up-tempo beats around 140 BPM with fast high hats and snare rolls. However, unlike West Coast and East Coast rap it isn’t primarily in the 90-110 BPM range. Often it skews to one end of the spectrum or the other. Also, the Dirty South sound takes advantage of the newer drum machines that include a wide variety of percussion sounds found in more modern electronic music.
There is a lot of variation in the rapping for Dirty South music but typically it tends to be more expressive and dynamic than other styles. The lyrics tend to blend the worlds of the violently aggressive Gangsta Rap with the more fun and sexually explicit world of the Miami Bass and Bounce music. It was different from East Coast rap at the time since typically there was less focus on advanced rhyming techniques or wordplay, and it was different from much of the West Coast music that had adopted more smooth flows. The content tends to be straight forward as the aim is more to connect with the audience and less to impress them.
The rap personas often reflect the Gangsta Rap culture that started on the West Coast but not always. The Bounce Music influence can also be found in the repetitive hooks and call-and-respond style of hooks.
Additional Sound and Style
Dirty South rap is both a style and regional description. Meaning, a rapper in the south is not necessarily a Dirty South rapper. Also, if a rapper makes a song in this style but is not from the south, the subgenre tag doesn’t apply to them. Artists such as the Geto Boys are more often described as Gangsta Rap and do not fit the typical type of artist referred to in Dirty South. Another example is Arrested Development who although represented southern culture, their positive content reflected that of conscious rappers or alternative Hip Hop.
Like many other subgenres this separation is not clearly defined. A group such as Outkast have fused hip hop with plenty of different sounds and styles so to be defined only as Dirty South would be limiting but they are certainly part of the subgenre. Within the wide variety of Dirty South rap some subgenres have spun off from it including, Crunk, Snap Music, and Trap Music.
Microgenres of Dirty South Rap
Crunk started around the same time as Dirty South music in the was forming in the mid-1990s and featured up-tempo dance and club-oriented music with a clapping rhythm, shouting vocals, and a higher focus on call-and-response vocals. The term crunk refers to being excited or high on drums. It reached mainstream success in the early 2000s.
Snap is sometimes described as the laid-back version of crunk music. It originated in the late-90s in Atlanta and achieved mainstream success in the mid-late 2000s. Tracks would often replace the snare or clap in songs with a snap instead. Also, the songs tended to incorporate whistling and doing “snap” dances with the music.
Trap started in the early 2000s in Atlanta and refers to building where drugs are sold illegally. This style is recognized for sub-divided hi-hats, sub-bass layered kick drums, and an overall melancholy to dark ambience and lyrical content about being in the ‘trap’. By the mid-2000s it became the dominant sound of Atlanta and by 2010 artists from all over the country were incorporating the trap sound into their style.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the American hip hop music market was primarily dominated by artists from the East Coast and West Coast. The Geto Boys, a hip hop group from Houston, were among the first hip hop artists from the Southern United States to gain widespread popularity. Their style included Boom Bap production with Gangsta Rap content. Miami also played a major role in the rise of Southern Hip-hop during this time frame with the rise of the Miami bass music. In Atlanta, hip hop acts such as Arrested Development and Kriss Kross found success in the early 90s. Arrested Development’s style was similar to that of the Native Tongues collective with positive Afrocentric lyrics with a southern flavor. Kriss Kross was a pop rap act put together by Jermaine Dupri that acheived a lot of success. Although these acts are staples of the rise of southern Hip Hop, the sub-genre of Dirty South Rap starts with UGK.
In the late 1980s, rising rap groups such as UGK from Port Arthur, Texas, and 8Ball & MJG from Memphis, moved to Houston to further their musical careers. UGK producer Pimp C developed a style that the group referred to as “country rap” at the time. The sound differed from other styles of Hip Hop at the time for various reasons. The tempo was slower with BPMs often in the 70s and 80s range at a time when most hip hop ranged from 90 to 110. Also, the emerging Miami Bass music was around 140 BPM. Pimp C could play several different instruments and used this talent to add piano and organ parts to the music. Also, for the second album he brought in session musicians to help produce such as The Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli. By drawing from blues, soul, funk, and gospel UGK created a unique sound that set the foundation for Dirty South Rap. Also, the content was that of hardcore rappers without subscribing entirely to the prevalent gangster image or hyper sexual content the south was primarily known for.
By the 1990s, Atlanta had become a controlling city in southern hip hop music. LaFace Records had successful crossover acts such as Kriss Kross and TLC. In order to expand their hip hop market they signed the Dungeoun Family producers Organized Noize and acts Outkast and Goodie Mob. This crew played a huge part in helping the South become a center for hip hop music and the Dirty South sound. Similar to UGK, Organized Noize employed a lot of live instrumentation with session musicians into their beats. Their music also drew from soul and funk as well. OutKast became the first Southern artists to generate album sales like the powerhouse rappers on the East and West coasts. Goodie Mob’s debut album featured the song “Dirty South” which featured Outkast and became the term used to label this sub-genre of music.
Despite Outkast’s success they were not well received on the East Coast. A defining moment for Southern rap was at the 1995 Source Awards. The duo had just been awarded Best New Artist, and within the mess that was the East Coast – West Coast feud, André came up on stage followed by boos and said, “But it’s like this though, I’m tired of them closed minded folks, it’s like we gotta demo tape but don’t nobody want to hear it. But it’s like this: the South got something to say, that’s all I got to say.” Also, after the release of Outkast’s debut album, Def Jam owner Russell Simmons stated that Outkast wasn’t making “real” hip hop. Later on retracted the statement by saying that at the time he didn’t understand it since it was so different from the New York Hip Hop. Despite not being accepted by much of the East Coast fan base, Outkast were very popular in the south and the sub-genre of Dirty South Hip Hop grew rapidly after their debut.
The most successful Southern independent labels during the mid-to-late 90s came out of the cities of Memphis and New Orleans. Both scenes borrowed heavily from a production style first introduced by way of the obscure late-1980s New York rap group The Showboys, heavily sampling the beats from their song “Drag Rap (Trigger Man).” By the turn of the century these scenes found mainstream success through Cash Money Records and No Limit Records out of New Orleans and Hypnotize Minds out of Memphis, revolutionizing financial structures and strategies for independent Southern rap labels.
Similar to the Bounce music of New Orleans, the Miami Bass music in Florida and Atlanta began blending with hardcore or gangster southern rappers to develop other styles of Dirty South Rap. As these numerous styles developed by different southern cities started to blend and borrow techniques from each other, the Dirty South became a more cohesive sub-genre supported by all of the south and eventually gaining traction in the rest of the country.
Dirty South Rap 2000s
Producers such as Timbaland, Bangladesh, and Neptunes utilized a wider ensemble of percussion and synthesizers to produce a sound more in tune with the pop culture audience to join the previously mentioned producers. Hip Hop continued to move away from samples because laws were becoming stricter pushing producers to create original music even more.
By the early to mid-2000s, artists from all over the South had became major label stars during this time. In 2004, OutKast won six Grammy awards and Three 6 Mafia won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” from Hustle and Flow, a Hollywood film about a fictional Southern rap artist.
The height of Southern hip-hop was reached from 2002 through 2004. In 2002, Southern hip-hop artists accounted for 50 to 60 percent of the singles on hip-hop music charts. On the week of December 13, 2003, Southern urban artists, labels and producers accounted for six of the top 10 slots on the Billboard Hot 100.
In addition to this, from October 2003 through December 2004, the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart was held by a Southern urban artist for 58 out of 62 weeks. This was capped by the week of December 11, 2004 when seven out of the top ten songs on the chart were held by or featured Southern urban artists. In 2004, Vibe magazine reported that Southern artists accounted for 43.6% of the airplay on urban radio stations (compared to 29.7% for the Midwest, 24.1% for the East Coast and 2.5% for the West coast).
Mainstream Decline (2010s – Present)
By the late 2000s, Dirty South Rap’s dominance had begun to fade as other styles of Hip Hop began to encompass the sound and artists from all regions of the country incorporated elements of it in their own music. By the mid 2010s, Trap music which started as microgenre within Dirty South had completely surpassed its parent genre in popularity. It exploded and became a sound found in all the regions in the country. Many Dirty South artists have converted to the trap sound but others maintain a more general Dirty South sound. The term Dirty South is not commonly used to describe artists as much anymore since the sound is no longer associated with just the south region. Although the term is no longer used, the combination of party music with hardcore rap pioneered by the Dirty South is still common in Hip Hop today.
Bounce Music – Bounce music is an energetic style of New Orleans hip hop music which is said to have originated as early as the late 1980s in the city’s housing projects
Trap Music – Spinoff of Dirty South music developed in the early 2000s in Atlanta that was typified by sub-divided hi-hats, heavy, sub-bass layered kick drums in the style of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, typically in half time syncopated rhythms.
Hardcore Rap – Rap characterized by anger, aggression, confrontation, and/or the uncensored reflections of street life.
Crossover Hip Hop – Hip Hop featuring melody, catchy hooks, and general disco, R&B, and pop elements.
Miami Bass – Electro-hop with emphasis on bass partying and sex that emerged from Miami Florida.
Some of the key Dirty South producers
- Beats by the Pound aka The Medicine Men
- DJ Paul & Juicy J
- DJ Toomp
- Lil Jon
- Mannie Fresh
- Organized Noize
- Pimp C
Some of the key Dirty South rappers and rap groups
- Lil Wayne
- Master P
- Three Six Mafia
- Trick Daddy
Classic/Popular Dirty South Rap Albums
- Outkast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)
- UGK – Ridin’ Dirty (1996)
- Master P – Ghetto D (1997)
- Juvenile – 400 Degreez (1998)
- Mystikal – Let’s Get Ready (2000)
- Outkast – Stankonia (2000)
- Ludacris – Word of Mouf (2001)
- T.I. – Trap Muzik (2003)
- Lil Wayne – Tha Carter II (2005)
- Three Six Mafia – Most Known Unknown (2005)
Some Classic Dirty South Rap Songs
- UGK – Pocket Full of Stones (1992)
- Outkast – Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik (1994)
- UGK – Front, Back & Side to Side (1994)
- Master P – Make Em Say Ughhh!!! (1997)
- Three Six Mafia – Tear Da Club Up (1997)
- Trick Daddy – Nann Nigga (1999)
- Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz & Ying Yang Twins – Get Low (2002)
- Souljah Boy – Crank That (2005)
- UGK & Outkast – Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You) (2007)
- Lil Wayne – Lollipop (2008)
- Flo Rida – Low (2008)
Hip Hop in America: A Regional Guide
Hip Hop Evolution Series