The Imminent Decline Of Southern Rap
Four years ago, Southern rap heroes UGK commanded listeners, without much discretion, to “Quit Hatin’ the South.” Nobody hates on the South now. From New Orleans’ native son Lil Weezy to Rick Ross in Miami, many of today’s most formidable hip-hop artists reside below the vaunted Mason-Dixon Line. Musically, Southern rap is often bombastic to the point of extravagance, splitting the difference between retro-futuristic funk, Miami bass, grimy Delta blues and various other sounds. You don’t have to be a technical wiz to sound capable over these deliriously inspired tracks, but for the better part of a decade, Southern MCs, both noteworthy and not, have been the defining voice of hip-hop.
Last June, British rapper Giggs spoke of his affinity toward Southern rap in the pages of Spin; it was a testament to the music’s far-reaching appeal. But has the South lost its edge?
That question may seem implausible, given the high volume of popular Southern rap. Still, compared to 2006 — when T.I.’s King, Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury, Trae’s Restless, Fiend’s The Addiction: Hope Is Near, and Killer Mike’s I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind elicited widespread enthusiasm — rap in the Deep South no longer feels all that compelling.
Part of the problem is circumstantial. The belt-tightening music industry has little revenue at its disposal, which means slick, expensive releases aren’t made very often. It takes unthinkable muscle to fund a commercial rap album, so artists record on a budget. The result: music that sounds tinny, bland and Pro Tooled to death.
One would hope that Southern rappers could find a way around such a problem, but most settle for flaccid drums and monochromatic synthesizers. Not even truly gifted MCs are lost on this dilemma: Lil Wayne’s hit “Right Above It” is an overcaffeinated mess with a big, obnoxious hook. Likewise, T.I.’s December album No Mercy had its charms, but lacked a significant hit and suffered from ill-fitting production by the Euro-trashy likes of Max Martin and Dr. Luke.
Young Jeezy, once the most promising and charismatic rapper in the underground, released The Recession to mass acclaim three years ago, but his subsequent endeavors have suffered diminished returns. His recent work isn’t just dull; it reveals an artist who, embroiled in pointless feuds and label strife, lacks focus. Even sadder, Jeezy’s on-again, off-again rival Gucci Mane was recently released from a psych ward, where he was admitted after pleading insanity for a series of arrests and probation violations.